When Eliot Barker bought a coffee roaster in college, he didn’t think it would be the start of a career. In fact, he had big dreams of being an insurance agent. But now, years later, he’s co-owner of Happy Home Coffee, a Des Moines-based coffee roasting shop.
This isn’t Barker’s first rodeo – he’s been at it since his senior year of college. With a background in business from the University of Northern Iowa and a freshly acquired coffee roaster, Barker started Wof Coffee in his college basement. It began as a small side hustle, but it really took off when he moved from Cedar Falls, Iowa, to Des Moines. He partnered up with a friend to grow their brand with social media promotion and online consumers. They even created a subscription service for their products to become an everyday coffee provider.
“I started the subscription service because coffee is a grocery item,” Barker said. “I wanted to make it easier for people to get my coffee in their hands and actually be like their day-to-day coffee provider instead of just a fun thing to try.”
When Wof Coffee closed permanently in October 2022, Barker found himself at a crossroads between various part-time jobs. He had connected with his current business partner, Carlos Sims Jr., when they were both working at Des Moines-based Mars Cafe. The two found common ground in roasting coffee, and from there, a new coffee business was created — Happy Home Coffee.
Words of Affirmation
A report published by the National Coffee Data Trends found that 65% of Americans drink coffee more than other beverages. Even though not all Americans drink coffee, its demand isn’t going away anytime soon.
Happy Home’s mission can be found within its title — it’s all about cultivating joy and belonging. For Barker, that mission looks like roasting his way to a great experience in the morning.
“I want people to enjoy coffee intentionally, I want you to think about it as you drink it,” Barker said. “Coffee is magical because we don’t have a lot of rituals left in the world. Coffee is a ritual that people still practice.”
Happy Home’s mission extends into every part of their experience. It’s seen in the branding, messaging and in each individual order of coffee beans.
“We send little counseling cards with follow-up links for therapy clinics that we know do free sessions and just little words of affirmation with every package we send,” Barker said.
The company includes this in their branding to reduce stigma around mental health in their community. For them, it’s another way of fostering a sense of belonging amongst their customer base.
It’s Where You Are
A survey conducted by Statista in 2020 found that the Midwest drinks about 1.85 cups of coffee daily, making the region the second highest in coffee consumption per day.
Lu Hallmeyer is a Milwaukee native, and current barista based in Des Moines. Being a coffee enthusiast (and living proof of the coffee consumption statistic), they’ve witnessed a shift in consumption from chain retailers to a more specialized mom-and-pop coffee shop experience.
According to Hallmeyer, what makes the Midwest coffee scene unique in comparison to the coasts is a lack of chain association attached to it.
“The Midwest never had a huge surge in these big box coffee shops,” They said. “There really was no hold that coffee had on a lot of the Midwest aside from your home brewed Folgers.”
Because of its location, the Happy Home saw an opportunity to emphasize good, localized coffee and grow a community-oriented space. The loyalty-driven lifestyle of the Midwest is an added advantage for building a customer base.
“Good coffee is highly localized. The greatest specialty coffee in America does not come from a national chain,” Barker said. “Fostering a community is a little bit easier in the Midwest than it would be on the coast.”
The coffee business recently opened a permanent shop located in the downtown Des Moines Ruan Center in March 2023. So far, reception from customers has been positive.
“We’ll just keep building relationships and then opportunities will unfold,” Barker said. “There’s more wholesale accounts, more places, more cafes like Mars, more restaurants, maybe coffee shops of our own.”