Tricia Zimmer Ferguson didn't set out to be in the coffee business, but looking back at her java-fueled youth, she realizes it was probably her destiny.
"I have this picture from back when I was in high school with my now-husband, and we both have coffee cups in hand," Zimmer Ferguson recalls. "He would pick me up for school, and I would have travel cups for us every morning. I've been a coffee lover since I was 14. So much of what we've done has been brought to us by coffee."
As co-owner of the local coffee powerhouse Kaldi's Coffee (multiple locations including 700 Demun Avenue, Clayton; 314-727-9955), Zimmer Ferguson certainly draws upon her love for brew every day. However, as she explains it, it was her love of business which put her on the path she's on today. Raised in a family of entrepreneurs, Zimmer Ferguson recalls being surrounded by business when she was little, starting with her grandfather and continuing with her father and brother, who were both in the radio business.
live in Toronto Even though she saw firsthand the struggles that came with owning her own business, she knew that was what she wanted to do for a living and pursued it in college. After graduating, she landed a job working for Edward Jones in the financial services sector, a position that allowed her to get her financial licenses and live in Toronto.
Zimmer Ferguson enjoyed her role at Edward Jones and may not have left were it not for a meeting between her husband, Josh Ferguson, and former Kaldi's owners Suzanne Langlois and Howard Lerner. The three were working together on another business venture, and their conversation switched toward a potential collaboration between the Fergusons (including Zimmer Ferguson's father, Don Zimmer, and brother-in-law, John Ferguson) and Kaldi's. At first, Langlois and Lerner passed on the idea, but as the four got to know each other, they had a change of heart.
"That was an important time in coffee," Zimmer Ferguson recalls. "People were learning more about it, new places were coming up and the timing was just right. They came back to us and said that they felt our family was different than other people they'd thought about partnering with, and that maybe it was time to work together so we could help them do something bigger and better. We partnered with them, and the rest is history."
That was 2004. In the fifteen years since getting involved with Kaldi's, Zimmer Ferguson has been a key factor in turning Kaldi's from a small cafe and roaster into a powerhouse coffee company that has become one of the city's best-known brands. While those efforts have involved a great deal of expansion, it was important to Zimmer Ferguson that the growth not come at the expense of the brand's identity — something she feels she and her team have been able to achieve because of their St. Louis roots and love for the city.
"I take a lot of pride in our hometown, am on a lot of local boards and try to stay engaged," Zimmer Ferguson explains. "At the end of the day, if we are doing this to benefit where we live, we have to make sure we are giving our resources back to the community. All of us feel important about that."
Commitment to giving back has many meanings for Zimmer Ferguson. Creating a positive culture that honors its employees' growth and development is something she takes every bit as seriously as the coffee part of the job — if not more. She is also especially proud of the relationships Kaldi's has built with coffee farmers around the globe and the company's commitment to ethical and sustainable farming practices. As she sees it, a coffee company can serve the tastiest cup of joe on the planet, but if it's not serving a larger purpose, it will not be successful.
"I don't want to say the coffee is the easy part, but if you aren't helping the people in the supply chain and the people along the way, why are you doing this?" Zimmer Ferguson asks. "Improving lives through sustainable business — whether that's the farmers or the people roasting in St. Louis — that is why we do this."
We recently caught up with Zimmer Ferguson to learn more about her thoughts on the St. Louis food and drink community, her not-so-secret love of Sonic Drive-In and the one thing you'll never find in her coffee shops.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
My first job out of college was working for Edward Jones in Toronto for an assignment at their Canadian headquarters.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Coffee, of course!
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
To take all of the calories and gluten out of pizza, because I would eat it every night if I could.
What is the most positive thing in food or beverage that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
More national recognition and collaboration among local companies.
What is something missing in the local food and beverage scene that you’d like to see?
More kid-friendly and casual places with good food and drink quality.
What is your St. Louis food or drink crush?
AO&Co. market by Ben Poremba. I think every St. Louis neighborhood needs a market like this.
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis food scene?
Tara Gallina. She’s a new mom really killing it on the home and work fronts, and we can’t wait until they put their spin on the new Winslow’s Table [in the former Winslow's Home space].
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Coffee, of course. I drink so much [of it]; it’s a part of who I am. And I have a lot of energy.
If you weren’t working in the coffee business, what would you be doing?
Working in the wine or fashion business perhaps.
Name something never allowed in your roasting facility or cafes.
Negative attitudes. Life is too short to be unhappy.
What is your after-work hangout?
At home with a glass of wine chilling with the kids.
What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Sonic [Drive-In] happy hour. Those who know me well will get this.
What would be your last meal on Earth?
Mom’s pasta and meatballs with all of my friends and family and lots of wine!
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