Business & Real Estate

New midtown Sacramento coffee cafe, roastery aims to carve niche in growing market

Identity Coffees’ cafe and roastery are housed in a 4,500-square-foot space at 28th and O streets in midtown Sacramento.
Identity Coffees’ cafe and roastery are housed in a 4,500-square-foot space at 28th and O streets in midtown Sacramento. aseng@sacbee.com

Last fall, Lucky Rodrigues walked away from Insight Coffee Roasters, a Sacramento company he co-founded in 2011 and a firm that had grown to four local locations in quick order.

The 31-year-old Rodrigues, who had been involved in the local coffee scene in some fashion for 15 years, said he wanted to spend more time with his family – he has six kids in the nest – and he also wanted to dive deeper into his woodworking and metal-fabrication skills.

Rodrigues insists that opening another coffee business was not on his radar.

Yet he and longtime friend Ryan Rake have opened Identity Coffees at 28th and O streets in midtown Sacramento. Rodrigues said he had his reasons.

“Well, it was coffee and my friend Ryan, so here we are,” Rodrigues said with a chuckle.

Identity hosted grand-opening festivities Saturday evening, in hopes of introducing the cafe/roastery to a wider audience. The business had a soft opening last month.

The co-owners have jumped into a busy, growing local market.

Over the past decade, Sacramento has seen a proliferation of independent coffee purveyors, a sector seemingly surpassed only by the region’s exploding craft beer segment.

There’s a lot of pressure in business, but right now we’re community-focused. We want to be a hub for culture and community evolution … and coffee lovers, too.

Lucky Rodrigues, co-owner of Identity Coffees

Besides Insight Coffee Roasters, other Sacramento coffee enterprises include Pachamama Coffee Cooperative, Temple Coffee Roasters and Old Soul Co., to name just a few. Those coffee purveyors are in addition to the big-volume chains that dot the area, including Starbucks Corp. and Emeryville-based Peet’s Coffee & Tea.

Consumption of specialty coffees – those made from beans grown in specific geographic regions with special micro-climates, producing unique flavor profiles – is growing, representing about 55 percent of the nearly $50 billion U.S. coffee business market, according to the Santa Ana-based Specialty Coffee Association of America.

Is there enough room in the local pool for a new player?

Linda Johnson, a Seattle-based business consultant and analyst, believes so.

“More than 100 million Americans drink coffee every day, and specialty coffees are the fastest-growing segment. It looks like coffee businesses continue to crop up in the Sacramento market, so I’m guessing that consumers there have not yet had their fill.”

Rodrigues and Rake acknowledge the stiff competition but insist that their long-range plans are centered on the quality of their coffees and establishing Identity as an instantly recognizable part of the Sacramento community.

“There’s a lot of pressure in business, but right now we’re community-focused. We want to be a hub for culture and community evolution … and coffee lovers, too,” Rodrigues said.

Right now, the Identity Coffees site – 4,500 square feet of leased space, with six employees – is relatively spartan, with a 50-foot, wrap-around coffee bar, spread-out seating and a roasting area situated amid plentiful open space. The minimalist architecture includes locally sourced, rough-hewn, natural-looking wood pieces and custom metal fixtures handcrafted by Rodrigues and colleagues.

Identity roasts beans in small batches and offers a variety of caffeinated drinks. Most are classic, traditional coffee drinks; various food items also are available. Rodrigues says the menu offerings “will continue to evolve and grow.”

Consumption of so-called specialty coffees represents about 55 percent of the nearly $50 billion U.S. coffee business market.

Rodrigues and Rake plan to fill in some of the open space periodically with musicians and art, fitting with the business utopia the longtime friends said they often talked about, a venture combining coffee, the arts, music, cultural diversity and community outreach. The co-owners met more than a decade ago as local musicians, Rodrigues a guitar-playing vocalist and Rake playing bass guitar.

Rake, 34, concedes that he started lofting business possibilities at Rodrigues shortly after his friend’s departure from Insight.

“It was a combination of things, but it was just something that needed to happen,” Rake said. “It’s pretty rare when one person has a skill set that the other person just trusts … Nostalgia is built up in your youth. For us, it was a lot art and music.”

Rodrigues has the coffee background, and Rake noted that his business background includes a master’s degree from the MBA program at UC Davis, plus stints with Hewlett-Packard and Ahtna Government Services Corp. in West Sacramento.

As part of their coffee-centric enterprise, the co-owners said they plan to be directly involved in all aspects of the farm-to-cafe process. That includes traveling abroad to meet and work with coffee-producing farmers in tropical climates. The co-owners have traveled throughout Central America and Mexico.

Future ventures to South America, Africa and Indonesia are planned. Rodrigues noted that all employees will go on international trips, as an effort to enhance the international coffee expertise of Identity’s baristas and get all workers involved in the process from “import to service.”

“For us, it’s important to know (coffee growers) by name, to understand their challenges and how they work. … It helps us to understand the uniqueness of what each (farmer) does,” Rodrigues said.

Local public outreach efforts are ongoing. Identity hosted its first “Midtown Bizarre” on April 9. Scheduled for the second Saturday of each month, the free, daylong events will showcase goods produced by local craftspeople and artists. Live music, drinks and food are part of the festivities.

Identity’s co-owners say people can keep abreast of upcoming events via Facebook and Instagram, and at identitycoffees.com.

Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover

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