Entrepreneur Column: Valhalla Coffee

This weekly column is inspired by Tacoma Entrepreneur Network (TEN). TEN is an intercollegiate network of members in Tacoma designed to explore and build entrepreneurial careers, launched in 2011 by Professor Lynnette Claire. Entrepreneurship uses working knowledge from every background of study. For those who haven’t found their niche yet, are uncertain about what the future holds, or have a multitude of skills and nowhere to apply them, entrepreneurship could be the answer.
Valhalla is a wholesale coffee provider which promises to create the freshest and highest quality beans through traditional hand roasting. They provide coffee to shops all over the Tacoma region, and brew their own in small batches to sell to visitors at their store.
A.J. Anderson, owner and Master Roaster of Valhalla, sat down and talked about how Valhalla came to be.

• How was Valhalla started?  What inspired you to start your business?
“We’ve been in business for a little over 10 years, and have slowly built up into retail. We run it almost as two different businesses: wholesale and retail. It started in 2004, though we got this shop about five years ago.”
“I used to work for Starbucks when I was 19, before the company began its quest for global expansion, then I left to work for Queen Anne Coffee to learn a more hands-on approach. I worked for six and a half years as a head roaster then started my own roasting company. Coffee is literally the only thing I’ve ever done. I like it; it’s constantly challenging, especially with an industry that’s constantly growing.”

• What can students look forward to when visiting the store?
“An excellent cup of coffee, and excellent customer service. Students and faculty are very welcome. If they want a true coffee experience and want to chat with someone, they can come on in and ask questions. I’ll definitely chat with anyone who comes in.”

• What makes it unique?
“I try very hard to avoid the trends, and listen very hard to what my customers what. We are intentionally small and traditional and we keep a simple menu. We are kind of a purist—we don’t do anything with food or teas, just coffee. We focus on simply doing one thing and doing it well.”

• Piece of advice for starting a business?
“Do your homework. Know what you’re getting into. I was lucky I was already in the business for 10 years; I knew management and the coffee side, so it was really being able to branch out on my own. But I learned a lot of lessons the hard way. Know exactly what you’re getting into, talk to people already in the business. There’s a lot of different ways to make money in the coffee business—but do your research.”

• What do you look for in employees?
“They have to be truly passionate about coffee and customer service. If they have the passion, the knowledge and skill can be taught and refined. I try to hire people with at least some degree of experience, and those who fit with the team (personality wise).”

• Do you ever hire students?
“Most everybody here is full time. It’s hard to find that availability with students. We do extensive training; it’ll take at least a couple of months to get up to the standards.”

• How are your connections with Puget Sound?
“I have a lot of family history with Puget Sound. Both of my parents met there, and I have other relatives who graduated from there. My great-grandfather, John Prinse, used to teach at Puget Sound and there’s a portrait of him that used to be in the library. They may have moved it to the business building now.”

• What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned in running your own business?
“Hire a good accountant. If I had done that from the very beginning, it would have saved me a lot of money. Knowing how to run a business is a lot different than taking care of the finance and taxes.”
“I would definitely say for somebody, unless you already have a background in it, hire a good accountant and bookkeeper. You’ve got to be able to track money coming in and money coming out, and definitely make sure there’s more money coming in. You have to be willing to work hard. A good entrepreneur has to be willing to get out there and get their hands dirty.”

Valhalla Coffee is located on 3918 6th Ave. Stop by and visit any day from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. for a freshly roasted cup of coffee.