It’s no secret that this country runs on coffee. With drive-thru stops on every corner and fierce loyalties around local and national chains, coffee is a routine that connects us. But for a few dozen coffee-lovers across the north Metro, the connection goes even deeper, with fresh roasted beans arriving at their doorstep courtesy of a local roasting family.
“[The kids] have a little routine that they do,” says Marlene Dyer, co-owner of StirStix Coffee Roasters and mom of four. “They’ll knock on the door, hand them their coffee and say, ‘Thank you for the business!’”
StirStix is a family enterprise crafted out of a love for roasting (that would be dad, Jeremy) a passion for teaching and entrepreneurship (from mom, Marlene) and a whole lot of help from children Jack (15), Mitch (13) and twins Jett and Juliana (9).
As Marlene and I chatted on the sunporch at their home in Lake Elmo, the children waited in varying ways for their turn to speak. Jett and Juliana were on the move, dancing and spinning around a table. Across from me, Mitch sat quiet and attentive. And wedged in the corner of the couch, Jack was lounged comfortably—a jug of Arnold Palmer at the ready—with a hat tipped over his face. It was a delightful introduction to the wonderfully matched coffee-roasting team they call “D6.”
The StirStix story began in 2019, when the family decided to start homeschooling amid the pandemic. Homeschooling the kids was a choice made to “simplify” the education process during the chaos of the pandemic, and soon it became clear that Jeremy’s burgeoning interest in roasting beans would fit into the curriculum perfectly.
“We always knew that [StirStix] was going to be small, but we wanted it to be legit, and we wanted it to be a business that provided a quality product to the customer and the value of giving our kids that experience and opportunity to learn about a business,” Marlene says.
Jack recalls the night he found out about the idea. He says, “I was watching a movie in the living room … and dad comes running down the stairs, and he’s like, ‘Hey, Jack! I have this great idea for a business. I don’t know if you’re going to like the product, but it’s a great idea and it’s been around since the time of Jesus.’ And I was like, ‘Feet-washing?’ And then he laughs and goes, ‘No, coffee roasting!’” Jack didn’t think too much of it at the time, but soon they had a business plan and, then, a coffee roaster.
And though Jack still hasn’t grown into a taste for coffee, he says, “[Dad] definitely made the right choice in doing it. It’s been a fun experience so far.”
Each family member has a unique role to play in the roasting, selling and delivery of the beans. Jeremy is the sole roaster, only roasting enough each week to fulfill new orders, meaning beans are roasted “by demand” and arrive at their destination fresh.
“[Our customers] are so loyal and consistent. I can count on it,” Marlene says. “Jeremy was roasting the other day and I’m like, ‘Well, this person will be ordering soon. They’re just about ready,’ and sure enough he finished roasting and boom their order came in!”
When the beans are ready to pack, the family unifies in the kitchen to get the job done.
Neat and tidy Juliana is responsible for measurements, making sure the bags are opened and the beans poured in correctly. Jett is the “errand guy,” entrusted with odd jobs that suit his boundless energy. Easy-going Mitch will do “just about anything” from bagging and sealing to organizing orders. The eldest, Jack, likes to do work on the creative end—brainstorming advertising and marketing strategies. “Dad really likes the ‘free coffee’ part of it,” Jack says.
And mom, Marlene? It seems she’s a talented controller of chaos. When asked what the biggest challenge has been, Jett responds for her from across the room, “Controlling all the kids!” he says, and Marlene lets out a hearty laugh in agreement. The four kids are involved in every aspect of the business, and it shows.
“It’s definitely been helpful in teaching skills and how to communicate with people,” Jack says. Both he and Mitch have had the opportunity to go with Marlene to peddle their coffee at local farmers markets and events, earning a commission as they develop new skills. “We’ll watch to see how mom communicates with the customers, and then we’ll do it too,” he says.
The markets are Marlene’s favorite part. “It’s sweet. As a mom of four, you don’t get a lot of the connecting time one-on-one, and then it’s the training: here’s what our product is, here’s how to set it up, here’s how to engage with people, here’s how to take the money and collect it and keep a count. Just that one-on-one training with the kids is invaluable,” Marlene says.
As the family began pursuing the business in earnest, they considered the questions: Who are we? What are we doing? They settled on the name StirStix with a crossed hockey stick logo to reflect a love for the ice sports (hockey and figure skating) that the kids pursue year-round—and the coffee bean sales pay for.
“It’s kind of become just part of life now,” Jack says. “Along with doing chores, we help out with [StirStix].”
StirStix’s beans are sourced through a direct-trade farm gate process that ensures farmers are paid fairly. Current bean offerings include Brazil organic dark roast, Honduras Lempira medium roast and Ethiopia Washed Guji light roast—all available to order online in 12 oz., 2 lb. and 5 lb. bags that can be gift-wrapped and packaged alongside StirStix merchandise.
“Our customers are all local, and it’s small enough that we can manage it, being home and doing homeschooling, but big enough that we’re happy to maintain it,” Marlene says. “It’s right in a sweet spot.”
And though the family calls Lake Elmo home, they are immersed in White Bear Lake through sports and StirStix. If they’re not at the Hippodrome or packed into their car delivering beans to local families, you can find them at local farmers markets, events and pop ups across town. “I feel like we live in White Bear Lake, to be honest with you,” Marlene says.
It’s in the Beans
Choosing your favorite coffee bean flavor from a grocery store shelf may be easy, but have you considered how those unique flavor profiles came to be? Though the Dyer family chooses their beans carefully, flavors will shift throughout the year based on a variety of factors. Marlene compares it to wine—just like grapes, coffee beans change each season depending on weather and where they’re grown. “We’re not going to have the same bean profile [every time], but we’re going to try to get in the same profile slot if we can,” Marlene says.
The roasting process also has a part to play in the final flavor. “[The beans] all have different undertones and notes, and Jeremy can change that in how he roasts as well. He can bring out more of the chocolate or he can bring out more of the fruity or nutty undertones,” Marlene says. “He tries to do the best he can to bring the best out of each bean.”