Valley Bounty: Creating local buzz: Share Coffee Roasters invests in community and it pays off in their food and coffee

A busy day inside Share Coffee Roasters Amherst cafe.

A busy day inside Share Coffee Roasters Amherst cafe. PHOTO BY PAUL SHOUL

The warm interior of Share Coffee Roasters cafe in Amherst beckons on a brisk fall day.

The warm interior of Share Coffee Roasters cafe in Amherst beckons on a brisk fall day. PHOTO BY PAUL SHOUL

A breakfast sandwich chock full of local ingredients pairs well with a cappuccino at Share Coffee Roasters cafe.

A breakfast sandwich chock full of local ingredients pairs well with a cappuccino at Share Coffee Roasters cafe. COURTESY SHARE COFFEE ROASTERS

Share's chia pudding topped with local milk, local apples and house made granola.

Share's chia pudding topped with local milk, local apples and house made granola. PHOTO BY PAUL SHOUL

Share's signature “Egg Sammy” features a local egg fried to order topped with Cabot cheddar and local arugula.

Share's signature “Egg Sammy” features a local egg fried to order topped with Cabot cheddar and local arugula. PHOTO BY PAUL SHOUL

Q, a staff member at Share Coffee Roasters, prepares sandwiches and salads using lettuce mix from Old Friends Farm in Amherst.

Q, a staff member at Share Coffee Roasters, prepares sandwiches and salads using lettuce mix from Old Friends Farm in Amherst. PHOTOS BY PAUL SHOUL

By JACOB NELSON

For the Gazette

Published: 11-17-2023 12:16 PM

For many of us, coffee is more than a drink. It’s an experience, and often a ritual. And while it’s grown far away, it can elevate the enjoyment of many of our favorite foods grown close to home, and vice versa.

As Ken Majka, owner of Share Coffee Roasters, puts it, “you can’t serve a mediocre breakfast sandwich with the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had.”

Whether it’s espresso, drip, or cold brew, coffee is queen at Share’s cafes located at 178 N Pleasant St. in Amherst and inside Thorne’s Marketplace in Northampton. A menu loaded of local ingredients helps their food rise to match the quality of what they’re pouring.

Majka’s first foray into the cafe business came as a head roaster and barista in the late 1990s. After a period spent away from that life, entrepreneurial friends encouraged him to get back in the game.

“When the Lady Killigrew Cafe in Montague came up for sale in 2006, I decided to buy that,” says Majka. “Then in 2010, my friend Bob Lowry, who founded Bueno Y Sano restaurants, convinced me to join him in buying Rao’s Cafe in Amherst.”

As part of the sale, they agreed to keep the Rao’s branding and, since the company continued roasting beans, to use their coffee through 2015. As the date approached, Majka founded Share Coffee Roasters, building a roastery in Hadley to sell directly to customers and supply the cafes. In 2016 the coffee switch was made, and both cafes were rebranded with the Share name.

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That name actually comes from ‘farm share,’ paying homage to the rich culture of community supported agriculture (CSA) farms in the region and highlighting the similarity in their business models.

“I often have a CSA farm share,” Majka says, “and I love getting to hear what’s good this week and knowing where my food is coming from. At Share, we’ve offered weekly coffee subscriptions from the beginning, wanting to be a similar resource and offer that same feeling for your coffee.”

Share imports about half of their coffee beans directly from independent farmers. The rest they buy through trusted import companies working mainly with farmer cooperatives.

“Establishing relationships with farmers is our favorite way to buy coffee,” Majka says. “For example, this is our fourth year working with a farmer named William Martinez and his family in Columbia. He wanted to grow specialty coffee, and we’ve supported him on that quest.”

In year one, Martinez produced just two bags of coffee — a little over 300 pounds. Share bought it all and gave feedback on techniques to improve flavor.

“We paid him a dollar extra per pound to help build his capacity,” Majka continues. “The next year he installed drying racks, built raised beds, then helped his brother do the same. Now in year four, we just got 14 bags from them and it’s the highest quality yet.”

Majka’s coffee drink of choice is a pure, simple shot of espresso, fueling him as he jumps between cafe locations. On the food side of the menu, it’s those breakfast sandwiches he can’t stop talking about.

“I remember when we first started making them at our Amherst location in 2018 and we were only selling like two a day,” he says. “I was sitting there, eating the steak and egg sandwich with roasted shallots, going, ‘why aren’t these selling? They’re so good.’ Fast forward five years, I’m still eating them every day, and now we’re selling a lot of them.”

The eggs — fried to order — come from Hall Poultry Farm in Pelham. Those are topped with melty Cabot cheddar and locally grown arugula and held together by a bagel or English muffin.

Share also uses gallons of rich Jersey cow milk from Mapleline Farm in Hadley each day in their espresso-based coffee drinks. Ginger syrup from Old Friends Farm in Amherst is a common addition to iced sparkling Italian sodas, while local honey or maple syrup from Snowshoe Farm add shots of sweetness to other drinks. Some of their bread is also from Rise Above Bakery in Greenfield, made with flour milled at Ground Up Grain in Holyoke using grains grown in New England.

Coffee shops, with their technical terms and various reputations, can feel like intimidating spaces. Staff at Share’s cafes help create a lively and inclusive atmosphere.

“We’re coffee aficionados, but you don’t have to be,” says Majka. “We’re not going to grill you about flavor notes you’re getting when we hand you a cup. We go out of our way to find people who work hard, but really are just genuinely kind, and customers do give us that feedback.”

Ultimately, Majka, and by extension Share, is motivated by a pursuit of quality that aligns with deeper values. From farmer to cafe customer, the aim is to treat everyone and every place with respect and kindness, acknowledging that life is more enjoyable when people support each other in community. It costs a little more to invest in those ideals, but to Majka, the value you get in return is clear.

“What we make is a little more expensive,” he acknowledges. “But we’re paying coffee farmers three to five times fair-trade rates, using a lot of local ingredients, offering good paying jobs, and there’s so much value in that. You’re investing in community, and you get what you pay for.”

Share Coffee Roasters’ Amherst and Northampton cafes are open daily. The Hadley roastery is also open on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings to pick up freshly roasted beans.

Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). To learn more about restaurants near you using food from local farms, visit buylocalfood.org.