A Silicon Valley hit before the virus, San Rafael startup Addictive Coffee is rebuilding sales via surge in online orders
A s Marin County businessman Mike Ralls got sober nearly 15 years ago, he soon learned some addictions are worth pursuing.
He’s convinced of that every morning, whether he’s grabbing his morning fix or his surfboard before reporting into an upgraded operation now anchored by a new, 1,900-square-foot coffee roasting facility at 1945 Francisco Blvd. in San Rafael.
Ralls launched Addictive Coffee Roasters in 2017 as a lifestyle choice for those “fueling (their) healthy obsessions,” as the tag line says. He enjoys surfing, boating, skiing and other outdoor activities.
“The Addictive Coffee name has nothing to do with the coffee. It’s my personal story and has been a passion of mine for over 12 years,” Ralls told the Business Journal, referencing his active, healthy lifestyle while recovering from alcohol addiction.
He and his wife, Jen, have blended his coffee operation harvested from beans in higher elevations at locales over 4,000 feet in Central and South America into a fitness craze. She works for FitBit, one of a handful of tech-related companies that through the years selected the grounds for their office grounds.
In the spirit of tech startups, Ralls started his self-taught roasting obsession in his garage. It soon morphed into a chemist’s dream, when he started to hone his Colombian, Guatemalan, Ethiopian and African blends by the hour at a rental roasting business in the East Bay.
Like most things in the tech world, word caught on fast that Addictive Coffee was chosen by the social media company LinkedIn to be the guest roaster. Within a year, Fitbit, Mozilla Firefox, Oracle, Survey Monkey, Electronic Arts, Twitter and Facebook followed suit with their partnerships.
The fast-track evolution represents a bit of a far cry from his early days, growing up “to be an entrepreneur.” At 7 years old, he sold lizards and snakes before later graduating as a young man to sell futons while he lived in Boston. When he entered the corporate world as a business development manager, he discovered an unhealthy environment he escaped from.
“I focused on what’s important in life — eating right and surfing, and I’ve always loved to create things from scratch,” he said.
A different kind of getting high that simply involves life and work’s passions, his dedication to developing brews from his home found its way to a friend’s San Rafael airplane hangar. There, he perfected an ice cream made with real coffee.
Using the location on Francisco Boulevard, Ralls has produced up to 1,000 pounds of coffee a day, with the coffee gracing the shelves of smaller grocers like Andy’s, Scotty’s and Mill Valley local markets.
“I roast small batches with attention to the development cycle. That’s how you get to the high quality. It’s like the attention paid to wine grapes,” Ralls said.
The Zen of coffee roasting has taken the couple to Peru, where they visited Machu Picchu, an ancient Inca empire renowned for its spiritual essence. From there, the Ralls met coffee farmers, and Mike furthered his roasting education.
His need to advance a sustainable, eco-friendly operation has taken off with a unique packaging design, with coffee bags deemed completely biodegradable with plant-based material upon the removal of two labels.
The design expanded into a single-serve product line that may be placed in compost. Everything was looking up.