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"We got this from Boulevard in 1996," he says. "We traded them for some coffee. I thought that would last them awhile, but they were back six months later for more coffee."
He pauses the history lesson often to acknowledge the people who walk past. O'Neill calls such conversational reroutes "flights of thought." He teases the UPS driver about left turns, compliments an employee on how the equipment is running. He hails and praises Anton Kotar, who designed the Roasterie's new event space and is in the process of opening his own restaurant on Main Street. Kotar slips away, down toward what everyone here refers to as "the Green Mile," where shelves of bagged coffee await roasting.
One of the Roasterie's two warehouses is dedicated not to coffee but to items that O'Neill has accumulated over nearly two decades. "I'm a horrible pack rat," he says. "They say you've got to free up space to clear up mental space. I'm going to dial it back."
He happens upon a piece of the building's original sprinkler system, removed during this renovation. It's a J-shaped pipe attached to a metal valve that probably weighs a ton — an oversized version of the kind of part left over from a home bathroom makeover. "I'll paint it bright red and place it out on the patio," O'Neill says. "And then they'll say, 'You know what? That pig farmer knows what he is doing.' "
The man who grew up on an Iowa pig farm descends a short flight of stairs into the former storeroom, which has been converted into what the employee at the front desk calls the boss's "man cave." Altimeters and airplane gauges — design touches for the café and event space — are laid out on a table, near a red-and-orange-striped couch of no recent vintage. A bottle of Dizzy Three, a recent coffee-flavored-spirits collaboration with Good Spirits Distilling (the Olathe distillery best known for making Clear 10 Vodka), waits next to three rolls of tape on the desk.
"There are three colors of tape: dump, donate and give away," O'Neill says. "I've got 20 pallets to go through."
O'Neill keeps a cubicle near his employees, but it's in here that he paces the green-and-white linoleum floor and hashes out the future of the Roasterie.
For instance, he's licensing a coffee shop in the Corinth Square Hen House (at 4050 West 83rd Street, Prairie Village) and make it the first of several branded cafés. O'Neill is also testing several coffee-infused ketchups (habanero, Super Tuscan and hickory-smoked are his early favorites) and is partnering with Jameson to market his coffee with that company's whiskey later this month.
O'Neill opens a side door and leads a reporter to this tour's end — where it started, under the plane. He tells one more story. A couple of weeks ago, O'Neill crammed his employees into the basement of his Brookside home, where he started the Roasterie for $17,000. He gave a speech about the eight months that he spent lugging 154-pound bags of coffee down the stairs to be roasted. The company, he pointed out, has outgrown its quarters three times so far.
The speech no doubt stirred his crew. But he says it was someone else there that day who really seemed to understand what's happening at 1204 West 27th Street: O'Neill's 6-year-old son, Terry.
"Dad, are we ever going to move again?" the boy asked as O'Neill drove him to school last week.
"Well, if we outgrow the factory."
Terry thought for a minute and then asked his real question.
"But we're going to take the plane, right?"