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Chris King Factory Tour

Head roaster Steve Kirbach has been leading his team of roasters on a series of visits with companies he both admires and those that share similar values and practices as Stumptown. The Portland roasting team recently took a tour of the Chris King Precision Components, home of the famed Chris King bike parts and Cielo Bicycles.

ChrisKingBlog-6I have to admit my own personal passions helped drive this tour. As a lifelong bike commuter, I have always had a fascination with Chris King components and yearned to learn more about the company and what sets their products apart from others.

The goal from my side was to observe another business that had grown and to see what efficiencies were established and how they kept the staff routed in trade and craft while still producing a lot. Kyle Von Hoetzendorff was our guide and greeted us with what turned out to be company-wide hospitality and openness. Coming from a service industry background, I was sort of taken aback by his candor and hope others experience a similar vibe while visiting our roasteries.ChrisKingBlog

As we walked through one of the hallways, I noticed they were flanked on both sides by a series of cool looking machines. The crew at Chris King and Cielo uses recycled and repurposed old fabrication machines, like a WWII-era machine from an aircraft carrier, eye contact lens machines, and a vintage Gibson guitar pick-up manufacturer, which was repurposed as a lathe. These updates are possible through Cielo’s top notch in-house machinists who are adept at maintaining these machines.

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ChrisKingBlog-4From there we walked past the bike room. I was blown away at how many bikes were in the room, especially since Kyle had explained that not all the employees are “cyclists”. Part of this is due to the progressive bike-to-work incentives that are available, like earning credit towards meals in the onsite cafeteria.

We first went to the area were the Cielo bikes are fabricated and painted. Kyle explained a key aspect of Cielo’s fabrication is that they make parts in house that are usually purchased, like drop outs and fork crowns. He showed us various pieces and I was a little giddy surrounded by these beautiful raw frames. He explained how every component of every product in this building is scrutinized with the same care, no matter the significance.ChrisKingBlog-7ChrisKingBlog-3

We then saw the painting booth and got to see some beautiful paint jobs in process and completed. It was hard not to equate this to being a kid and seeing my uncle and grandfather’s restored deep blue suicide door ’52 Chrysler and 70’s pearl Pontiac Grand Prix with pinstriping.

Then we learned about the raw product. It was fascinating to realize a parallel between how we source and demand the same transparency in coffee that they look for in metals. King Components uses only the highest grade metals purchased from US sources. Added to this, they have the ability to use vegetable grade oils for cutting metals and then, in turn, recapture and clean them for re-use. These factors combined allow them to create a high grade recycling of “waste” for profit due to the cleanliness of the end recycled metal “puck”.

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Jim and I also noted it was cleanest manufacturing plant that we’ve ever seen. This is due in part to the recapture of heat from the curing process that allows them to bring it back in to reheat the building. Then we took a bird’s eye view of the shop floor and QA area, learning about the the marriage of parts for bearing casings and products that last forever. They have even more importance in a world that has a fading gaze on craft and trade. When possible, there is also a structure in place for employees in other departments to begin to go down a path to become machinists themselves. The consideration given to employee concerns was apparent every step of the way.

The tour concluded with the café, which was diverse and top notch–the idea being that employees won’t have to travel somewhere for a nutritious lunch and can better enjoy the break and minimize that common post-lunch coma.ChrisKingBlog-2As we all got back to the roastery, it got us talking about the importance of the dollar. We discussed how spending extra money on a premium product that isn’t disposable is far more cost effective in the end. It also goes back to an older age where our dads and grandfathers could fix and repair what was broken instead of throwing it into a landfill.

The tour made us reflect on what we do, what are our “tolerances” within our roasting curves, the importance of maintaining our equipment and really trying to produce as good a cup as possible.