Local Joe

Alex Suckling serves coffee to commuters at the Local Joe Coffee hut in downtown Victor, Idaho. Suckling, who also owns Alpine Air Coffee in Victor, recently purchased the coffee hut as a means for direct sales of his product.

Commuters, you have a new (old) option for your morning caffeine boost.

Effective as of the New Year, the Local Joe coffee hut has changed hands. Longtime owner Danielle Koning sold the business she ran for 15 years to Alex Suckling, the brain behind Alpine Air Coffee Roasters.

Much about the business at the intersection of Main Street and Highway 31 in Victor, Idaho, will remain the same, save for the coffee.

Suckling operates the roastery he started about a year ago out of the Wildwood Room building in Victor, but other than farmers markets and similar events he hasn’t had a consistent method to introduce his coffee to people.

“One of the main questions I get is, ‘Hey, where can I try your coffee?’” he said.

Until he purchased Local Joe the answer involved a contingent of grocery stores and establishments in Teton Valley and Jackson. Suckling’s coffees have found a home on shelves in places like the Aspens Market in Wilson and Barrels and Bins and the restaurant Yeti’s Post, both in Driggs, Idaho. And he dutifully sets up at the Jackson summer markets.

Without a physical outlet, however, he couldn’t prove the quality of his product to potential customers. Some people like the dark, deep roasts they’ve drunk their whole lives, but Suckling sees a world of coffee he can introduce people to. He buys his beans from an importer that guarantees ethical business practices and fair prices to growers, and his organic coffee comes in fully compostable bags.

Over the past year, Alpine Air has grown from idea to thriving business. Suckling is the former head of sales at Sego Skis, but when the ski manufacturer retooled and slimmed down its operation he found himself out of a job and at a crossroads.

As he considered next steps he decided it was time to take the leap on an idea he sat on for years. Work as a barista and at a coffee roaster in his native New Zealand planted the seed of starting a roastery, and Suckling wanted to be his own boss.

“It really forced me to make a decision of, like, what do I want to do? And it was kind of almost it’s now or never,” he said. “There’s never going to be a more perfect time.”

Taking the plunge into self-employment often requires long hours, creative business practices and a little help. Suckling’s wife, Erica Hansen, who daylights as the staff biologist at the Jackson Hole Land Trust, spends her nights and weekends helping get the business off the ground, he said, and he has employed a coffee share to encourage people to buy. He also offers coffee to offices, including the one his wife works in.

Purchasing Local Joe is a natural result of the hustle to grow Alpine Air. Without the development of the roastery, he said, he wouldn’t have been able to buy the coffee hut. Selling pounds of beans has at least reached the break-even point after a year, which showed him it was time to take the next step.

Koning “had this proven business model that works,” Suckling said. “So it was a turnkey operation when I showed up.”

Having worked in sales and management for companies like Sego, Kate’s Real Food and Black Tie Ski Rentals in Crested Butte, Colorado, Suckling understands the inner workings of small businesses. Buying Local Joe was a natural step, albeit a big one, and he said for now he wants to keep his growth just like his coffee: organic.

That means continuing to hone his craft as a roaster but with an eye on the future, and maybe a few more outlets like Local Joe.

“I would love to see the roastery grow with greater distribution,” he said. “The other side of it is once I sort of get my feet under me with the coffee hut … I would love to see once there is a more efficient process and it’s a bit more dialed in if I could replicate it.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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