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Lisbon business owner is among those to be honored by Clarkson’s Reh Center

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LISBON - Timothy Gardner began roasting coffee in popcorn popper as a hobby.

Three years later, he’s running a $100,000 a year business and is the recipient of the Clarkson University Reh Center for Entrpreneurship’s Entrepreneurship of the Year Award.

Before he started roasting, Mr. Gardner worked for the state’s Office of Mental Health. On days when he dreaded going to work, he said, he would sit at his kitchen table, stare his coffee trying to figure out what he would rather be doing. However, it was long after his retirement that Mr. Gardner discovered his true passion was right in front of him all along.

After seeing a magazine article on how to roast coffee in a popcorn maker, Mr. Gardner decided to try it.

“I was a caffeine addict when I started and knew if I started brewing I could find a way to make my coffee better and wanted to find out how to make it myself,” he said Wednesday. “I started researching and discovering different blends that I liked.”

That same year, Mr. Gardner went to a week-long event in Waterbury, Vt., where he said he learned about roasting specialty coffee. He also got a $10,000 grant through the St. Lawrence County Local Development Corporation to help expand his business.

With the additional production capital, Mr. Gardner purchased a 25-pound capacity drum roaster, constructed additional space in his garage, and began providing premium roasted coffee to wholesale customers in St. Lawrence, Jefferson and Franklin counties under the name St. Lawrence Valley Roasters, 290 Bank Road. In 2011, the county’s Industrial Development Agency recognized him as entrepreneur of the year.

“Mr. Gardner took an idea and turned it into a full-time business endeavor,” agency CEO Patrick J. Kelly said.

From flavored brews such as “Blueberry Cinnamon Crumble” and “Jazzy Java” to specialty blends such as “Mountain Morning” and “Whispering Pines Blend,” Mr. Gardner makes a variety of over 32 coffee and espresso blends.

His coffee products are available throughout the north country, including at Nature’s Storehouse, Canton, the Potsdam Food Co-op and Maple Run Emporium in Potsdam, Wanakena General Store and Oswegatchie Coffee, Gouverneur, Valley Greenery in Parishville, Artworks Creperie in Waddington, and The Mustard Seed in Watertown.

His online sales have carried his coffee to places as far as Hawaii, California and Georgia. In 2011, Mr. Gardner produced 15,000 pounds of roasted coffee garnered sales of over $100,000.

Mr. Gardner also partnered with the Reh Center to roast blends for Entrepreneur Coffee and Big Tupper Brewing Company.

“It’s kind of overwhelming. Just learning the business has been a challenge, but it’s been good to me. I never expected it to get this big,” Mr. Gardner said.

Mr. Gardner said he is considering hiring a part-time employee to keep up with demand. He is also hoping to run his own coffee shop.

“I am working more hours here than when I had a real job, but it has been a lot of fun. I work for myself, and I really get a chance to experiment with different blends. If I didn’t enjoy coffee so much I wouldn’t enjoy my job. My only wish was that I had discovered it earlier,” he said.

Mr. Gardner will be honored at the Reh Center’s second annual Entrepreneur Recognition dinner at 5 p.m. Friday at Clarkson’s Cheel Campus Center.

The Reh Center educates and trains entrepreneurs to secure and manage start-up funding and grow their companies.

“He loves what he does, and that’s exciting,” said Reh Center Director Marc S. Compeau. “It’s something we really want our students to take away from him.”

The awards follow the dinner. The cost of the event is $30 per person, which includes dinner, drinks, and dessert. Reservations may be made by calling the Reh Center at 268-3995.

The event will feature an address by Spencer Thew, Canton, an Iditarod veteran who will discuss what the “Last Great Race on Earth” has taught him about business.

Dale Rice, director of the SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center, will receive the Entrepreneur’s Hero Award.

Prof. Susan Powers, Spence Professor in Sustainable Environmental Systems and associate director for sustainability at Clarkson, will receive the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award. Alumni David Reh, founder or RAYTEC Inc., Victor, and Robert Kerr, founder of Swish Data, Warwick,will be inducted into the Clarkson Alumni Entrepreneur Hall of Fame.

More information about St. Lawrence Valley Roasters is available online at www.stlawrencevalleyroasters.com, or on Facebook.

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