As Jordan Saglio prepared the first shipment of The Morning Movement coffee beans in the Panamanian jungle surrounded by his family and friends, his local business partner, Arturo Venegas, announced that each individual bean needed to be inspected.
At first, Saglio was shocked by the amount of time and work this would require, but Venegas was adamant that the quakers — coffee lingo for imperfect beans whose embryonic centers have been eaten by a coffee berry borer, or broca, or that contain some other defect — needed to be weeded out.
Saglio’s stepfather offered a kernel of wisdom as he complained about sifting through the coffee: “Just take it one bean at time.”
This sentiment is now emblazoned in neon on the wall between the brew counter and the coffee roaster at The Roastery, The Morning Movement’s bare-bones brick and mortar outpost on Route 100 in Stowe.
In many ways, this thought encapsulates the philosophy that continues to drive the business built by Saglio, his partner Kaylee Dubeau, and their longtime friends and now business partners, T.J. Walden and Sarah Landry.
But The Roastery is really just the showroom for a vertically integrated, farm-to-table coffee wholesale business that Saglio and company happened to fall into. It’s also the home base for the minor media empire that led them to get involved in the Panamanian coffee trade in the first place.
The Morning Movement is a new age business success story, as everything about its product — from coffee purchasing to processing and precision pouring — is also bound up in a broader narrative, the core of which is essentially the story of Saglio’s family.
Their lives have been fully leveraged to create video content for their YouTube channels, which allow viewers and potential coffee buyers a front-row seat to the story behind the product and, ultimately, creates the emotionally driven narrative that connects customers to the lives of the people selling them their coffee.
“People can follow along with our journey and get the flavor of what we’re doing,” Saglio said. “We traveled to Guatemala to buy coffee, and now people are tasting the coffee that they saw us buy. We have the farmer that they saw in the video who they got to see talk about their story. So, it’s like every coffee has a story. We tell that story through the (YouTube) channel, but that’s mixed in with the bigger story of our life.”
Saglio, Dubeau, Walden and Landry all grew up within a half hour of each other just outside of Worcester, Mass. After being laid off in the restaurant industry in 2017, Saglio began documenting his life and sharing it on YouTube, cultivating a following as he restored an old school bus.
Saglio began to make money from advertisements attached to his videos and then used that money to fund travel with his friends in the restored bus, which, in turn, generated more video content for his channel, The Nomadic Movement.
Powered by the bus and the money generated from the channel, Saglio and friends traveled across the United States and Europe, capitalizing and building an audience off the then-nascent van-life trend. In early 2020, they embarked on a trip toward Patagonia and the southern tip of Chile, but the bus broke down in Panama.
It was there, as they waited for American parts necessary for the repairs, that the global COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the country entered lockdown. Instead of panicking at the prospect of being barred from his primary revenue generator — travel videos — Saglio pivoted, turning The Nomadic Movement into a documentary about a bunch of New Englanders’ real-time attempt to homestead in rural central America.
That’s when the group befriended Venegas, a Venezuelan refugee whose Panama cafe shut down in the pandemic. It was under Venegas’s tutelage that Saglio and friends learned the coffee trade, and in return they offered to sell coffee sourced by Venegas to their YouTube audience.
Whereas The Nomadic Movement centered on the group’s homesteading adventures, The Morning Movement specializes in videos about all things coffee, from taste testing expensive single-source beans to the proper execution of a pour-over.
“It’s not just like this one-dimensional type, just coffee. It’s not just DIY, it’s not just construction. It’s telling the story of our life,” Saglio said. “Right now, it’s all about coffee, because it’s been about opening The Roastery, but it’s just been about whatever’s really happening.”
Between two YouTube channels, Saglio and company boast over 400,000 subscribers and have garnered millions of views.
Now Saglio and Dubeau split their time between an airstream trailer in Vermont and their off-the-grid home in Boquete, a remote village along the Caldera River in Panama. The couple has even introduced a new recurring character to their regular cast. Their infant daughter Sadie joins the couple everywhere, from the steamy jungle to snowy Stowe.
With Venegas as their guide, The Morning Movement team began its wholesale coffee business, sourcing beans from individual farms in Panama and using the basement in the Massachusetts’s home of Saglio’s mother as its U.S. distribution center.
It’s a point of pride for Saglio that his company has tried from the beginning to support fair labor practices for the indigenous workers who do the most back-breaking work but generally receive only a small cut of lucrative coffee industry profits. He goes out of his way to purchase beans from the Ngäbe-Buglé tribe directly and has provided them with quality control tools to improve their stock.
As the wholesale bean business took off, Saglio began looking for a base of operations outside of his mom’s basement. Untethered by the traditional limitations of location and local markets, the fulfillment center-cafe The Morning Movement required could have landed anywhere, but it ended up in Stowe.
It was a bachelor party trip to the Vermont resort town ahead of his brother’s nuptials and a tour of Stowe’s many breweries that inspired Saglio. After seeing firsthand the care and precision that produces the renowned quality of the town’s local brews, he saw potential for The Morning Movement to break into the local market and offer something similar on the coffee side.
After an initial interest in the Mountain View Snack Shack, the coffee company landed next door in the building that housed Snow’s Market and Deli for 50 years and which for a brief time was the center of Stowe Cider’s operations.
Because there are no bathrooms, The Roastery, which officially opened for business this month, isn’t allowed to put out tables or chairs for guests, and there’s little decor outside of its neon credo and pictures from Panama, but customers are invited to linger and chat with Walden as he mans the roaster or look on as Saglio and Landry dole out a precise measurement of espresso beans, grind them to exact fineness, heat the water to the just-right temperature and perform the pour-over ritual.
In this process, the coffee bar is as much a service area as a staging area.
“You can see everything. The whole idea is to talk to people and tell them the story of the coffee, but then we also want to encourage people to come back and want to keep selling bags of coffee for people to brew at home,” Saglio said.
Despite the fussiness of the brewing process, the price tag of The Roastery’s basic offerings is relatively modest: four bucks for a classic Stowe Joe pour-over, same for a latte. It’s all espresso-based, but bags of coffee beans along with the professional brewing equipment are available for sale.
Brews of a higher caliber are also on the menu. A cup of blueberry crisp — unflavored, naturally processed beans that produce coffee that tastes like blueberry pie — costs $9. For high rollers, a single cup of coffee brewed from Calas beans with notes of green apple, honey and lemongrass goes for $30.
The drinker of such a cup can savor it in the cafe and then go home and watch Saglio on The Morning Movement YouTube channel, strung out on caffeine after taste testing a variety of boutique coffee brews before spending hours bidding in the online auction through which he secured the expensive and coveted beans, and then watch Saglio and Dubeau tour the Panama farm where the Calas is grown.