He’s a coffee industry veteran who shares a hometown with the world’s largest coffee house chain.
But that’s pretty much all Firecreek Coffee founder Mike Funk has in common with the Seattle-based java powerhouse with a green and white nautical siren as its logo.
Funk has spent a decades-long career assisting small, independent coffee shops in opening and getting their wares produced and sold to customers through his Phoenix consulting company, Cafe Tech.
In Flagstaff in 2008, his craft evolved into coffee shop Firecreek Coffee. It would be followed by three more locations across Arizona: Sedona, Cottonwood and the latest in Phoenix.
But the Arcadia spot is just the start of Funk’s foray into the Valley. He’s restoring an old department store building at 16th Street and McDowell Road that will serve as an event and concert venue, restaurant and bar. It will serve as his second roastery in the city.
“It’s got 20-foot ceilings, a mezzanine … It’s the coolest building ever,” Funk said of the structure that was vacant for more than 10 years before he took hold of it. The venue is scheduled to open at the start of 2022, he said.
Funk’s appreciation for distinctive characteristics and classic yet non-mainstream charm is reflected in his coffee and the establishments in which it’s served. The Arcadia location flaunts the same small batch and welcoming coffee bar vibe that have captured the loyalty of northern Arizona fans for years.
Firecreek’s food menu goes beyond the typical fare that’s common among coffee shops. In-house pastry chefs are part of the team that make dishes that span baked treats and sweets to small bite morning-to-afternoon fare: quiche, gourmet toasts, salads and paninis. All syrups are made from scratch. This was all by Funk’s design.
“We want to be welcoming, comfortable and unpretentious,” Funk said.
This is how Funk views and treats coffee. He personally goes to Central America and works with farmers side by side, all in an effort to keep improving the quality of even what seems like the most perfect cup.
'Coffee is produce ... Just get it locally'
Firecreek is part of a U.S. coffee industry worth $96 billion, according to Statista. Also, according to the National Coffee Association, 53% of U.S. coffee drinkers prefer to buy environmentally friendly coffee or coffee which supports farmers.
This has played a role in Firecreek’s coffee finding its way to AJ’s Fine Foods, Whole Foods Market and many chef-owned restaurants. Firecreek runs classes through its barista school that offers in-depth training on how to work with their coffee and use their machines. Firecreek provides coffee, equipment and training to more than 25 cafes with espresso bars.
Firecreek has experienced more than 20% growth year over year since 2013, Funk said. That’s projected to reach 50% year over year over the next three years, with the bulk of revenue coming from wholesale business.
Almost all of Firecreek’s coffee is sold in Arizona. This, Funk said, is key to maintaining the quality of his beans. While coffee can be roasted year-round, it’s really at its full potential for a few months. Shipping or prolonged packaging allows nature to take its toll.
“Coffee is produce. Being local and able to deliver it fresh after it’s roasted gives you a leg up,” Funk said. “We ask people just to get it locally, even if not from us.”
Jon Oughterson, owner of Local Jonny’s Tavern & Cafe in Cave Creek, has gotten his coffee from Firecreek for seven years. He likes that the Funk responsibly sources his coffee and does a lighter roast, which makes for a better cup of coffee. He said customers have noticed.
“We’ve been able to change people’s minds by educating them on how important where you get your coffee is,” Oughterson said. “We believe in the way Mike roasts his coffee, how he treats his employees and we know where the coffee comes from.”
When Oughterson opened his restaurant, Funk provided him with equipment in addition to coffee. He talked about how Funk helped him tremendously in the first three years, even adjusting billing cycles to accommodate the summer lull until the thriving snowbird season.
“He helped us so much in getting our business off the ground. A lot of our success goes to him helping us out in the beginning,” Oughterson said.
Journey from Seattle to Phoenix
A native of Seattle, Funk didn’t grow up loving coffee.
“I came of age (during) Folgers. It was not too exciting for me,” Funk said, referring to the time period known as first wave coffee.
However, he recalled seeing espresso carts out by the original Starbucks and reading a newspaper article about their popularity. A friend convinced Funk to join him in a venture to build the carts.
“I said, ‘No way it’s going to work in Seattle. Let’s go to Colorado,’” Funk said with a chuckle, as he recalled where they thought their espresso cart business would thrive amid the snowy and ski culture.
Funk was living in Colorado when he sold his first cart before it was even completed — to a customer living in Seattle.
After a rocky start, financial snares and multiple glitches, Funk was able to sell two more carts to customers in Seattle. This was a sign. He moved back to his hometown, where Funk’s successful coffee career was launched by building some of the first espresso carts more than 30 years ago.
“I’ve made more mistakes in the coffee industry than anyone,” Funk said. “I was just a young dumb kid in the right place.”
In the mid-90s, Funk moved to Phoenix and launched Cafe Tech to help budding entrepreneurs open coffee shops by providing all the tools and accessories needed from machines to syrups and, of course, coffee. His focus was on independent shops, far from the high-powered corporate brand launched in his hometown.
Just after the turn of the century, Funk found himself at the forefront of third wave coffee, a level noted for its artisan characteristics, lighter roasting, single origin beans and transparency regarding sourcing.
This is fulfilling for Funk, who has formed a bond with those responsible for bringing his coffee into the world.
“The people are what's really wonderful… spending more time and having direct relationships with families and being able to promise them money before the season so they can bank on that and employ people,” Funk said. “It’s super humbling to learn from that.”
What: Firecreek Coffee
Where: 4602 E. Thomas Road, Phoenix
Factoid: 62% of adult Americans drink coffee at least once every day, according to the National Coffee Association.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Firecreek Coffee founder Mike Funk brings industry knowledge to Phoenix