Martha & Bros. morphs model 

Martha & Bros. Coffee Co., a San Francisco chain that peddles a strong-roasted brew in six cafes frequented by working Joes, stay-at-home moms and the California Highway Patrol, will begin selling its beans wholesale to restaurants and other coffee shops.

The change comes as the family-run company is preparing to celebrate its 20th anniversary, according to part-owner Roberto Guerrero. In 1987, the former Nicaraguan coffee-growing clan decided to enter the San Francisco retail business after a decade of immigration spurred by civil war. Martha Monroy and her siblings Patricia Larizazeh, Sergio Guerrero and Jaime Guerrero founded and led the company. Roberto, who manages its South San Francisco roasting facility, is part of the second generation, he said.

"Our overall business will be grown in the wholesale aspect, which we have never offered in the past," Guerrero said. "It’s mostly my idea, but it’s coming at a nice time where the first generation … they want to experiment and feel the need to grow."

Martha & Bros. roasts some 4,000 pounds of beans weekly on a 1960s-era roaster for its retail stores’ use, Guerrero said, and has the capacity to double that without equipment changes. Martha & Bros. first customer to date is Café la Taza, another family business. Guerrero said he plans to market by approaching restaurants and cafes individually, and is open to branding the coffee as Martha & Bros. coffee or private-label coffee.

He believes forming personal relationships are what will make the wholesale business happen. Others caution the wholesale business is already highly saturated and competitive, dominated by large wholesale firms with no retail presence.

"The biggest thing that they are going to have to face is that they have to have a two-price thing," said Steve McLaughlin, CEO of Burlingame’s Cal-Trading Co., a coffee importer and grower with land in Kona, Hawaii. "They’re not going to be able to sell the coffee at the price they get in their retail market … it’s very competitive at that wholesale level. It’s just a matter of who wants to do it the cheapest. They are going to be fighting a lot of big companies doing that."

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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