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Brewing an idea: Student entrepreneurs cook up a hot venture

By Kim McGrath Office of Communications and External Relations
Juniors JT Peifer and Kari Heuer are building a specialty coffee business, one bag at a time.
Juniors JT Peifer and Kari Heuer are building a specialty coffee business, one bag at a time.

College students and coffee are a quintessential combination. But how many have tried to secure a great cup of java by self-roasting coffee beans in a hot-air popcorn popper? Junior JT Peifer has.

Peifer tasted his first cup of coffee at the age of 10, owned his first espresso machine by the 7th grade, and ran a small coffee stand at his high school. He developed a taste for high-quality coffee and began sampling coffee beans from all over the world.

His passion for coffee led him to launch Feisty Goat Coffee Roasters earlier this semester. In the early morning before opening Campus Grounds, the student-run coffee shop in Taylor Residence Hall that he manages, he roasts and grinds exotic coffee beans from Ethiopia, Costa Rica and Panama, among other countries. (Campus Grounds and Feisty Goat are separate businesses.)

His business partner and fellow coffee enthusiast Kari Heuer handles the sales, financial operations and customer service side of the business. “Roasting is an art,” she says. “JT is so obsessed with sharing great coffee that he’d give it away for free. That’s where I have to keep him realistic and grounded.

Customers place orders online, choosing from what Peifer has available at the time, such as Ethiopian Yirgacheffe or Costa Rican Terrazu. The beans aren’t roasted until an order is received. The roasting process takes about 20 minutes; after letting the beans cool, they’re packaged for delivery, primarily on campus for now. Prices range from $7 for a half-pound bag to $13 for a pound bag.

“The best cup of coffee uses high-quality, freshly roasted beans. The proximity of the grind to the person drinking the coffee is critical,” says Peifer, an English major and entrepreneurship and social enterprise minor who spent his formative years in Kijabe, Kenya. “When I first started roasting beans I could only do two ounces at a time in the popper. Now we have two semi-automated roasters that roast half a pound of beans each.”

Peifer and Heuer invested personal funds to launch the business and then received support from the University’s Center for Entrepreneurship.

“Entrepreneurship is often about developing successful ventures from personal passions,” says John Ceneviva, entrepreneur-in-residence at the Center for Entrepreneurship, who assisted in securing funding for Feisty Goat. “We were most impressed with JT’s passion for his product, but he has also tapped into a trend in coffee for super-premium quality, a product that is not readily available to consumers in general, and in particular to Wake Forest students.”

Heuer, a junior business and enterprise management major and mathematics minor from Austin, Texas, uses skills from her business classes to keep Feisty Goat running smoothly. “I’m learning it’s the little things that can go wrong, and the best learning is by doing,” she says.

This summer, Heuer will be interning with a WebSphere marketing team in Austin and designing a Feisty Goat Web site. Peifer has been awarded a Richter scholarship to travel to Kona, Hawaii, to study the specialty coffee industry. As part of his research, he will be harvesting, pulping, washing, roasting and packaging coffee beans.

“Ever since my first cup in fifth grade, coffee has been a passion of mine,” says Peifer. “The entire enterprise of coffee fascinates me.”

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