What do a satellite dish, 100 plastic mirrors and a broccoli strainer have in common?
A smooth cup of coffee.
Mike and David Harktop’s story begins like most the success stories; they had a problem that needed a solution. They also had passions with seemingly divergent interests. Mike was an apprenticed coffee roast master and David was a special effects artist and part-time inventor who had an interest in alternative energy. It had been a year since Mike had returned to Oregon from Australia where he had earned a degree in business and he was eager to put it to good use. Together the brothers decided it was time to do something different and make their mark on the world.
Hitching up their roaster in 2007 the brothers began their trek east, chasing the sun to Pueblo, CO.
In the summer of 2004, limited only by their imaginations and the contents of their parents garage, the Hartkop brothers set to work. Using solar concentrated energy, which had only been recently exploited by young boys with magnifying glasses, they had a plan. With their parent’s old satellite dish, one hundred plastic mirrors and a broccoli strainer they built their first solar powered coffee roaster. The Helios I , named after the Greek god of sun, was able to roast about a pound of coffee at a time. The brothers knew this was the start of something special.
While still working at their “real” jobs, they built the Helios II in the summer of 2005 and began attending festivals and events throughout the state to market and generate buzz for their new and unique product.
Continuing their passion, in 2006 they went mobile with the Helios III. The new roaster could roast up to five pounds of coffee at a time, was constructed onto a trailer and easily folded up to take their solar roasting experience on the road. The mobility of the roaster wasn’t just for convenience, but necessity, as they had realized they had a sustainability issue. Southern Oregon only afforded about three months of sunshine a year and made it virtually impossible for a solar powered business to survive, let alone thrive. Mike and David continued to attend events, making stops in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, looking for a new home to grow their young start-up.
Hitching up their roaster in 2007 the brothers began their trek east, chasing the sun to Pueblo, CO. They settled on Pueblo due to it’s small to medium size and affordability, excellent solar exposure and the fact that it has its own university. That same year they opened their first retail coffee shop, aptly named Solar Roast Coffee, in downtown Pueblo with the help of their parents who believed in business so much they became the brothers’ first investors. Their dream had finally become a reality.
The Helios III was set up off site under a plastic dome to protect it from the unpredictable weather that Colorado can afford. Once the shop was established, Mike remained in Pueblo while David went back to Oregon to create a new large- scale solar roaster, what would become the Helios IV. It would be their most ambitious iteration yet.
The Helios IV went into operation in early 2008. It measured 35 feet across and could rotate and elevate to track the sun, piping heated air to the roaster located behind it. It was capable of producing up to 30 pounds of coffee at a time, with a batch taking around 20 minutes. With the increased capacity the Helios IV provided Mike and David were able to expand their product and message well outside of Pueblo. By the end of 2009, the company was serving over 40 regular wholesale customers spanning most of the western states. In just five short years the brothers took their simple idea and turned it into a commercial success, however they continued to innovate.
In 2010, Solar Roast Coffee received a business development grant from the city of Pueblo through the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation (PEDCO.) The grant was slated to be used by the company to create a new generation of solar coffee roaster, the Helios V and was put into production in July of 2012 on the roof of the coffee shop. The Helios V departed from previous designs, rather using a grid-tied photo-voltaic array that powered an electric heater for the roaster and provided electricity to the building when the roaster was not in use. This new system also allowed all their business operations to be done at one location.
Since establishing their business, the brothers have made a commitment to Pueblo and have been active members of their community. Their presence has not only improved the look of their retail location, they support the arts by hosting art walks and consistently use and support local businesses, even reviving a ‘Buy Pueblo’ marketing campaign. Since moving to Pueblo Mike and David have started their own families and want to reinvigorate the town with the charm that comes with living in a smaller community.
The brothers’ success story continues to be written. Despite having a commitment to using 100% organic and fair trade beans since the inception of the business, Solar Roast Coffee was recently certified by the USDA as 100% organic.
The brothers are proud of their commitment to serving only the highest quality coffee to their customers while also making sure those who grow the coffee continue to receive fair compensation for their hard work.
In 2013 Mike and David continued their message of “coffee with a conscience” to environmentally conscious entrepreneurs by expanding their wholesale business. The future is looking bright for the Harktop brothers and Solar Roast Coffee.
And to think this all started with a satellite dish, plastic mirrors and a broccoli strainer.