The Seeds of Dreams
Everyone has an idea. For some, it’s a small whisper. For others, their ideas are as many as the stars in the sky. Some ideas come and go with the wind. Still others clamber at us until we give into them. Ideas are the seeds of dreams. They start small, but when they’re given time and attention, they grow into something else altogether. So many of us forget our ideas or we say to ourselves “We can’t really do that, can we?” But what if we did. What if we took some notes from a few other folks and followed those ideas to fruition. What if?
Kristin Willis first came to The Shore as the Mid-Atlantic Coordinator for the National Marine Fishery Service in 2002. She could’ve made anywhere her home base as her region spanned from North Carolina to New Jersey, but she chose a little strip of land tucked between the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, Virginia’s Eastern Shore. She found an old farmhouse for rent at Chatham Vineyards and found herself in a space and in a community that would take hold of her heart and her life for good.
After traveling and working out on the west coast, Jamie Willis, a native trade welder and waterman of Northampton County came back to see his family and Kristin found a friend and lover in him. Together, they put down roots and built a life in the marsh mud. Kristin soon grew tired of working for “The Man” and at the time, she and Jamie had a lot of hobby-based projects, selling wares, foods and goods at local markets for fun. Nothing came of the many irons in the fire until one day when Kristin was drinking a cup of coffee in the Outer Banks. She asked the barista where their coffee came from and the girl told her that it came from some guy. An idea came to Kristin and it wouldn’t let her be.
Jamie was intrigued. Together, after a few months of intense research and figuring out basic financing, they came up with a few people to start buying their product. In 2006 Jamie roasted their first batch of coffee in a pole barn by Willis Wharf. After working there for 7 years they moved out of the shed and into their current roasting facility, which they continue to own and operate together. With Jamie’s experience and expertise roasting and Kristin’s marketing, design and business savvy, the two who started the venture with almost nothing built a company up by their bootstraps.
Since winning The 2012 Best of Show prize down at Virginia’s Food and Beverages Expo for their Marsh Mud cold brew, their business continued to gain momentum up and down the whole of The Shore and across the Bay Bridge Tunnel. Their plan was never to “go big” but to “build a respectable and trusted brand in the most local way possible.” The first coffee roastery to exist on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, ESCR paved the way for others like it today spanning across the region. They not only led the local effort in building sustainable business opportunities, but they built their company based on relationships and a connection to their customers. Kristin credits their success to The Shore, its people and their unending support.
While Eastern Shore Coastal Roasting Co. was gaining momentum here on The Eastern Shore of Virginia, Jason Van Marter was working as the executive chef at Kona Brewing Co. on the Big Island of Hawaii. Gifted in the culinary arts, but wanting to get out of the kitchen grind, he began searching for a new opportunity with his wife Tyler. In 2013 they moved to the Florida Keys for a change in atmosphere and to figure out their next steps. While rolling Sushi for his now business partner, Emilio Molina, the wheels started turning for Jason. Following a love of craft beer and a need to try something new in the food and beverage industry, Jason turned in his chef coat to try his hand at sales for Fat Point Brewing in Punta Gorda, Fla.
During that informative time, Jason’s ideas and entrepreneurial spirit soared. He and Tyler dreamed of owning and operating their own business on their own terms. Looking at an idea for a craft beer and bottle shop, but realizing that Punta Gorda wasn’t a right fit for them long term, they started planning where they might go next. In the midst of all this, surprising and happy news came for the bright young couple when they found out they were pregnant with a little girl. Now in the family frame of mind, they decided to head back to Tyler’s roots on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and landed in Cheriton, a small town in Northampton County.
It was then that Jason also returned to his roots, cooking and creating. He’d been in the kitchen experimenting with food since he was a ten-year-old boy. There was no tearing him away from that creative space. A week before Thanksgiving in 2016 Tyler and Jason rented her godfather’s space called “The Local” and started operating the small food counter. After 5 or 6 months, people started to catch on to what Jason was doing and the food service grew. In the spring of 2017, the couple took on the whole property in a lease to own capacity and business continued to increase. When the dinner service went into full swing in October of that year, The Local became the foodie and friends gathering space complete with a rotating seasonal menu and live music.
What really resonated with their local base was their commitment to local farms. From the beginning they believed in “building recipes around relationships.” Jason felt it was important to take “whatever is already on the farm and make something with it” rather than ask the farmers to provide them with something in particular. In the last year The Local started to attract other business owners in joint opportunities and ventures. One of those business owners was Kristin Willis.
Kristin was sitting in the back booth at The Local with her friend, local photographer Liz Watson talking through ideas about designs for food production companies and increasing revenue for coffee products among other things. Their conversation turned to the possibilities of partnering with a chef and playing around with some of these concepts. Jason was already carrying Kristin and Jamie’s coffee and experimenting with it in his dishes. He created a java breading with their espresso roast for his fried oysters. She realized he was exactly what they were looking for. As he walked by the two of them, Kristin asked him to sit and chat. By the end of the conversation he decided to create a coffee spice blend together with her and soon after they did. Jason named the product “Java Dust” and after collaborating together, a new business was born.
After nailing down flavor profiles and performing hours of product testing, Jason turned it over to Kristin to direct the design and marketing of the product. The two local business owners launched their new project, Java Food Co. in January of this year. Their Java Crunch (granola) and Java Dust (seasoning) hit the shelves of local markets and eateries up and down The Shore and their products were instantly favorited by local food bloggers and pastry chefs. What started out as a simple collaboration turned into the creation of a product that can now be sold anywhere in the world.
LIVING THE DREAM
Kristin, Jason, their business partners and family will be the first to tell you that their lives haven’t been easy. What you don’t see or hear about are the sleepless nights worrying if you’re going to make it. What you can’t understand is the pressure felt by a business owner who realizes that everything rides on him or her. Ideas are dangerous things, but after hearing and watching these local folks, they are also beautiful and often life changing. Giving in and pulling up your bootstraps may be the most courageous thing you’ll ever do. Virginia’s Eastern Shore and the whole of Delmarva needs more of you and your ideas.
You are the future of this place. You and that dream that’s been hidden in your heart all these years. Maybe you’re a scientist or a chef or maybe you’re a full time mom or a farmer, whatever, whoever you are, don’t let another day go by without acknowledging that you have what it takes. Start small, start where you are and start by writing it down. You’ll never know where those seeds of dreams will take you.
WHERE THEY ARE NOW
Eastern Shore Coastal Roasting Co., Eastville, VA
Kristin and Jamie’s famous Marsh Mud Cold Brew will be made available on nitro taps regionally thanks to a special partnership with Snowing in Space Coffee Co. If you’re interested in having a keg installed in your restaurant or market you can contact Kristin at (757) 414-0105.
The Local, 21229 S. Bayside Rd., Cheriton, VA,
Jason and Tyler are creating a market highlighting both local and various other “made in VA” goods in the eatery. They already have a great local beer selection and they’re working on bringing a draft system into the space. Call ahead to reserve a table or for any of your gourmet market needs (757) 607-2035.
Java Food Co.
Their website is up and running and their products are available for sale online. Java Food Co. products are moving in and around your area. If you’d like to stock some Java Flour or Java Dust on your shelves be sure to contact Kristin at (757) 414-0105,