It might be one of the most ubiquitous sentence fragments of the modern era, printed on T-shirts, posters, and, appropriately enough, mugs: “But First, Coffee.” As true as it is relatable, this statement reminds us that before we can face the world, before we can get out there and make our own mark, we’re gonna need some caffeine.
Ian Duncan knows this phrase better than most. As the owner of The Grind Coffee Roasters, he’s made it his calling to provide us with the rich, eye-opening cup of sunshine that we need to get our day started. But, just as coffee is merely the beginning of our day, the coffee is just part of what he’s created at The Grind.
“We just want to create a space at all of our shops that are inviting, that are safe, and that are a part of the community,” he said. As patrons at either the Sheridan Park or Okatie locations can tell you, the folks at The Grind nailed it. Given that they’re in the business of amping you up, the vibe at The Grind is blissfully chill, with an atmosphere that feels like putting on a favorite sweater on the first cold day of the year.
“It’s a place you can come in and work, hang out with friends or just chill. That’s the space that we want to be,” Duncan said.
The Crew: Joy Turner, Ian Duncan and Nicki Graziani
His own journey to the shop begins with coffee, when he was working across town at a local coffee shop. “The roasting was being done there, and I really got into it. I decided to jump into the roasting of our own beans and really got into it. I kind of trial-and-errored it for a couple of years,” he said.
It didn’t take long until Duncan had mastered this process, adding to his hands-on education with a run through “coffee school” and involvement with the Coffee Roasters Guild. Having found his footing as an accomplished coffee roaster, it was time to try his hand at another calling: entrepreneur. He hung out his own shingle as The Grind Coffee Roasters in a modest carriage house roastery off Simmonsville Road.
“We were only open from 9 to noon or something like that. But the wholesale side of things picked up really quickly,” Duncan said. “By the middle of 2018, the other guys who were renting that space with me told me, ‘You need to find somewhere else. There’s coffee everywhere.’”
And that’s when The Grind found its new home in Sheridan Park, inside a converted bank building that Duncan and his team transformed into a temple to caffeinated serenity. A feast for all the senses, this new space put the roasters themselves right in the thick of things, letting you savor the aroma of baking beans while you ordered your latte.
But as The Grind’s wholesale business grew, it quickly became clear that they were already outgrowing that space.
“By 2021, we were cranking,” he said. With the small space inside the coffee shop no longer enough to house a growing wholesale operation, Duncan found a 3,000-square-foot warehouse space on a Bluffton back road to give his empire room to grow. (This left an open spot at The Grind, which was filled by CBD retailer Sativa Health Products).
Now putting out somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 pounds of coffee a week, the warehouse roastery creates coffee that is then shipped around the country, from bagged beans to K-cups.
Merchandise available at The Grind
“We do a lot of private label coffee,” Duncan said. “It’s easier for everyone else to sell their own brand, and it’s easier for us to make a really good product.” He also started co-packing coffee into K-cups and Nespresso pods for other area roasters who wanted to get into offering that packaging but didn’t have the means to do so in-house.
His coffee is now helping some of his former employees pursue her own dreams. “I had an employee, Jillian, who worked here and moved back home to Dalton, Ga., to open a coffee shop. It’s this cool spot called Garmony House. She ended up buying coffee from us, but we also helped her through the process,” Duncan said. “We’re not a corporate company, so if someone wants to open a coffee shop, we’ll be more than happy to help them out whether they buy coffee from us or not, right?”
It is a refreshingly cooperative form of competition that seems to exist only in the specialty coffee world. In this industry, a rising tide lifts all boats. And Duncan is steering his boat through a tide that is rising quickly. He opened his second location in Okatie this past summer, just outside the gates of Sun City. Along with the coffee that made The Grind famous, the Okatie location ships in bagels fresh from New York City. A third location in the New Riverside area is hoped to be open by the time you read this.
And Duncan is just getting started.
Nicki Graziani enjoys a cup of joe.
“It will be a couple of years, but we’re looking at opening toward Beaufort, and then the big push is going out to Hardeeville and Ridgeland,” he said. It’s an ambitious plan, but one that Duncan is pursuing with practiced consideration, making sure that each location enjoys the same expertise as the original.
“With our staff, we’re kicking into high gear with training on the more scientific side of coffee tasting, which is called ‘cupping.’ The plan is that almost all of our staff will know how to roast coffee, or at least know how it’s roasted,” he said.
Duncan also plans to eventually offer cupping classes to the public, helping spread the gospel of perfectly roasted coffee. “Whether they want to open their own shop or are just fanatical about coffee, they want to learn everything there is. If we can help you get that much geekier about coffee, that’s what we’ll do.”
Joy Turner whips up a specialty coffee drink.