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Jan Egeman is a barista and the owner of the Thanks a Latté Coffee Shop in Billings, MT.
Jan Egeman is the owner and roaster at the Thanks a Latté Coffee Shop in Billings, MT. A co-op store, it is owned to some degree by its employees. Thanks a Latté focuses on locally roasting organically sourced beans from boutique growers around the world. The shop is especially famous for its specialty drinks, which incorporate lost traditions in espresso and coffee brewing. Their Café Quotidien, a forgotten recipe from the former colony of French Indochina, is a local favorite. The shop also serves baked goods. In keeping with their coffee menu, their bakery case is filled with locally made organic goods with additional focus on vegan and organic selections.
Jan Egeman is actively involved with the fair trade movement, which focuses on ending worker exploitation in the coffee industry. Pickers and growers are often poorly paid, overworked, and isolated from their surrounding communities in company housing. Egeman insists on buying his beans from fair trade source in order to avoid supporting this kind of exploitation.
Jan and his wife Sandra are both committed vegans, and their business actively supports a number of animal rights causes, including PETA and the ASPCA. They also foster rescue animals from the local area, which is how they met their beloved Lab, Seamus. The family enjoys music festivals, organic gardening and independent film.
A native of Billings, Jan Egeman attended Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, where he earned a degree in sociology. Upon graduation, Egeman turned down a position with a prestigious research concern in order to explore the world beyond academia. Initially, he volunteered for the Peace Corps, embarking on a two year journey that would take him to the heart of Central America. In a remote village in Guatemala, he operated a dispensary which supplied basic medical services and education to hundreds of grateful locals. Faced with a growing rural HIV/AIDS problem, the Peace Corps in Guatemala instituted a full scale education program, aimed at saturation level penetration into the community. Egeman was unprepared to be part of such a massive effort. However, he rose to the occasion and—embodying the valiant spirit of the Peace Corps, spear headed the effort in his district. The results proved successful, as the surrounding area saw a reduction in rates of HIV infection over the next five years.
After finishing his tour in the Peace Corps, Jan Egeman returned to the United States, briefly. He soon found the staid pace of suburban life dissatisfying. Longing for the meaning and simplicity of life in Central America, he decided that it was time for a change. He took a long afternoon to make a list of things that made him happy: good coffee, good friends, travel, a connection with the earth, and a simpler way of life. As a result, he had a realization and decided to make a bold move.
Giving notice at this job, Jan Egeman arranged for a passport and liquidated his savings. He then embarked on a year-long journey around the world. He eschewed a formal itinerary, choosing instead to follow each adventure as it came. His jumping-off place was a familiar local: Central America. He initially journeyed to Guatemala, reconnecting with old friends from the Peace Corps and meeting new ones along the way. From there, he journeyed to Costa Rica, where he discovered the joys of surfing and beach life. The waves lead him further south; he worked his way to the coast of Brazil on a merchant vessel. The languid life and multicultural society of that country intrigued him. Working his way across the nation, he discovered the coffee growing regions in the highlands. These scenic climes reminded him of his days in Guatemala. Jan Egeman decided to explore the world of coffee. He worked with the pickers, the growers, and the packers. He oversaw the process from the first planting until the harvest. With this education under his belt and his passion for coffee reinvigorated, he elected to leave Brazil in order to visit other coffee growing regions around the world.
The next stop was Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. Jan Egeman visited some of the oldest working coffee orchards in the world, learning a very different way of growing and processing the beans. Immersing himself in these traditions, he drifted to Kenya to visit the most productive African coffee fields.
Egeman has a longstanding love of Southeast Asian coffee. His journey led him to Indonesia, where the island of Sumatra produces some of his favorite coffees to this day. The highlands environment reminded him of Ethiopia, and he found a new culinary tradition paired with a different take on coffee. The darker and more concentrated Southeast Asian brew caught his attention, as a counterpoint to Western espresso. While working in Indonesia and Malaysia, he heard stories of the coffee beverages consumed in Vietnam and the Philippines. His curiosity again peaked; he booked a ticket and flew to Saigon.
He intended his time in Vietnam to be spent exploring the coffee growing highlands, where the remains of French colonial plantations produced fine beans to this day. Instead, during a quiet night in a Saigon bar, Jan Egeman made one of the most important discoveries of his life. Drawn into conversation with another group of travelers, he met the young woman who would eventually become his wife.
Jan and Sandra discovered shared values: simplicity, organic living, artisanship, and of course coffee. The duo decided to travel to together, finally reaching the highlands of Vietnam and from there the beaches of the Philippines. Along the way, they learned more: about coffee, food, the cultures of the world, and the ways in which people that have so much less live their lives. Discovering that their connection withstood the demands of Third World travel, and that their shared interests did not fade, they made the decision to return to the states and marry.
Returning to Jan Egeman’s hometown of Billings, they found conventional employment while working towards their dream of owning a business that celebrated the things they valued. After a few years of planning and saving, they were ready. The initial concept for Thanks a Latté was a simple coffee shop, but as the idea evolved Egeman incorporated other models. He chose to make the business into a co-op, so that his employees would have ownership in the business and a greater level of profitability. He elected to use local and fair-grown products to the greatest extent possible in order to reduce his impact upon the earth. And above all he adopted a motto of respect: to his community, his customers, his employees, the people who made his coffee, and to the planet. Inspired by his journey into the Third World and the people and events he encountered there, Egeman’s view became holistic in scope and rooted in a more natural approach.
After finalizing a location in a refurbished historic building, Thanks a Latté opened in the spring of 2009. The business rapidly became a local favorite, due to Egeman’s dedication to customer service and his ideals regarding his community. Jan Egeman added a performance space in a renovated storage area in 2011, making his shop a community venue for the arts as well.
Given the success of his first location, Jan Egeman is considering expanding the business to other parts of Billings. Jan and Sharon are giving priority consideration to historic districts and other repurposed properties, as part of their commitment to community vitality, preservation, and renewal. Their current assistant manager is set to head the first expansion, with plans for more to follow. Egeman plans on continuing his people-oriented focus with the business, allowing employees to become part owners of the company as a whole. This approach to business ensures loyalty, incentivizes workers, and keeps wealth in the local community where—in Jan’s opinion—it belongs.
Jan Egeman is a highly trained coffee roaster, with a large roasting setup in his primary location. Given the local popularity of his coffee, he is considering expanding his roasting operations to include a freestanding roastery in Bilings. It would be the first independent roastery in the city. He plans on offering his current full line of coffees, with some seasonal additions as supplies of fair-trade coffee allow. Distribution of these coffees would be handled through independent retailers, gourmet shops, and boutique restaurants across the region, with an eye toward national expansion as time and circumstances permit.
As Thanks a Latté grows, the business plans to become more involved with its charity work. By employee/owner consensus, they have voted to begin donating a percentage of the business profits to organizations which support development in the Third World and the promotion of fair trade goods around the planet. Inspired by his time in the Peace Corps, Egeman and his employees strive to keep those ideals alive.
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