For Shane Case, owner of Mylke Coffee Company in Island, getting into the caffeinated beverage business was not exactly in the plans.
“I was in health food for a long time, and I was going to buy a health food store,” he said. “I loved doing it, but it’s not something that everybody is super enthusiastic about. It was a very limited clientele (where I worked).”
Case, 49, played music with a fellow musician whose wife was from Seattle and roasted coffee in a popcorn popper, which sparked Case’s interest after trying it out.
After his friend moved away, Case bought his own roaster and started to make coffee.
“That’s kind of how it led into (the business),” he said.
Case said he isn’t a coffee enthusiast or even avid coffee drinker. But that didn’t stop him from learning the equipment and process in his former Island garage.
He started the business in 2016 before getting the LLC a year later. He then found a building on Adams Avenue (Kentucky Highway 431) to have a dedicated space to make his brews.
The venture proved challenging at first, but it soon began to stand out.
“There wasn’t anybody around here that was handy within 100 miles that was actually roasting coffee and trying to sell it as a craft commercial roaster,” he said. “So it was like I had nobody to copy. ... There were a lot of learning curves.”
But while many businesses suffered due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mylke Coffee Company had the opposite experience.
“The business expanded during COVID,” he said. “The big benefit I had was most of my coffee shops had drive-thrus during the shutdown. So, their business expanded too. … I didn’t know what to expect, but it gave me the opportunity … to figure out the recipe for our ready to drink cold brews.”
The small business has now expanded into a number of places in McLean County and throughout the commonwealth, including Bowling Green, Greenville, Hartford, Hopkinsville, Louisville, Owensboro and Princeton, and into Georgia, Indiana and Tennessee.
Case has graduated into a second space on East Second Street in Owensboro to accommodate a 30K, or a 66-pound, coffee roaster compared to the 2K, five-pound, unit in Island.
“The difference is I can do like 100 pounds a day on the one in (Island) while the (one in Owensboro) can do 2,000 pounds a day,” he said.
He received national recognition when U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, recognized Case’s entity as the Senate Small Business of the Week on Sept. 23.
“Shane Case had a vision for his home in western Kentucky. Seeing that there was no source of freshly-roasted coffee beans anywhere near his region of the state, he decided to fulfill this need and thus in 2017, Mylke opened its doors,” Paul said on the Congressional Record. “Shane’s innovative vision led Mylke to become the first and only craft commercial coffee-roaster located within 100 miles of his hometown, and their popularity has continued to grow since its founding.”
For Case, it was a humbling experience.
“It’s nice to be recognized,” he said. “One of (his) staff (members) had our sweet milk cold brew, and she liked it, and so she recommended it.”
And the news has helped the business in some ways.
“I’ve had some interest from some people that said they saw it on (Paul’s) website … asking for pricing and stuff like that,” Case said.
About a month ago, he expanded into the retail route with a Mylke coffee truck.
“(The trucks) mainly to go to events to kind of promote the brand,” he said. “I’m not necessarily trying to compete in the coffee shop market. …We’re gonna try to get it out there for any kind of … festival-type stuff and then little bookings.”
The hope is for continued expansion, Case said.
“I’m not scared to take the big bites,” he said, “... I enjoy it, and that’s a big factor, because it’s not just standing there in front of a coffee roaster. With sales, construction, the business part of it — nothing’s the same. Every day is totally different, so that’s what makes it fun.”