This Salt Lake coffee roaster makes sustainability taste so good
If you’ve been to Publik Coffee, you know the vibe is cool, the coffee’s tasty, and the menu’s worth going back for. But you might not know your cup o’ joe is made by folks who believe in “planet over profits”—so much, in fact, that they’ve made it their mission to run one of the most eco-friendly coffee roasteries in the nation. Going beyond things like compostable paper products to serious technology and infrastructure that walks the sustainability talk is a significant investment for a coffee roaster with four locations and a growing wholesale and online business, so why bother? As Publik’s website ever-so-poetically puts it, it’s because the company actually “gives a sh*t.”
Publik’s 12,000 square-foot roastery in downtown Salt Lake City is topped with 65 solar panels that provide 15 kilowatts of energy. “That offsets 100 percent of our coffee roastery, plus a little more for the rest of the building’s operations,” says Missy Greis, Publik Coffee Roasters’ founder and owner. “We’re not net-zero as a company in that location, but at least we are offset for the roasting—and we’ve been able to include the oxidizer.”
Publik’s catalytic oxidizer is part of its Diedrichs IR-12 roaster, a premium, made-in-the-USA machine that filters out 96-98 percent of the particulates from the roasting process. “I think what motivated our efforts in sustainability was the fact that we already reside in a big valley that has so many air quality issues,” Greis says. “Knowing that coffee roasting is not necessarily the cleanest business, it requires that you do something like our catalytic oxidizer. It filters out the particulates, so they’re not going out into the air. It’s just so important.”
Another environmental plus with the Diedrichs roaster? “It doesn’t use natural gas,” Greis says. “The drum is heated with this very specifically designed rolling mechanism that uses infrared heat. Again, it’s cleaner.”
The seed for Gries’ environmental awareness was planted a few years before she opened Publik Coffee Roasters when her daughter came home from third grade with a certain degree of righteous indignation. “The school was giving them an education on air quality in Salt Lake City, and she was telling me I was driving the wrong car. I had an SUV and didn’t have five children that I needed to cart around,” Greis says. “Flash forward another five years, and when I decided to open a coffee roastery, I knew I had to do something.
“When we opened in 2014, we were the only coffee roaster in Utah that was fully solar-powered and had the oxidizer. Now, Caffe Ibis in Logan has oxidizers on both of their roasters, and I believe there’s another roastery in Salt Lake City that has one. But I don’t know anyone else that’s fully solar-powered. It feels good that we’ve gone into a business that has its challenges, and we’ve done our part.”
Publik roasts about 800 pounds of beans per week to supply its four locations, about 30 wholesale accounts (including its latest client, Whole Foods), and a rapidly growing DTC online business. The roastery’s small-batch approach helps the company minimize waste while focusing on taste.
Beyond the solar panels and oxidizer, Greis has looked for ways to incorporate sustainability into other aspects of the business. When building out its locations, she says Publik has worked to reuse and reclaim materials. For its current 9th and 9th location remodel, Greis says, “It’s the first time I’ve ever done new construction, and it’s been great when we’re doing things like building our electrical system from the ground up to say, ‘Let’s go with LED. Let’s put solar panels on the roof.’”
Speaking of roofs, Publik’s renovated 9th and 9th location will have a green roof—and beehives. The company’s Avenues location is home to beehives as well. When asked if it’s to produce local honey, Greis explains that Publik isn’t certified to sell honey—she just wanted to help out the bees. She grants the rooftop space to beekeepers who maintain hives purely to promote healthy bee culture and encourage local pollination.
Publik also uses several compostable products, including boxes, lids, and filters. The staff dumps compostable waste, filters, and grounds in compost bins, leveraging Salt Lake City’s program for reducing landfill waste.
Greis noted that even though Publik serves its coffee in compostable hot cups, there’s not a program for those items to be composted. “When we first started, we were throwing our hot cups in the compost bin and got a call asking us to stop doing that,” Greis says. “There’s a huge misunderstanding in Utah. We do not have facilities here that actually compost hot cups—there’s no infrastructure for processing these cups because of the material that lines the inside. So there are 80,000 cups a year just from Publik Coffee that aren’t being composted. I hope somebody takes that on and works with the county and state to get our infrastructure upgraded.”
In keeping with Publik’s community-minded philosophy, the company is dedicated to working with as many local partners as possible. “I’m very proud of our company’s motto, where if we can buy local, we do it,” Greis says. “We have local jam, local milk, local bread—we do it to support Utah’s local businesses, but there’s also the environmental footprint to consider…And for products that do have to come from farther away—like our coffee beans—we do our best to make sure we’re working with coffee farmers that are not being exploited.”
And we thought Publik just made great coffee. Everyone under the Salt Lake Valley skies can breathe a little easier, thanks to companies like this that give a you-know-what about the planet.