[W]hen many people think of retirement, they imagine leisurely days free from the pressures of work. But Roy Mediate took his retirement in a different direction. After sixteen carefree years spent traveling in his RV and living quietly on his farm in Monticello, Florida, the retired field engineer decided to take on a coffee roasting business.
“It keeps him busy, he enjoys it, he is good at it, and it helps to bring our family together,” says Yvonne Mediate, Roy’s wife. and reentered the workforce in October 2014. His sister, Mona Pridemore, had been roasting coffee for years, but after a remarriage and move, found she no longer had the time or optimal location to continue. Roy bought the five-kilo Ambex roaster, Bunn coffee grinder, and bag sealer, and started Pecan Hill Coffee—getting a crash course in roasting basics from Mona and her son, Eric.
Roy says achieving a master’s degree later in life gave him the confidence to take over the coffee roasting business—he earned an MBA from Kennesaw State University at the age of fifty-one.
Pecan Hill Coffee takes its name from the popular southern nut, and from the location of the Mediate’s old home in Monticello, which stood on a hill surrounded by pecan trees.
Roy’s business plan is simple, but bold—like many of his coffee flavors. “The keys to a successful business are a quality product and excellent customer service,” he says.
Through trial and error, Roy learned how to source the best beans and roast them to perfection. Ordering from Royal Coffee New York and collecting beans at a distribution center in Jacksonville, Florida, Pecan Hill’s inventory includes coffees from Brazil, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Peru, Colombia, Sumatra, and Honduras.
Roy believes quality coffee “should be smooth with no after taste and not bitter.” He goes by the rule, “If you can’t drink the coffee black, there is something wrong with it.”
Roy’s philosophy on drinkable coffee has resonated with Pecan Hill’s customers; the company has expanded its line of offerings from two to fifty. The coffee is being sold online and at specialty stores in Monticello, Florida, and Thomasville, Georgia, the new home base for the Pecan Hill roastery.
Roy moved his roasting operation to Thomasville from a small storefront in Monticello. The building sits about a mile from the two-story property Roy and Yvonne bought on the main street of historic Thomasville. Roy and Yvonne live in an upstairs of apartment of the building—built in 1910—while an art gallery occupies the bottom floor.
Roy’s commitment to quality carries over to details like packaging. Roy purchases top-of-the line foil bags. “They look nice on a display shelf, they keep the coffee fresh, and customers appreciate a more upscale look in the final product,” he says.
To help lower costs for customers, Roy looks for close-out and clearance prices on bags, also opting to design and print his own labels. “If you take care of the customer, the money will follow,” Roy says.
That business philosophy leads him to stop roasting when a friend comes by requesting three bags of Calypso Crazy for his mother visiting from out of state. Roy takes the roasted beans he has stored in a container, grinds them, and packages the coffee on the spot.
He follows this flexible response a step further when a customer asks if he can develop a new flavor or design a new label. Roy answers honestly, “Can I do it? I don’t know, but I can try.”
It is this “little engine that could” attitude that has led to a full line of flavors and specialty labels, so customers like the lady who makes rum cakes can have her company logo on Pecan Hill coffee to complement her pastry. Local business owners, or a family patriarch can put personal photos and names on Pecan Hill coffee labels, making their gift of coffee unique.
While Roy is the heart of Pecan Hill Coffee, he relies on a small, part-time staff, many of whom are family. Roy’s son, David, is a valuable staffer because he is such “a people person” and connects with vendors and distributors. David works with his son, Liam, whom Roy describes as “quite the salesman.” Mona stays involved by helping with marketing. Dale and Carson, another son and grandson team, also pitch in when they can. Of course, Yvonne lends her support and brags, “I even sleep with the CEO.”
Family involvement is great and the company’s website says Pecan Hill is “family owned and operated,” but Barney Gregory, Roy’s lifelong friend, is his right-hand man. He and Roy make sure coffee orders are processed, the beans roasted, and customers get a quality product. They take periodic trips to Jacksonville to get the beans and transport them to Thomasville. Roy says Barney has “lots of great ideas and is a real public relations man.” In fact, his PR skills make him a sought-after Santa during the holidays.
Roy also relies on Barney to pick flavored beans, make mixes, and even name them. “I don’t have much sense of taste,” Roy admits, “so I count on Barney to decide which flavors work together.”
The fifty-plus Pecan Hill blends have such provocative names as Snickerdoo, Country Grog, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and Gillie’s Gold. Of course, there are the standards like Vanilla, Caramel, Southern Pecan, Raspberry Mocha, and Irish Cream.
With the company slogan “It’s coffee time somewhere!” Roy sees no limits to how far his coffee and brand can go in the future. He keeps updating the website with new blends and flavors. He has even branched out into espresso. With Mona’s marketing skills, Barney’s PR savvy, David’s people personality, Liam’s salesmanship, Carson’s added muscle, Dale’s accounting advice, and Yvonne’s love and support for Roy—a CEO with a bold business plan—Pecan Hill Coffee will brew more success as it continues to spread through north Florida, south Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
—Leora Legacy was an English professor and later an editor and communications professional before her recent retirement. She continues to freelance write as she has for almost forty years.