Faces of Brookside: The Roasterie
Coffee has been described as the elixir of life and even as solving all life’s problems in one delightful little cup. Great coffee and a great coffee shop like The Roasterie also bring us together and help define a great community. The Roasterie Café, 6223 Brookside Boulevard, serves a multitude of purposes from casual people watching, to a neighborhood hangout, to a town hall, and often an impromptu business office. We’re proud that owners Danny and Carla O’Neill and The Roasterie, once a home-based startup and now a Brookside staple and Kansas City icon, still consider Brookside home. Following they share how it all started and what local community still means to them today.
A Life-Changing Trip
For Danny O’Neill, owner of The Roasterie, farm to bean coffee is about more than just the taste, it’s the memories of growing up on a farm in Iowa with nine siblings and a life-changing trip to Costa Rica where he met coffee farmers that reminded him of his roots.
He grew up in Denison, Iowa, a small town about an hour from Omaha, Nebraska. As the middle child of 10 kids, he was always fighting for attention.
“In high school, I dated a foreign exchange student, Joanna, and saw all the attention she got. I wanted that!” he said. “But I had never traveled much further than Omaha. I didn’t even have a suitcase.” Determined to see more of the world, Danny signed up to study abroad and had his mother drive him to Sac City for an interview.
“We sat down, and the interviewer asked my mom what she thought of me studying abroad in another country,” Danny said. “My mother clutched her purse in her lap and pursed her lips and in an exasperated voice, said, ‘Well, I don’t know! This is the first I’m hearing of it!'” Danny recalled, reenacting her expressions.
A young Danny tried not to cry as he boarded his first plane with only a month’s notice of getting accepted that fall semester of 1978. Three flights later, he arrived in Costa Rica and experienced a total culture shock. He didn’t speak Spanish, and the land and people were so seemingly different from what he was used to back in Iowa. But soon, he made friends. His friends started working on a farm picking coffee beans, and he joined them. (Danny pictured picking coffee beans in Costa Rica in 1978: Photo courtesy IN Kansas City Magazine)
“I loved it!” Danny said. “I didn't drink any coffee, but I loved being around the farmers. Farmers are farmers are farmers. It doesn’t matter if they’re growing soybeans or corn or coffee or mangos. They’re wonderful people, and I felt right at home.”
A year later, Danny came back to the US and started college at Iowa State. He had his first coffee during his first finals week in the spring of 1979. He still remembers that feeling. “I drank a whole pot. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t sit still. But I loved that feeling, and I’ve been chasing it ever since. I still drink like 20 cups a day.”
A Basement Brew
After college, Danny took a corporate job that allowed him to visit Seattle often. “That was the coffee capital of the US before we moved it here to Kansas City,” Danny said. He started getting coffee from his favorite roasters in Seattle. Eventually, he realized the corporate world wasn’t for him and became dead set on doing something different. He left his corporate job with no intention of returning and took a year off to study coffee. “Back then, people scoffed at the idea of a career in coffee,” he said.
Through his travels, he discovered an air-roaster in Oregon and spent a week learning how to air-roast coffee. He bought a roaster and had it delivered to his home in Brookside. “I had to cut the door frame to get the roaster in,” Danny said (pictured today in his Brookside basement where his coffee roasting first began). That was 1993. Thus began long hours of perfecting the roast and ensuring a consistent batch with the innovative process of air-roasting, which is what makes Roasterie beans unique. He developed the mission and vision statement which has remained relatively unchanged: “to buy the best beans we can find in the world, to roast them the best way known to man (air-roasting), and to deliver them as fast as humanly possible.”
A Brookside Brand
It took 100 days for Danny to make his first sale. “It was 18-20 hour days of knocking on doors and roasting small batches day and night,” he said. “I was so ignorant in those days.”
One by one, Danny got little accounts. They spent every weekend at demos and events. “I set up a little table and my roaster on Saturdays at Miner’s Grocery Store,” Danny said. “The first Saturday of demos I set off the fire alarm while I was doing an air-roasting demo! Cheryl Miner was there, and she was so mad. We had to evacuate everyone. I was so embarrassed, but they were gracious and let me come back. That was a great time because people would give me such grace and patience.”
By the end of the 1994 (their first year of business), The Roasterie had become a part of the social fabric of the city. They attended hundreds of events handing out coffee and meeting and serving their customers.
“Participating in the community became part of us,” Danny said. Today, the Roasterie is still an active participant in Kansas City events. And Danny sits on the board of multiple community charities and institutions.
By 1995, Danny’s operation had outgrown his basement. He moved his roasting facility to the Crossroads in July of 1995, then quickly outgrew that and moved on to 2601 Madison, where the company operated for ten years. In October 2005, in the span of 10 days, Danny and his wife Carla welcomed their son Terry into the world, opened the Brookside café location, and opened their current headquarters where their famous plane is perched overhead, overlooking KC. The O’Neills (pictured in their Brookside home) still live just seven blocks from that Brookside café. Regulars recognize Danny and Carla, who were in the shop daily in the first years it was open. They’re still there most days of the week. “That café is a second home for our kids,” Carla said.
Always Supporting Local
Carla met Danny through her best friend, who had met Danny on a European coffee tour. Carla is from Lebanon, but Kansas City feels like home to her. Danny said the same of himself. People often think that both Carla and Danny were raised in Kansas City.
“Kansas City is a loved city,” Carla said. “Within minutes of meeting people in other cities, Kansas City, and especially Brookside, comes up in conversation. There’s an authenticity that the neighborhood is known for. It’s always been our hometown.”
Carla managed the Brookside Roasterie Café for the first eight years. “I’ve had customers who met people in our store, and then got engaged in our café; Customers remember me carrying Terry as a baby on my hip while I worked the register. That café is part of our daily life and our life as a family.”
“Everywhere we go we run into someone Carla knows from the café,” Danny said. “And if she doesn’t remember their name, she knows their order.”
For the O’Neills, local is a given. They buy everything they can locally. They go from shop to shop down 63rd street every Christmas, buying all local gifts, Danny said. “It’s a nostalgic tradition, but it’s also a given. In Kansas City, we don’t care how much money you have, but we do care what you do with it. And if you’ve made it here, we want you to be giving back and pouring into the community.”
The Roasterie Café
6223 Brookside Boulevard
Kansas City, MO 64113
The Roasterie Café offers an assortment of pastries, bagels and cookies for a sweet snack, and the drink menu offers something for everyone. Beverages include favorites like Harney and Sons teas, signature blends, espresso, specialty drinks and more.
Contact: Danny and Carla O’Neill
Lindsey Gareeb (firstname.lastname@example.org)