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City govt. brewing out-of-state java
Locally owned Paramount Coffee losing out to New England roaster

By DANIEL STURM

Paramount Gourmet Coffee, a locally owned roaster and distributor with its headquarters on Larch Street in downtown Lansing, has been replaced as the city government’s main provider by a Massachusetts company. A city official says Boston’s Best tastes better and is less expensive. Above, some of Paramount’s 200 blends at the Trowbridge Plaza Shop-Rite in East Lansing.

Paramount Gourmet Coffee says in its publicity that its “philosophy is simple: We don’t just supply our customers with coffee. We establish lifetime partnerships.”
Apparently, the City of Lansing has decided an open relationship is better when it comes to coffee.

Three years ago, the city purchased $10,730.11 worth of coffee from Paramount, the locally owned coffee roaster on Larch Street across from Oldsmobile Park in downtown Lansing. Two years ago, it bought even more: $13,167.97.

But in the fiscal year that just ended on June 30, the city bought just $3,500 worth of coffee from Paramount.

Meanwhile, two years ago the city began flirting with an out-of-state brand called Boston’s Best. It bought nearly $1,700 of the blend from an out-of-state company, Interstate Gourmet Coffee Roasters, in South Easton, Mass.

And last year, the romance turned even more serious: The city purchased nearly $7,000 worth of Boston’s Best.

And that has left a bitter taste in the mouth of local coffee house king Bob Fish, co-founder of Beaner’s, which thinks enough of Paramount’s product to use it exclusively since 1998.
“I heard the mayor say … ‘We need to attract local businesses.’ What’s the matter with the ones we have?” Fish said.

Nothing, says a Purchasing Department official, if all things are equal. But the official, senior buyer Stephanie Boggs, says Lansing’s only locally roasted coffee doesn’t measure up.
One main reason for favoring Boston’s Best “is the taste,” Boggs said. “The other was the price.” Boggs said the city tested beans from different coffee vendors and based its decision on service recommendations by other users and on pricing.

If things had been equal in Boggs’ estimation, Paramount presumably would have continued to be the city’s top choice. A city ordinance requires the nod to go to a local vendor in such situations.


Bob Fish

Councilman Harold Leeman doesn’t know which coffee tastes better because he is not a coffee drinker. But he does not find the city’s decision palatable. “We should do everything we can to purchase locally,” Leeman said. “It is sending the wrong message when we’re buying our coffee outside of state.” Leeman said local companies should inform the Council when they are passed over so Council can seek an explanation from the administration. “Hopefully that will happen.”

Fish said the city had an “obligation” to consider using a company that sits right across from its own ball park. “Even if Paramount was charging them $10 a pound, and the other company 50 cents – which wasn’t happening, it probably was missed by a hair — it is a business that pays a hundred employees’ taxes.” Besides income tax, Paramount pays close to $42,000 in city property tax.

Fish said the purchase made at Boston’s Best probably translates into an annual 2,785 pounds of beans, assuming $2.50 per pound. Boggs said its payment system did not “record quantity for purchases of this nature.”

Beaner’s purchases about 150,000 pounds and 19 different beans a year from Paramount, Fish said. “We used to use roasters from the West Coast and then from Wisconsin. But we went to Paramount, because they could provide a better product and better price.” He called Paramount, which has been in business since 1935, the premium company for coffee in the Midwest. He also said its service department is exemplary. “I’ve probably been to 50 roasters in my lifetime. The service departments are usually the size of somebody’s garage. Theirs is the size of a house.”

Fish guessed that the city got trapped by an upfront cheap offer. “That’s not uncommon in our industry. But then they’ll get you in other areas like delivery or service.” The city might find out later that there are additional charges, he said.

Boggs said that shipping is free. Moreover, “Whenever we need service on our machines they send somebody,” she said.

Fish is dubious. “From a practical perspective, it can’t be. They can’t get the coffee cheaper from Massachusetts to here than you can get it across the road.” Whenever a coffee machine breaks, they would have to send a technician about 900 miles, or employ expensive third parties, “whereas Paramount has its service department right in the back yard.”

Some city employees rebel against Boston’s Best. Lt. Judy Horning at the Police Department’s North Precinct thinks “it just tastes worse than Paramount.” Also Horning doesn’t support the city’s favoring an out-of-state company. She believes employing local businesses will return tax dollars to the community.

However, she feels there’s no need to emulate the Tea Party by throwing Boston’s Best into Lake Lansing. The precinct, she said, is about to run out of the Massachusetts’ brand. After those last cups of java are drunk, she added, the North Precinct is switching back to Paramount.



 

 

 

 

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