Food News

Specialty Roaster Brandon Wells Discusses Coronavirus' Impact on the Coffee Trade

Brandon Wells, cofounder of Wells Coffee.
Brandon Wells, cofounder of Wells Coffee. Screenshot via YouTube
It has been quite a journey for Wells Coffee. The Fort Lauderdale-based specialty coffee roaster and shop, whose wholesale operations touch dozens of other businesses throughout South and Central Florida, opened in 2014 as a small Boca Raton shop with a six-pound-capacity coffee roaster.

Now a Flagler Village institution, Wells Coffee entered 2020 equipped with a 20-pound-capacity roasting system and boasting a 30-plus percent increase in revenue year over year.

Now, like so many small businesses in South Florida and beyond, cofounder Brandon Wells and his team are fighting just to survive.

"Since mid-April, we've easily lost more than $30,000 in revenue," Wells tells New Times. "While we've been able to leave open our retail space, our foot traffic and sales have been down 40-plus percent. As for our wholesale operations, they've completely dried up."

Wells' wholesale operation, which provides coffee to cafés, restaurants, and hotels, consists of approximately 50 partners, including Java & Jam on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, the French Bakery in Delray Beach, and Gilbert's Coffee Bar in Stuart.

"It's always a really awesome value-add for any city to have a community-based coffee roaster in its center,"  Wells says. "It helps locals feel like home as well as visitors. If the town would lose a place like ours, it would lose part of that warmth. And for our wholesale partners, they'd lose a defined, local offering and asset, too."
click to enlarge
New rules at Wells Coffee.
Photo by Jesse Scott
Beyond immediate wholesale impacts, the coffee farms Wells works with around the world are taking a coronavirus-borne hit, too. Were it not for the pandemic, Wells would be buying green coffee beans directly from his go-to farms in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala. Now that can't happen.

"I've talked to our farms and importers alike, and so many are backing out of their buying commitments," says Wells. "It's had a tremendous impact on the entire chain. There are certainly a couple of spots that I was going to buy bags of green coffee from. But now I'm apprehensive about making purchases. I don't know where we're going to be in a few months, and I don't want to build more debt."

On the plus side, Wells Coffee was approved to receive funding from the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to keep its staff on payroll. The company also held a fundraiser on its mobile ordering platform, along with a T-shirt sales initiative with all proceeds going to its staff.

Wells says he and his wife, Nicole, continue to apply for "every single loan and grant that's available" to help mitigate the losses that continue to accumulate. The company recently launched a GoFundMe campaign, Don't Let Wells Run Dry, to recover revenue losses related to its wholesale business. In recent days, the campaign passed the halfway point of its $25,000 goal.

"Across the board, we're seeing people more committed than ever to their local favorites," Wells says. "Despite the challenges we've faced, our community has shown amazing support of our company. We're so lucky and hope to keep being here for them."

Wells Coffee. 737 NE Second Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-982-2886; Donations to "Don't Let Wells Run Dry" may be made via
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Jesse Scott is a Fort Lauderdale-based contributor for Miami New Times covering culture, food, travel, and entertainment in South Florida and beyond. His work has appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, National Geographic, and his hometown newspaper, the Free Lance-Star, among others.