Interview with Taildragger Coffee

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Nate Mays, owner of Taildragger Coffee, in Tumwater Washington. A fantastic success story, Taildragger serves coffee from Batdorf & Bronson and brews on a Rocket Espresso R9. We wanted to ask Nate about what it's like to open a cafe, and what drew him to Rocket Espresso. Read on to find out!

Hi Nate, thanks for chatting with us! Let's jump right in, what inspired you to open Taildragger?

Sure thing! So my wife always wanted to have her own cafe, she worked for a large coffee chain for three years, and she loves coffee. Her dream was to open a cafe so people could come and sit and enjoy having coffee. You know, sit across from each other and have coffee and a conversation instead of a drive through where people just pick up and leave.

Cool. So what does your background in coffee look like?

My background is just consumption! *laughs* It’s actually my wife’s background in coffee that drove us to do this. My background was actually in setting up business. So our backgrounds kind of brought this to fruition. 

So how did you settle on Batdorf & Bronson as a supplier?

Couple of reasons. So my wife and I would go to Dancing Goats on Sunday morning for coffee. We like the quality and flavor of the Batdorf coffee. The second thing is that my stepmom is one of their accountants, so we were already familiar. But it was really the experience and the quality of the coffee.

So what sort of experience did you set out to create at Taildragger?

So originally we wanted the cafe experience where people could sit and enjoy, but we kind of modeled it after Dancing Goats in regards to seating. We’d looked at places in Tacoma and Seattle. Because of our locations we wanted to have a place where you can sit and plug in, and not be rushed out. We wanted to make sure that there’s plenty of space, though we still tend to fill up!

Could you tell us a little bit about where the name came from?

Taildragger name came from my grandfather. He started Spanaway airport in the 1950s. So in 2018, after 61 years of ownership, we sold the airport. It was bittersweet, but my mom and dad were ready to retire, and it had been in the family forever. So we wanted to capture some of that history with the name and the logo came from. If you look at the logo is like the kind of plane that my grandfather flew. So that’s where Taildragger comes from, and your tail’s dragging in the morning before you get your coffee!

I do really like the amount of seating, it’s great! So what has the biggest challenge been in opening the cafe?

Taxes and capital! *laughs* Really though, you have to make sure you have the capital to operate for a few years in order to make money. It can be hard to open up a business and function. I would say that’s been the hardest thing. Other than that, we’ve been really good. Just make sure you have saved money.

So what’s your favorite part?

Our customers, hands down. We have regulars that come in, and they know your name, they wave at you when they see you on the road. Police and state workers come over all the time from the Tumwater Police Department and across the street. They have meetings here or pick up airpots to take back, we really appreciate their business.

How did your equipment choice factor in to getting started?

So with equipment we started off with putting a business plan together. We chose the brand of coffee before we chose anything else. So when we partnered with Batdorf & Bronson, they were vital in helping me to get this business together with the right partners. So whether that was with our parts suppliers, or Rocket Espresso, or our dairy suppliers, that was very important for us to get those introductions. Have we made changes? Absolutely, but some of those partnerships are still in place.

What drew you to Rocket Espresso, and the R9 specifically?

Batdorf actually invited us to the Seattle Coffee Expo, so we went and looked at a bunch of different machines. We learned the background on how Rocket Espresso came to be. With how Batdorf wants consistency in their coffee, that has to do with duration of the shot, volume, etc. the rocket machine was a really good choice for us because it has a timer on each group. That gives us a really good indicator of whether the shot is pulling correctly, and if it’ll be sour, bitter, or just right. It tells us if we need to adjust the machine or do some maintenance, or something else. So we got to play with a lot of machines, but from a budget and performance standpoint, the Rocket Espresso machine made the most sense for us.

Great, so has it lived up to expectations?

Absolutely! The machine’s awesome. We really, really like the machine, and I’m like a doctor on it now. I can fix anything on it! Batdorf calls me for advice! *laughs* It’s just so easy to use and maintain, which is great for us because it saves us time and cost.

Awesome! So what’s your favorite part about it then?

Honestly it’s the timers. We base everything off of the timer. But we also like that there’s a boiler for each group head. We can run shots and steam on each group constantly. So there’s the main boiler, and three individual boilers, so there’s a total of 4 for the whole machine. There’s no downtime, it’s consistent. But also parts are easy to get from Seattle Coffee Gear. Bryan from SCG is great, I can text or call him anytime for parts or advice. It really is those relationships. The relationship with Batdorf, the relationship with Bryan, you’re not paying as much as you could be for a machine, but you get the support to get anything you need for the machine at any time, and the performance you need. The machine does all of that for us.

That’s an exciting answer to hear! That’s kind of the point from our perspective. So would you recommend that machine to other new cafe owners?

Absolutely, hands down. 

That’s great to hear, and makes us really happy too. So my last question, a fun one, what’s your favorite way to drink coffee?

On Sunday with my wife! I actually love a coconut mocha. 

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