Meet the coffee roaster at the crossroads of Starbucks and Starbucks Roastery

Written by By Sherry MacLeod, CNN Cori Hirschman, CNN When her family bought a roasting and coffee sales business in 1976, the chief concern of owner Dien Tonn reported herself to the consulate. Her…

Meet the coffee roaster at the crossroads of Starbucks and Starbucks Roastery

Written by By Sherry MacLeod, CNN Cori Hirschman, CNN

When her family bought a roasting and coffee sales business in 1976, the chief concern of owner Dien Tonn reported herself to the consulate.

Her brother, a respected voice on the communist side of Vietnam’s war, had fled his homeland as an adult, and he feared his sister had lost contact with him in the tumultuous transition.

Dien Tonn, now 70 and a Philadelphia native, faced repeated trips back to the East in the face of the tyranny she faced. On her last trip, she handed her brother $300,000 as a wedding gift — enough money to purchase a roaster with the option to purchase 20 more.

Fifteen years later, she was approached by three brothers she knew about to enter the coffee business, one of whom was willing to give up the family business in order to go into business together.

“We said that is a bit too much,” she said, though the brothers continued with plans that soon brought the neighboring coffeeshops and coffee roasters into Dien Tonn’s orbit.

Through a full connection, she encouraged the three to realize their vision of becoming a large production operation, now offering a product that can be found across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey and New York.

However, all the while the little green bean has remained one of Dien Tonn’s least favorite things.

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“It’s a rice derivative,” she said. “I know all the myths are quite counter-intuitive. … There are claims that coffee is good for your heart, your colon or helps keep you slim, but scientific evidence does not support all of these things.”

In 2012, a Philadelphia Starbucks introduced the fourth stage of the Starbucks coffee wave — the Cold Brew and a stronger, higher-quality espresso brew was crafted to fuel any party — when the first Philadelphia roastery, Starbucks Roastery was created.

Last November, Dien Tonn’s brother-in-law opened La Marzocco La Rica next door, but she remains reluctant to enjoy a cafe full of roasting beans.

“The Roastery is great because it highlights the excellence of their coffee,” she said. “But I don’t think cafes will consume the size of roasting plants.”

That, in part, explains why the Pittsburgh roastery she created in late October at David’s Coffee has opened in the same week as Philadelphia.

Philly Coffee, which was designed by the same architects that built the Pittsburgh location, will open to the public on December 28. The two brands will co-exist and all offerings will be sold at the Pho Cafe, a coffee bar in the roastery where patrons may sample samples from the new menu.

The decision to open the new cafe was part of a business expansion based on what, beyond their current operation, fits their consumer “sweet spot,” according to Tim Bierman, CEO of David’s Coffee.

“When we had done these studies, about a year ago, and looked at Philly, we were coming to the conclusion that if we could get this co-location, we would have a few years more of successful expansion,” he said.

“(Philly Coffee) is a part of our strategy to penetrate the market.

“In the end, we knew this was going to be a good home for us, especially when it would be open on the street that welcomes us the most.”

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