Blip Roasters’ Ian Davis is in it for the long haul
Ian Davis doesn’t need to tell me that he’s exhausted. His clouded eyes say it for him as he greets me, and his body underscores the point as he works to find comfort in the fold-down wooden theater seats at the back of his West Bottoms coffee shop, Blip Roasters, at 1101 Mulberry Street.
This is Blip’s second location. In January, just five months after he opened his roasting company a few blocks over — at 1331 St. Louis Avenue — Davis almost lost his fledgling business to a fire that started elsewhere in that building. Blip’s entire inventory — beans, countless supplies, valuable equipment (including Davis’ U.S. Roaster Corporation roaster) — were damaged, if not totally lost.
So, yes, the man has known some tired days this year. But it’s not something the 25-year-old admits to easily — and anyway, he’s too busy to complain. The new Blip opened in early April, scarcely three months after the fire. The swift turnaround owes much to Davis’ own drive, but he’s quick to credit the rest of KC’s coffee community.
“Broadway [Roasting Company] has been amazingly supportive,” he says. “I’ve been cupping with them for a while, and when the fire happened, they reached out and said they’d do a roast of Blip beans and give us a hundred percent of the profits. It was amazing for them to do that. Post Coffee Company and the W Bar in Lee’s Summit did a coffee cocktail and donated the proceeds to us. And so many other people stepped up in other ways.”
Or rode up.
On this bright, warm Sunday morning, nearly two dozen motorcycles are parked in front of Blip. Since the first location opened, Davis — a rider since he was 20 — has hosted Sunday morning ride-ins. So besides his java brethren, Davis says he’s thankful to his fellow bikers for keeping Blip alive.
“We knew that we were tapping into a community that was really ready for something like this,” Davis says. “I ride a 1976 CB550 Four motorcycle, and when I was starting Blip, as I was going around trying to talk to people, that was the way I had to get around, rain or shine. I knew from the get-go that I wanted to take a different approach to how I marketed coffee in Kansas City, and that worked naturally into the business model.”
Blip’s new HQ has four times the retail space of its former location, and Davis has filled it, for now, with more motorcycle gear than coffee product. Gleaming helmets are mounted on the walls, above a hand-built 1981 Yamaha Virago bike (on loan, Davis says, from Mantra Moto as part of a rotating display). More helmets are for sale, along with racks and shelves of riding gear. This is because Blip isn’t ready to roast again yet; Davis is serving Broadway beans while he continues to deal with paperwork from the fire.
“I didn’t have explosion insurance,” he jokes, “but we’re getting there. We only had a certain amount of coverage on some things. We have the roaster back, but it’s going to take awhile to get up the funds to make the repairs on it and get the packaging on hand to be able to sell product again. We’re a long way off.”
He’s open about his frustration with the insurance-claims process, but the shadow that passes over his face as I bring it up quickly clears as a few motorcyclists meander to the spacious back room where Davis’ out-of-commission roaster lives. He greets them by name, and as usual, the conversation stays positive. His regulars love the new Blip — particularly the restrooms, a feature his old space didn’t have — and they’re thrilled his business has bounced back.
“I didn’t know half the people that I know now when I started Blip,” Davis says. “When the fire happened, it really showed me how much of an impact we had been making in the day-to-day operations. It’s hard to understand your position or see that when you’re in it. It’s just incredibly humbling.”
It might be humbling, but it shouldn’t be surprising. Most of Blip’s daily patrons wear dirty, faded denim and leather jackets; they come for $2 drip coffee, not $4 lattes. Davis has won their loyalty, and they are not the type to give it up easily. So while he remains proud of his product, and while he’s perfectly happy to educate the curious about coffee varietals and specialty blends, he’s prouder still of what Blip stands for.
“We want to be accommodating to every walk of life,” Davis says. “We’re in this dusty, industrial, gritty neighborhood. Our neighbors are railroad guys and truckers and furniture builders. The West Bottoms is home to all sorts of manufacturing, and our goal is to have our neighborhood be our focus.”
He goes on: “For Blip, we want to be competitive on the specialty coffee spectrum, but we also want to be approachable enough that we should be competitive with gas-station coffee. We do get specialty coffee consumers down here, but those aren’t necessarily our neighbors. A lot of them are blue-collar guys who have been drinking Folgers for the last 30 years, and they don’t want to talk coffee with me. I get that.”
When he returns to the front of the store, I listen to his exchanges with customers and hear him answering many of the same questions I’ve just posed to him. He offers them the same straightforward but upbeat talk about his recovering business. He’ll tell anyone who asks, and everyone asks. And he discusses his plans for the space: more motorcycle retail, more seating, more tables. A proper shop and a big expansion.
“My vision for Blip two years ago is way different from what exists now,” Davis says. “Every day is a new challenge and opportunity. My vision for Blip is just to keep growing and changing.”
1101 Mulberry Street, 816-729-6886,