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'Sipping Slowly' at Stone Creek Coffee

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Audrey Nowakowski
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When it comes to coffee staples in Milwaukee, many locals would not hesitate to name Stone Creek Coffee. They have been making and sipping their coffee slowly since opening their first cafe in 1993. 

According to Stone Creek director of teams and development Drew Pond, the name came from a creek near Green Bay where co-owner Eric Rasch used to play in as a child. That playfulness and carefree environment of playing in that pond was what he wanted to emulate in his own coffee company.

Rasch, who also serves as Stone Creek's director of marketing, got into coffee by spending time in Seattle after college and working with Starbucks in Chicago. Before opening a cafe in Milwaukee, Rasch was roasting out of northern Wisconsin and opened his first cafe in Whitefish Bay.

Over the past 23 years, the company has grown; became a co-owenership with Rach’s wife, Melissa Perez; and now has nine cafes across southeastern Wisconsin. 

"We tried to build a company that was sustainable into the future," says Pond. "A company that was dedicated to growth, reaching new people, growing in how we source coffee, getting better in every part of the business from farm to cup.”

Pond says the company still keeps the playful aspect created in 1993, but nowadays it comes a dash of seriousness. “It’s serious play," he says. "Not carefree so much because you have to build a business that's sustainable. But it's a group of people dedicated to seeing coffee grow at origin...and in the Milwaukee and Wisconsin areas."

Pond also notes that the co-owners being a married couple adds strength and balance to the company - through their different work styles and different types of “coffee geek.”

“Eric and Melissa bring a very unique dynamic - and I mean that in the best sense. Within their work and within their work together, they're very different people," he says. "They really do together epitomize what it is to both be a coffee geek and bring serious play within the work."

Pond notes that Perez always brings a playful aspect to her work while Rasch serves as a great coach. Together, they don’t necessarily run the company, but rather integrate themselves into the group.

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Credit Courtesy of Stone Creek Coffee
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Courtesy of Stone Creek Coffee
Deyner Falla Mora (left) with Drew Pond at Cerro Verde, a farm in Tarrazú, Costa Rica.

This team work and culture also applies to Stone Creek’s “Farm to Cup” philosophy.

"We’re nothing by ourselves," Pond states. "We can source coffee from anywhere...but how we source is working directly with as many partners as we can...And once we have partners we try and build long term relationships so that we can help them get better as they grow...and then that helps us gets better as somebody translating the farm experience to the cup."

Stone Creek’s image and mission of being “coffee geeks” is also integrated in their downtown factory location that houses a barista training center and coffee quality lab in open view to the public.

Pond says the factory location epitomizes their mission and goal of transparency.

“We want to run the company in a way that we can sleep really well every night," he says. "Overall, it was just building a transparent experience where people can fall in love with coffee, where they can geek out about it, where they can be passionate about it and don't feel threatened in any way."

Pond says that the ability to bring both an accessible and fun customer experience together with great coffee makes Stone Creek unique in a city full of growing coffee companies.

Milwaukee has plenty of room for everyone to be successful, he says; and Stone Creek will continue to focus on what they’ve upheld from the beginning. “We’re really finding our own right now in terms of coffee being our core product...and Milwaukee has grown with our evolutions as respective coffee companies. (The city) has learned to become more willing to embrace the specialty coffee scene and identify with the particular brands within Milwaukee, which is super cool."

As people in the city explore coffee shops and/or pick companies as they would a favorite baseball team, Pond finds this interesting rivalry and fan nature all in good fun.

But even in a market of growth and diversity, Pond says that Stone Creek will always be just about the coffee.

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Credit Courtesy of Stone Creek Coffee
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Courtesy of Stone Creek Coffee
Stone Creek Coffee's factory cafe located in downtown Milwaukee.

“Everything we do is in service to our core product and delivering the best coffee experience we can to our customers," he states.

This coffee centric experience may keep customers returning, but Stone Creek Café coach Harmony Krafttakacs has worked at Stone Creek, and no other coffee company, for 11 years. She says that the people she works and interacts with everyday is her favorite part.

Having worked for the company as it has evolved, Krafttackacs notes that Stone Creek has always been willing to work and grow, and pass that along to everyone else.

“I think the fact that Stone Creek is always willing to learn and grow and teach that to it's employees and customers (is) why I've been able to be here for so long," explains Krafttackas. "I love learning and I love growing, and I love being able to teach that to people that want to learn."

She also notes that with the way the company is developing, she doesn’t see herself getting bored with coffee anytime soon. “It’s constantly changing. Just like everything else, it's always evolving...and being able to have such great people around constantly learning about that and bringing it to us at Stone Creek is amazing," Krafttackacs says.

Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.