Restaurants / Openings

New Houston Coffee Mecca Flooded by Imelda Fights to Get Back in Opening Shape

Inside Ship Channel Trading Company's Odyssey and How You Can Help

BY // 09.30.19

Levi Craig was a week away from opening his new coffee roastery Ship Channel Trading Company when Tropical Storm Imelda’s rain bands started pummeling Houston. “We had our last permits from the City of Houston. We were ready to go and I was just dotting my ‘i’s and crosing my ‘t.’s,” Craig tells PaperCity.

In fact, Craig was sitting inside the building, located in Garden Oaks, working on the menu when water started encroaching. Within mere hours, the building had 21 inches of standing water.

Craig knew the building didn’t flood during Hurricane Harvey, which many Houstonians use as a benchmark for flooding.

“I was caught off-guard by the amount of water and how quickly it rose. We only had standing water in the building for probably less than five hours total. Once the rain stopped, it receded extremely quickly,” Craig says.

“We have an upstairs component here as well, so I was able to save a lot of the equipment. I’m very thankful that I was here when it happened. I was able to save a lot of things and then my main concern became the roaster where the water was coming in. I began using some of our inventory  to try to block the water like a sandbag. And it actually worked for a while.

“You’re doing whatever you can to manage the situation in real time. It was quite a day.”

Thankfully, the primary and most expensive piece of equipment, the roasting chamber, did not take on water.

“By 6 pm that night, all the water was out, we were starting to dry things out, I had already gone to Home Depot to get supplies, when I got back there were eight people here, friends of mine, to help me cut out sheet rock,” Craig says. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am. They were cutting out sheetrock and I was working on disassembling the roasting machine. Then a second wave came in the next morning to continue the work.

“Within 24 hours everything that got wet was out of the building, and within 48 we had it cleaned up. It was a really great response from a lot of great people.”

Craig and his wife Kim have lived in Houston for nine years. “I had considered other locations for this business, but Houston is our home and we aren’t going anywhere. We raised our three kids here, this is their home,” he says.

A New Coffee Way

Craig was working in commodities trading when he started down what he calls a “sensory path for coffee” five years ago. “I have always had an interest in commodities and it is interesting that coffee is primarily an imported product. We’ve already done some work with the Port of Houston, which is one of the reasons I named the business Ship Channel Trading Company. Houston is already a very large coffee port.

“It is one of five ports in the country to which you can deliver the coffee. A lot of coffee that comes into the Houston port gets redistributed throughout the country,” Craig explains.

Craig obtained his Q Arabica Grader License in 2018. The Q system is an internationally recognized protocol for evaluating coffee quality certified by the Coffee Quality Institute (there are less than 600 active Arabica Q graders in the U.S.). Ship Channel Trading Company is a member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America and the Greater Houston Coffee Association.

“One of my favorite taglines is ‘Good coffee doesn’t need sugar and bad coffee doesn’t deserve it’. There is a lot of bad coffee out there,” Craig says. “Our goal is to educate consumers on what they are drinking.

“And having a coffee experience, where you can have an extremely high-rated coffee from a place like Ethiopia and you can have a similar-rated coffee from a place like Guatemala and they are going to taste very different. And the differences are distinct.”

Craig hopes to educate consumers’ palettes via coffee tasting flights.

“Coffee is a lot like wine,” he notes. “A wine varietal has between 600 to 800 volatile compound aromatics, what people can taste and smell. Roasted coffee has over 1,000 aromatics, so it is technically more complex even than wine once it is has been roasted.”

Ship Channel Trading Company, once it opens, will be a coffee roastery and public house. The focus is on coffee, but they will offer beer, wine and coffee cocktails as well. The property, which sits on about an acre of land, also has a 5,000 square-foot garden area currently being landscaped that will have a gate.

“The idea is you can come with your family, relax on Saturday, have a coffee, have a glass of wine, and really just have an experience they may not have had before,” Craig says.

After the flood, while they have had a tremendous amount of assistance in getting the building back in order, Craig isn’t sure when they will be able to open officially. It primarily depends on when they will be able to get the coffee roaster back in working order.

If you’re interested in supporting Ship Channel Trading Company now, there is an option to pre-buy the coffee, with the delivery date to be determined. Even though he currently can’t promise a delivery date, Craig assures that the coffee will be shipped once they are up and running.

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