Story last updated at 11:29 a.m. Friday, August 2, 2002

Coffee with a conscience
By Chris Bernard
Staff Writer

Captain's Coffee Roasting Company is moving down the road.

When the small local business takes over the old Salvation Army building on Pioneer Street later this month, owners Ty and Christie Gates will find themselves with extra space for their roasting operation.

But the Gates' customers will also benefit -- the new location boasts a drive-through window, more seating and an expanded smoothie bar.

"I'm having a beautiful bar built," Ty Gates said. "It's pretty classy. Every time I look at it, I'm overwhelmed. We also have a new roaster coming in -- it's the Cadillac of roasters."

The four-employee roasting company supplies upscale restaurants and stores around the lower peninsula and lodges across Kachemak Bay, Gates said. Captain's has been in its present location behind Alaska Wildberry Products since it opened a little more than six years ago.

"Nothing goes too fast," said Gates. "I'd like to be in there (this week), but it won't be until later (this month)."

The Gates roast 25 to 30 different varieties of coffee.

"We use beans from Africa, Indonesia, South America, Central America and some of the different islands," he said. "People like it."

Gates, who worked in fishing and construction prior to opening Captain's Coffee, partially credits his sister with coming up with the idea for the business, but said he was not without his own experience in the field.

"I used to roast coffee up in the Interior," he said. "We did a lot of backcountry stuff, whitewater and canoe trips, and we'd roast a lot of coffee over the fire. It was something we really enjoyed.

"My sister was in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, and she got into coffee in a big way there," he said. "She encouraged us to get into it, and we were looking for something new to do, something where we had control over the product and where we could put the kids to work."

That product control is a personal philosophy integral to the Gates' business.

"We're doing some things with organic coffees and things like that, which gives us more control, and allows us to sort of do some good things for the environment," he said. "We're concerned about habitat for birds, and we're trying as much as possible to get shade-grown organic coffees.

"That means the land where they're grown hasn't been stripped. It's been fertilized naturally, and the trees grow around them <> banana trees and other shade trees <> and provide homes to birds, and insects that can fertilize the beans," said Gates, who has lived in Homer for almost 15 years. He moved to Alaska in 1967 when, as a 16-year-old, he hitchhiked from his home in Northern California.

In addition to expanding Captain's Coffee's physical space, Gates said he hopes to similarly expand his marketplace in the future by distributing to outlets outside the lower peninsula.

"We hope to," he said. "It's just hard to find the time to get out and do it."