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Proving Grounds
Coffee roaster marks 10th anniversary with accolades, new tasting room

Grounds for Change owners Kelsey and Stacy Marshall in the retail space of their newly opened tasting room.When Kelsey and Stacy Marshall had an idea more than a decade ago that combined their love of good coffee with their passion for sustainability, they encountered one roadblock after another. Several banks turned them down for loans, even after a few iterations of their business plan.

But the couple persevered. With a $10,000 investment from Stacy’s parents (who’d always had a modest income) and a 100-square-foot cottage they built on their Bainbridge Island property, Grounds for Change was born.

In July, the Marshalls will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of their business, which has grown steadily through the years — from $25,000 in sales that first year to nearly $2 million just seven years later, without any outside investors.

They have plenty to celebrate besides their growth. Not only has the pair been able to live out their values of sustainability, their business has been recognized multiple times for its practices and its positive impact.

The most recent nod came in April from B Labs, which selected Grounds for Change for its “Best of the World” list. B Labs certifies so-called B corporations — those that demonstrate high standards of social and environmental responsibility — and its Best list included the top 10 percent of those corporations with the highest scores.

This recognition comes on the heels of a Family Business Award from Seattle Business magazine earlier this year. Grounds for Change (www.GroundsForChange.com) was also the first coffee roaster in the country to become CarbonFree certified in 2008, partnering up with CarbonFund.org to offset 100 percent of the emissions from the full lifecycle of its coffee including production and transportation.

“We’re living our values through our business, so those certifications matter to us. I don’t think we could do business any other way,” Stacy said. “But at the foreground of our business is the quality of coffee.”

What contributes to the quality is not only the raw beans — organic, shade-grown, Fair Trade-certified beans sourced meticulously from farmers in Mexico, Guatemala and other countries. It’s also the attention to detail in the roasting process, which Kelsey says is an art similar to winemaking. It takes trial an error, along with skill, to reach the unique flavor profiles, and the beans are roasted in specific ways, based on their origin, so their specific characteristics are highlighted. The coffee is also roasted in small batches, to order, so it’s as fresh as possible when it reaches the consumer. Regular cuppings as well as third-party reviews help ensure quality control as well.

The company has grown organically. After moving to the Agate Business Park in Poulsbo, the business outgrew the space and expanded a few years later. Employees were also added, to a current total of four besides the Marshalls.

The couple’s families on both sides have been a big part of the business. Many friends and family members volunteer to help out during the busy times while Stacy’s brother, Mike Williams, is the lead roaster.

“Our entire family is woven into the fabric of Grounds for Change,” Stacy said. “Kelsey and I have been absolutely blessed with not only supportive parents but a large extended family spanning from Iowa, Ohio and Illinois to California, who have believed in what we do, the business that we’ve created and who have supported us in so many valuable ways.”

In turn, the couple have treated their employees like family. Not only do they provide four weeks of annual vacation, 401(k) plans, health insurance and other benefits, they pay for maternity and paternity leave and they even loan employees money for emergencies. They’ve also introduced a Baby at Work program, encouraging employees to bring their babies up to a certain age to work with them — and the Marshalls’ own two kids frequently can be seen at the facility.

“We are fortunate to have the staff we have here. That’s the piece for me that’s so remarkable, to have this amazing team that’s so passionate every day about the work we do,” Stacy said.

Kelsey said the goal has never been to become a huge company but rather have sustainable growth while maintaining the “triple bottom line”— being a socially, environmentally and financially responsible business. That’s one of the reasons, he said, certifications such as B Lab’s B Corporation are important: They help validate what they’re doing and they also help the company improve.

The B Corporation certification is “not just for super green companies,” he said. “The idea of the score is to give you a kick in the pants to get a better score. It’s a way of benchmarking,” he said.

The Grounds for Change customer base spans the country and includes many local retail and wholesale customers, from coffee shops and restaurants that serve the coffee, to stores like Central Market that sell it retail. Many local customers also choose to pick up their orders at the Poulsbo roaster instead of having it mailed. Although the company started out as an online-based roaster mailing orders, the local customer base has been steadily growing.

“Grounds for Change wouldn’t be what it is without the local customers. We’re fortunate to have been here for 10 years,” Stacy said. “It’s really a wonderful community.”

Now, local retail customers will be able to drop in any time to buy coffee off the shelf — Grounds for Change is opening a tasting room.

“A considerable amount of effort went into the tasting room. Our focus has been more on local outreach and that’s part of the rationale for the tasting room,” Kelsey said.

The remodel of the building to add the tasting room was completed about a year ago but the official opening will coincide with the 10th anniversary celebration on July 12. The tasting room and retail space will offer freshly roasted coffee beans as well as teas and some Grounds for Change and coffee-related merchandise.

“For local folks, it’s great to come right to the source and get coffee that’s just come off the roaster,” said Wendy Churchman, office manager since 2008. “That’s part of the reason for the expansion (into a tasting room).”

The July 12 anniversary open house, scheduled from 5 to 9 p.m., will be a family-friendly event that will feature several local businesses’ food, beer and wine, as well as local musicians. The company will also be partnering with a local nonprofit organization for a “charity coffee swap.”

Another one of the Marshalls’ passions is to support various causes as well as help match up businesses with nonprofits. Grounds for Change is part of “1% for the Planet,” supporting nonprofits such as The Humane Society of the United States, and has donated more than $80,000 to its partner NGOs as of last year. Additionally, the business supports local efforts, such as environmental and other programs at Suquamish Elementary School.

“We want to be part of the local community and for us that also means spotlighting local businesses and nonprofits,” Churchman said. “That’s why a piece of the July 12 event is to give the local community the opportunity to give back.”

10th Anniversary Open House

The anniversary celebration will take place from 5-9 p.m. on July 12, at Grounds for Change, located at Agate Pass Business Park, 15773 George Lane NE, Suite 204 in Poulsbo.

The event will include live music, food, beer, wine, self-guided tours, roasting demonstrations, art projects for kids and more.

A local nonprofit will be selected for a “charity coffee swap” —Grounds for Change will swap a half-pound bag of coffee in exchange for a donation to the nonprofit.

Businesses and organizations are invited to participate by contributing information, coupons, small giveaways or other items for a goodie bag. Call the roastery for details at (360) 779-0401.

For more information, go to groundsforchange.com.

Where to Get Your Grounds for Change Fix

  • Bremerton: Toro Lounge, Harborside Market, Hi-Lo’s 15th Street Café, Bridgeview Bistro
  • Port Orchard: Stormy Espresso
  • Silverdale: ElBe’s coffee
  • Poulsbo: Burrata Bistro, Tizley’s Europub, The Hare and the Hound, Central Market, Crimson Cove
  • Suquamish: Coyote Coffee, Masi Latte, Bella Luna Pizza
  • Kingston: The Flying Pickle
  • Indianola: The Indianola Country Store
  • Bainbridge Island: The Manor House, The Beach House restaurant, Town and Country Market, Islandwood, OfficeXpats


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