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Welsh Business Heroes: Scott James of Coaltown Coffee

With two new cafes opening this year and plans to expand his coffee empire outside Wales for the first time in 2023, business is certainly booming for master roaster Scott James

The owner of Coaltown Coffee was still just a teenager when he started up his business – then called Roasted Joe’s – in 2013 after leaving secondary school with no qualifications.

Nearly a decade after dad Gordon helped him build his first roaster, Coaltown’s products are being savoured around the world and the company is continuing to go from strength to strength.

With the support of Gordon and mum Jennine, Scott has made a big mark on his hometown of Ammanford, with their Foundry Road roastery popular among locals and those from further afield.

Given that his parents used to run their own café and older generations of the family were grocers and restaurateurs, it is perhaps no surprise that the coffee industry has been Scott’s calling.

Great-grandfather Ben, a miner in the former coal town, inspired the rebranding of the company, and Scott hasn’t looked back since ditching the Roasted Joe’s name.

“The mining industry was a big part of everyday life in this area and that’s gone, it’s been completely wiped out,” he told the Welsh Business Heroes webinar.

“It was really impactful, and the idea of that industry that’s no longer here was very much the inspiration behind what we wanted to do with the brand, which is where the name came from.

“We were doing some research into the mining industry and one of the terms for what they called coal was ‘black gold’.

“Coal gave a massive amount of employment and industry to the area, and, when you look at coffee, black gold is the same term used for coffee growing regions.

“They are two very different worlds but are tied together through black gold.”

In 2019, Coaltown became one of the first coffee companies in the UK to be B Corp certified, meaning they are committed to prioritising the environment and society in how they do business.

And that ethical approach to doing things has, according to Scott, always been at the forefront of his mind as an entrepreneur.

“We went on a trip to New York to see my favourite roasteries,” he said.

“I can’t stress enough how massively influential that trip was. You really do need to go somewhere and soak it all in because it just inspires you and makes you have a completely different approach to what you do.

“That’s where I first encountered Square as a brand before they opened in the UK, and it was also where I first encountered B Corp.

“It’s a universally adopted accreditation which allows you to implement a lot of sustainability ethics into one brand.

“B Corp is a really good thing for giving you a general overview of everything you do as a business.

“What B Corp means is that you are putting your planet before profit and your business as a force for good and change before anything else.

“I don’t think any business opening as a fresh start-up today can open without that in mind. It’s not a tradable landscape for you to be able to grow within.

“You have to have that ethical approach to everything you do.

“B Corp, as a brand, really summed up everything we were as a business “We were awarded that in December 2019 and announced it in late January 2020, and we were the first specialty roastery in UK to get it so we were very proud of that.

“It was a big feat because we were up against some really big players in the UK.

“We all have the ambition to be ethical and do the best we can, but to get that certification first was a really big thing for us.

“It’s looking at how you run your business from the ground up.

“As a brand, we’ve been purpose driven, so it’s about how we can bring a new industry to our hometown, and now post-industrial towns across the UK.

“It has always been our intention to have an ethical brand.

“Essentially, the coal industry is the opposite of what we are, we’re trying to be the opposite of what the coal industry was with fossil fuels and bad carbon.”

Watch the Welsh Business Heroes episode featuring Scott James of Coaltown Coffee in its entirety here – www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KZFsjhVei4

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