Caroline Fike in 1946–age 9
So the lady in the header picture, Caroline Fike, is turning eighty-years-old tomorrow, and I want to take a moment to honor her today. She started this business 35 years ago this April, in 1982, and we are still here, in the words of her son, “because of her tenacity.” If you don’t know her story, Caroline married her high school sweetheart 61 years ago, and raised four boys in forest service cabins across the state of California. When her first son was born she washed diapers on a washboard–that was a backwoods cabin!
Her husband was gone on fires for a good part of each year, back in the days when you didn’t “time out.” She took care of everything while he was gone, and welcomed him with a smile when he returned. All who know her know of her love for her husband. By the time all of her boys were out of the house, she was looking for something to do–she certainly wasn’t one to sit still. She decided to buy an existing business, called “The Honey Center,” which sold health food and beekeeping supplies, and was located on Neal St. in downtown Grass Valley.
A couple of years later, her husband Chuck retired from the Forest Service and joined her in the business, along with their youngest son Trace. They sold coffee, but could never buy it in small enough quantities to keep it fresh–and so they bought a roaster. This was in the days when most people bought Folgers, and Starbucks only had one location. Specialty coffee was not a thing, to put it mildly. But they had a vision before their time, and Chuck and Trace started roasting coffee at their new location at 128 S Auburn St. in 1984.
Carolines Coffee Roasters has grown and changed over the years, and those who know us now might not know Caroline. She worked here daily for over twenty-five years. She introduced specialty coffee to Grass Valley, and explained to customers why freshness mattered, and what an espresso was. Before the internet, and the expansion of coffee shops nationwide (the Specialty Coffee Association of America was founded in 1982 also), Caroline was educating folks on coffee in this small town.
Behind the counter, ready to help
We sat around the table the other night and Chuck, Caroline, and Trace talked about the early days of this business. How they were taught to roast coffee by Carl Ernst Diedrich. How they bought a Landmark Coffee grocery contract in order to get the SPD stores as customers. How lucky they were to have the mother of specialty coffee, Erna Knutsen, as their broker until her retirement. How many different grocery stores and restaurants they sold to/serviced over the years. How they used to pay the bills on a wing and a prayer. How many employees they’ve had over the years.
As I listened to them reminisce, I was struck by how much of themselves each had poured into the business. And I thought that more than anything else, that is the legacy of Caroline Fike here at Carolines Coffee Roasters. It’s more than her name and it’s more than the tens of thousands of hours she spent here. Her legacy is in the values that we still espouse today. In our commitment to customer service, our commitment to our community, our commitment to serve the finest coffees from around the world. Those all come from Caroline. They endure because they are built into the fiber of our business–she gave them to us.
Happily retired today.
On a personal note, Caroline Fike is one of my best friends. She has the best listening ear of anyone I know, and she responds with wisdom. She has a great sense of humor, and a knack for letting people be themselves. She is strong, with the strength of pioneer women, who had to do it all–and knew they could. But even in her strength she’s not afraid to admit she’s wrong. She’s proud of her family, and loves her boys fiercely, but carries herself with humility. She is one of the most stylish women I know. She is not only one of my friends–she is one of my heroes.
I would love to say that I had planned ahead enough this week so that our featured coffee is Caroline’s favorite. But I didn’t. This week we are brewing our Colombian Supremo, and you can try a cup with the code 80 years*. Caroline’s favorite is our Organic Gayo Mountain Sumatra, and to celebrate her birthday, I am going to make it $3 off per pound this week. So come buy a pound and drink a cup to our founder, Caroline Fike. Cheers! And happy birthday Caroline.
*Code good for one free 12 ounce cup of Colombian Supremo. Code expires on 1.12.17. Limit one free cup per customer please. Valid only at Carolines Coffee Roasters, 128 S. Auburn Street, Grass Valley, CA. Code/Offer has no cash value.