Craig Lawson woke up and smelled the coffee — in Seattle, that is. During the 14 years he worked for a uniform rental company, Lawson traveled around quite a bit and often found himself in Seattle, where hot coffee was cool long before it became trendy in other parts of the country.
"I just sort of got interested in it," says the owner of Steamers Coffee Company in Dawsonville, Ga., "and thought I´d take a break from the corporate world and try a little shop." Steamers opened in March of last year.
As if learning about beans and roasting and retailing wasn´t enough, Lawson and his partner, wife Debbie, also decided during their first year to get involved in the community by creating an "Americano Idol" contest, patterned after TV´s "American Idol" with the word "Americano" referring to one of their coffee offerings.
Little did they know how big this little idea would turn out to be. With the help and donations of local businesses, they raised $7,500 in cash and prizes for this year´s winner, singer Faith Luke.
Next year´s winner will walk off with even more. One company already has offered to donate $20,000 in cash, thus, Lawson says, next year´s winner probably will take away close to $30,000.
The contest runs for six weeks — three weeks at Steamers and three weeks at the locations of participating businesses. The first two nights are at the coffee shop, and then it returns to the shop for the finals. "Americano Idol" attracts 400 to 500 people, too many to fit into Steamers, so the contests are held outdoors.
The Lawsons don´t make much money off of the event, but they do gain community exposure.
"We sort of break even with it," he says, "because we spend so much money on advertising and that sort of thing, but it´s a fun thing for the community."
With their first year as retailers behind them, the Lawsons have an eye on the future. "We are aggressively looking right now for another location," says Craig Lawson, who — despite all the fancy coffees on the Steamers´s menu, prefers "just regular old brewed coffee." His joe of choice is Peru Andes Gold, one of the Steamers´s brands of all-organic coffees.
Besides the organics — which come from Peru, Hondurus, Ethiopia and Guatemala, Steamers also sells Illy Italian-roast coffee and an Hawaiian kona called Lion, both high-end coffees.
Organic, Italian or Hawaiian, they all make for a pleasant java jive in the little town of Dawsonville.