If you were to ask Andrew Gage if he always wanted to own his own business, you would likely get a resounding no. When he changed his major to entrepreneurship during his sophomore year at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, he didn’t do it to carry out a long-standing dream of starting a business. Instead, he thought a business degree would be his ticket out of school.
BY CHRISTINA CANNON / PHOTOGRAPHY BY RICH SMITH
“I honestly switched my major thinking that it might help me graduate a little quicker,” explains Andrew. “But what I really gained from that program was the confidence to go out and do my own thing.” And that wasn’t all. It was through his time at UTC that Andrew met Jessica – his now wife and business partner at Velo Coffee Roasters.
Throughout college, Andrew and Jessica worked a myriad of jobs that would ultimately prepare them for their future in the specialty coffee industry.
“I had the opportunity to work in several different coffee shops throughout Chattanooga while I was in college, and I also learned to roast under a couple of different people,” explains Andrew. “I enjoyed making drinks and serving customers, but it wasn’t until I learned to roast that I got hooked on specialty coffee. Roasting suited me well, and I liked that there was always something new to learn and build on.”
Three years after graduating and just two years after getting hitched, Jessica and Andrew launched Velo Coffee Roasters, a wholesale roastery, in the spring of 2010. Within months, the company had moved from its home in the Business Development Center to its current location at 509 East Main Street.
The following years saw a flurry of change for the Gages and for the company. Velo Coffee Roasters was welcomed with open arms by the Chattanooga community.
“It didn’t take long for us to make it into stores, groceries, and restaurants,” says Jessica. “It was a lot of work, and our days were full of sheer hustle and constant pitches, but we also just came along at a great time when the local market was ready for a change.”
Even with business booming, the Gages knew there was a missing piece to the puzzle. It took over a year, but they were finally able to create a retail offering complete with a coffee bar and space for a few guests – something that had been in the works since Velo’s inception. In the early days, the coffee bar offered nothing more than pour overs and iced coffee, and the store was only open 20 hours a week.
“We juggled a lot back then in order to open the few hours we could. For the first couple of years, I worked two and three jobs at a time just so we could exist,” says Andrew. “Since those days, we’ve slowly added hours and menu items to showcase the coffee we roast in-house.”
“The process offers endless opportunities to learn and improve, and it’s our hope that we can one day become an informational hub for the community.”
Fast forward half a decade and Velo has even more offerings. In 2019, the company launched its first-ever subscription service – something Andrew notes has been crucial during the current environment of limited in-person shopping and dining.
As far as what’s in store for Velo Coffee Roasters, the Gages hope to eventually open an educational facility at their current location where the public can participate in classes, workshops, and lectures about specialty coffee.
“Roasting is a fairly simple process that requires rudimentary machines, but there is a ton of nuance just below the surface,” says Jessica. “The process offers endless opportunities to learn and improve, and it’s our hope that we can one day become an informational hub for the community.”
Roasting courses, espresso classes, and open cuppings/tastings are all in the works and aim to create awareness and positively contribute to the specialty coffee industry at a variety of supply chain levels.
“At the end of the day, roasting coffee is, and always has been, at the heart of what we do,” says Andrew. “Ultimately, I started Velo for the opportunity to do what I love without limits on creativity, and that’s something I want to share with the rest of Chattanooga.” CS