Mike Funk, owner of Fire Creek Coffee, has had a lot of careers.
“I was that kid who banged his head against the wall wanting to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “I had many different companies, like futon stores. I built and sold futons. I built coffee carts. I had a promotional company that had t-shirts and pens, that sort of thing. I had a catering lunch box company.”
He was also into Real Estate and remodeling houses.
Funk, who grew up in Seattle, said he was always more into individual pursuits like running, even in high school, when he was on the swim team.
“I was a big reader, living in my imagination,” he said.
He has spent most of his professional life working for others and helping everyone else get into business.
But now he has found his niche and sees the big picture.
“I am at a point in my life where I am selective about the people I work with. I am excited about building a team, although I find myself the bottleneck.” He thinks his job now is to encourage people and get out of their way.
Three months ago, Funk, 45, opened a café in the Village of Oak Creek named Fire Creek Coffee. Currently, he is busy remodeling it. His partner in the café is Diana Hughmanick.
“We have just built the roastery next to the café. It is really neat – surrounded by glass. We have long tables made of juniper tree slabs. It is really artistic. We are excited to share the roasting. We will be adding wine and mircobrew in the future.”
In the meantime, he plans to hold “cuppings” twice a week, inviting the public to judge coffee.
Funk said what is happening now is the third wave in the coffee business.
“The first was Folgers. The second wave was Starbucks. The third wave is a higher fidelity to the culinary aspect of coffee. It’s becoming more like wine.”
Funk says people are beginning to understand the different types of beans and they don’t mind paying more for the good stuff.
And as consumers began demanding a higher level of coffee, growers are taking better care of their crops, and they have profited.
“They may have been getting 35 to 40 cents a pound for the coffee, but being very careful and taking a lot of care with their plants to get a very clean flavor, they now can get $35 a pound for their coffee,” Funk said. “People who are in good growing regions are getting more than they were before, because they see a path to where they can get a lot more money by caring.”
To most serious coffee consumers, $15 a pound is not too much. That can go up to $25 a pound, or even $50 a pound for the really good coffee.
“It’s still like a $1.50 cup. It’s like wine.”
Funk says the longer he stays in the industry, the more he has to learn. And he is always striving to find the perfect cup of coffee.
“Occasionally touching excellence keeps you in the game. It gives you something to work for. You can always better your life.”
He says he also strives for perfection in his private life, whether it is hitting a golf ball or making a perfect landing in his own 1946 antique airplane.
Funk has been the coffee business for about 20 years, but expanded to include roasting only about five years ago.
“When I got into the coffee business, I lived in Seattle in the 1990s, so I when I started there, there were a few Starbucks and a few people had started to open up espresso carts. We would open up espresso carts and I built espresso carts. We kind of grew with the industry doing consulting, helping everyone else get into business,” he said.
Funk moved to Arizona in 1996 and in 2000, took a job with the Sara Lee, the biggest coffee provider in the country at the time and helped open up a chain of coffee bars called Java Coast.
“In fact for five years, I designed every café for the Hilton Hotel chain.”
He says most people don’t know how big a player Sara Lee was in the coffee game.
“They had many labels of coffee and tea and $1 billion of sales a year. They did a lot of acquisition. They hired me to deal with all the new, fancy espresso bars,” he said. “I traveled everywhere and it was exciting. I designed a coffee bar at West Point and I worked with Trump, but I was literally living out of a suitcase.”
That was fine for a while, until 2006, when something happened that made him want to stay in one place.
“I met someone I wanted to spend my life with. We got married and had a baby girl,” he said.
He is referring to wife Jamie and daughter Delaney, now six. He also has two grown stepdaughters.
Sedona has always been a beautiful dream to him.
“You can’t imagine the land around here and how beautiful it is. That is a tremendous draw for me. I have always visited a little cabin up in the Oak Creek Canyon. It’s one of the most beautiful places and the earth and water are perfect.”
Funk said there is a sort of culinary revolution going on in the Verde Valley at the moment.
“There are little wineries popping up and a cheese company. People are putting in little bread ovens, so it is nice to be part of that.”
Fire Creek Coffee, originally based in Cave Creek, already supplies coffee to the famous Elote restaurant, Indian Gardens Deli, Flat Iron Café, Quince and Crema coffee houses. Also customers are Whole Foods Markets, AJ Fine Foods and several resorts. In Flagstaff, his customers include Brix, Criollo and Bookmans.
“We have about 40 wholesale customers,” he said.
In five years, Funk hopes to have a little farm “off the beaten path,” and to be supplying coffee to stores and resorts outside Arizona, which would give him an excuse to fly his plane around to his customers.
“I have an insatiable need to see what is over the next ridge.” FBN
To learn more about the Fire Creek Coffee, visit firstname.lastname@example.org or call 480-437-9999. For the café, call 928-284-5282.