Behind the Production Lines: An Interview with Clark LeComte
Michael Sadler: Tell me about your coffee background.
Clark LeComte: From part time barista and store manager, to US Brewer’s Cup Champion, Q grader, head roaster, SCA board member, on to consultant, green buyer, and now production director – my career has spanned many roles in a variety of locations.
Tell me about your role with Irving Farm.
I am responsible for the quality, consistency, timeliness and cost of getting coffee to each person that orders. The way to do this effectively is through good leadership, and that is my primary focus. I clear the obstacles so the production team can focus on each person’s order. From a single bag purchase through the website, to a multi-thousand bag order from private label clients, each is important and affects the client’s day. We can make your day go better by receiving and filling your order accurately and on time, or cause a lot of headaches due to error and miscommunication – and I always prefer the former.
What excites you about this work?
Seeing the production team grow in leadership, autonomy and pride in their work. Watching our products go from raw, green coffee seeds to roasted beans into bags, then boxed, put onto pallets, shrink wrapped and loaded with a forklift into semi trucks.What are the major challenges of operating a specialty coffee roastery? In general, and specifically in 2022?
Communication and timelines. We can do a lot and have a varied skill set, so long as our objectives are clear and we have the runway for proper planning and execution. We get into trouble and added expense when our teams or customers are unprepared or change objectives midway through a project. The hardest element to communicate to others is that we deal in a very physical world and it takes time and money to move any physical object, be it across the room or across borders. Because we are so efficient a client may get their order the next day and it all seems so magical and easy, and that is exactly what we want clients to think, but in reality all those parts took a great deal of planning and coordination to arrive at the facility and then be made into the order a client receives.
Production entails a lot of moving parts. How do you keep things running smoothly?
It takes a team. Parsing tasks to individuals then supporting their success in those objectives.
How do you manage a crisis?
Much of my job is good planning so I don't have to be in crises. The skill comes in anticipating the next crisis and jumping ahead of the issue before it arises. If there is one thing I've learned from working with the IF executive team, it's to take the needed time to drill into the root cause of problems and solve it from the foundation. If you really do this then you don't get many crises. But when things go unexpectedly: breathe, step back and assess, ask for second opinions, confirm with the team, and let people know preemptively that something has happened and orders may be delayed. With forward communication I find most people can adjust.
How have you managed rising costs? Materials, shipping, logistics, etc
Wring my hands, pace around the roastery and lay awake at night! Honestly, it's just something you have to do, we still need bags, coffee, tape, gas etc. At the end of the day all you can do is cut the check and accept the changes. What I do have control over is labor and improved efficiencies. I question every movement a person makes at the roastery. We try to handle the bags as little as possible and try to streamline our orders to maximize efficiency.
If you could share one thing about your corner of the coffee world with others, what would it be?
To all our clients; you are in very good hands with this team. The expansive and detailed knowledge set from our executive team, sales persons and production crew means you are getting the very best in product and knowledge so you can focus on running your business.
Anything exciting in store for Irving Farm?
Our growth. It is exciting when each day we send orders out by the pallet and overflow the delivery trucks. It's a problem I'm delighted to solve!