Tonx And Nick Griffith Join Forces in Caffeinated Arms Race

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If the specialty coffee community is in the midst of a caffeinated arms race, then coffee bars are the battleground, with increasingly elaborate equipment and design, and baristas with higher levels of training. However, last summer, Tonx Coffee co-founders Tony “Tonx” Konecny and Nik Bauman chose a different route when they launched a subscription service, mailing a fresh-roasted bag every two weeks from L.A., for people to brew at home. They recently partnered with celebrated coffee pro Nick Griffith, who previously filled multiple roles for Intelligentsia and accumulated barista competition accolades before leaving last fall. He consulted on the first Toby’s Estate coffee bar in the U.S. before reconnecting with Tonx.

Konecny and Griffith first met in 2006, when the former helped recruit the latter to work for Intelligentsia as they were starting a Glassell Park roastery and Silver Lake coffeehouse. Six years later, Konecny said, “We’ve wanted to put together the best team, and I think Nick has one of the best palates that I’ve ever encountered in coffee, and he’s no bullshit, and those two things don’t always go together.”

Konecny discussed the first stage of Tonx Coffee’s development, saying, “Word of mouth has been great, and our customers are happy and love us and have been referring their friends. Getting coffee in people’s hands, it makes a pretty strong statement, knock on wood.” However, he and Bauman were limited in what they could accomplish as a duo.

Konecny said, “With just Nik and I, a small business, a new business, we kind of pick our battles. This means that we get to pick a lot more battles, especially around green coffee sourcing and quality and building more relationships on the coffee side of the business.” Griffith is helping with sample roasting, Q.C. work, and selecting upcoming offerings. Bauman, Foodzie‘s co-founder, continues to help spearhead Tonx’s operations and overall business strategy, working in lock-step with Konecny (and now Griffith).

Konecny seems to believe this is a good time for Tonx, saying, “There is a hunger out there for good coffee, and it’s very confusing to come into the marketplace or show up at a high-end coffee shop, if you’re someone who makes coffee at home, to know where to start. There are so many different brewing gizmos and so many different coffees and brands out there. There are not a lot of people helping you to separate shit from shinola, so we try to take some of the guesswork and fussiness out of it.” He added, “People at home don’t necessarily have the resources of a team of baristas, a high-end coffee bar or access to a lab, but can still make great coffee.” Tonx team members typically provide guidance about each coffee they ship, and “answer a lot of e-mails about different brew methods and how to help people dial in, depending on what they’re using.”

All of this talk of home brew brought to mind a question: is it important to go to a coffee bar at this point to get good coffee? Griffith said, “You’re at this coffee bar, and baristas dress up really nice, and they wax their moustache, all of a sudden coffee’s guaranteed to taste good. It means it’s going to cost a lot more, but it doesn’t guarantee it’s going to taste better.”

What happens when Konecny, Griffith and Bauman disagree on a coffee? Griffith joked, “I punch him and run,” and Konecny jibed, “Screaming. Tears. I lose sleep for few days. Eventually we hug and make up.” In all seriousness, they do all have to agree on selections at this point, since they only send out one coffee every two weeks. Konecny said, “We live and die by every coffee we send out. We want it to always be something outstanding, so we choose carefully. It’s not good for our business to step up to the plate and swing and miss.” In general, he said they’re gunning for “coffee that’s sweet and balanced, that has a good presence in the cup.”

On April 8, the Tonx newsletter announced Nick’s arrival, along with their latest coffee, an Ecuador that Konecny described as “a very pretty, sweet coffee, lots of layers of flavor, sort of soft fireworks, the kind of coffee you can easily enjoy and not think twice about, or wax poetic about.” They’re currently plotting future poetry.

Konecny joked about the only downside to the partnership, saying, “It’s gonna to be very confusing to have two Ni(c)ks in the company.” As a result, he’s taken to calling Nick Griffith C-K and Nik Bauman I-K.

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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