WHITEFISH — KPAX/KAJ and Whitefish Credit Union continue to highlight unsung heroes in Montana. Each week we'll spotlight someone who made a difference in our communities and also award them VIP tickets to this summer's Under the Big Sky Festival in Whitefish. If you know someone you think we should profile, nominate them here.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought sudden change to communities across the country in the spring of 2020.
Many grocery stores saw a shortage of certain food and material supplies as residents braced for the unknown.
One constant that remained abundant in Northwest Montana was the access to locally produced coffee beans thanks to Montana Coffee Traders.
Montana Coffee Traders Roast Master Zach Farnes put in extra hours this last year to keep the Flathead Valley fully caffeinated.
“People were able to stay safe and still get what they needed to be able to at least have something that’s one part of some normalcy in their life during a chaotic time,” Farnes told MTN News.
He has been the Roast Master at Montana Coffee Traders for the last three years.
“I think we have probably have somewhere around 40 coffees, some of them blends, some single origins, you know being around for 40 years we definitely have created things that people are very much attached to,” said Farnes.
When a stay-at-home order was issued for nonessential businesses in Montana in late March of 2020, Farnes and his team of close to a dozen coffee roasters quickly sprang into action, ramping up coffee bean production as online sales tripled during those first few months.
“Thinking about how we can keep production going we ended up splitting up the production team and absorbing some of the café staff which really helped," Farnes explained. "It allowed us to have two teams potentially if one went down and so that really was the main focus of how we were able to continue our sales."
Montana Coffee Traders wholesale coffee is shipped to restaurants and stores across the Northwest while online sales reach coffee lovers nationwide.
General Manager Heather Vrentas said Zach’s leadership and innovation has been essential to their success.
“Zach was outstanding in his innovation, he came up with a way that we could house double the amount of green unroasted coffee onsite very quickly, and that was key as shipping started to shut down and ports were shutting down, so we were able to stockpile enough raw product in-house to keep going,” said Vrentas.
Farnes said each batch of coffee beans takes roughly 10-to-15 minutes to roast. They’ve been roasting on average 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of beans a day during the pandemic.
“I’m lucky enough to be a part of someone’s daily ritual, which what it is for a lot of coffee drinkers, and with that being able to create a constant in an inconsistent time was really something that kind of kept pushing me throughout this, you know you need that comfort when you have all that stress,” said Farnes.
“The production lead Bonnie today was just saying that if Zach hadn’t been here, she can’t imagine how we would’ve gotten through the pandemic, and I think that’s true on a lot of levels for sure,” said Vrentas
Click here if you would like to nominate an unsung hero who has made a difference in your community.