In wake of founder’s death, family decides to close business
It’s just before noon and Roman Baltram doesn’t have time to chat. As soon as he takes a seat, the phone rings or a customer strolls into Sivetz Coffee.
One caller orders a 50-pound supply of roasted Sumatra coffee beans. Baltram haggles with another over his price for coffee roaster parts.
“Well, you take a few days to think about it,” he says as he hangs up. “We’ll still be in business until the end of the month.”
Sivetz Coffee Inc. founder Michael Sivetz, a renowned coffee expert and inventor, died in March at the age of 90, and his family has decided to close the shop. Baltram has managed his father-in-law’s business with his wife, Martha Baltram, for the past five or six years as Sivetz progressed in age.
Locals know Sivetz Coffee as the place to buy roasted beans or to order the perfect cup of coffee.
However, since opening its doors in 1981, the bulk of the business has been in the back — where coffee roasters, invented and patented by Sivetz, are assembled and shipped to wholesale coffee distributors all over the country.
Sivetz’s roasters use a technology that maintains a more precise temperature level, which Sivetz has credited with improving the taste and roasting the beans in about half the time as traditional roasters.
Housed in an old church on Southwest Fourth Street and Adams Avenue, the business has grown in fame in the coffee world, which can only be traced back to Sivetz’s intense — and sometimes militant — taste for perfection. The man had precise procedures for everything. And he had very little patience, Baltram said, for those who couldn’t follow his directions.
Wholesale coffee distributors will now have to find another place to buy their roasters.
“The one that just called wants a quarter-bag — a 38-pound roaster,” Baltram said between customers and phone calls. “He’s got two shops, one in Baltimore and one in Pittsburgh, and he’s opening another one. And he wants a larger roaster.”
Since Baltram has the parts in inventory, he plans to build it. But there won’t be many more.
Local coffee drinkers are also disappointed in the business’s closure. Customers are getting coffee while they still can.
“If I freeze it, it should be able to last a few months,” Dan Blythe said as Baltram took his order. “I’m stocking up on it.”
Baltram doesn’t generally have to ask customers what they want when they come through the door. Blythe, a customer for about five years, shows up weekly for the same bag of roasted beans. There is Jerry Marshall, who always gets a large decaffeinated drink and has been frequenting the shop daily for more than a decade. About every week Honor Hoover drops by to pick up a bottle or two of liquid coffee extract — a sort of instant coffee — that she uses to make iced coffee drinks.
Then there is Donna Kuttner, a diehard Sivetz fan who explains that coffee is an integral part of her life. Since she moved to Portland 11 years ago, she has travelled to Corvallis about every three months in order to continue purchasing the premium roasted beans.
“When we discovered Sivetz, that was it,” she said, referring to herself and her finicky husband. “I honestly don’t know how I’m going to cope. All other coffee is too bitter to drink.”
Though Sivetz Coffee is closing and even its 1930s-era building is up for sale, Baltram is working with a few potential buyers to help a new business carry on the Sivetz tradition of serving quality coffee. A potential buyer would use a Sivetz roaster and would purchase beans from the same supplier.
“We have a local person who has talked about buying that 50-pound roaster,” Baltram said, pointing to the 28-year-old machine in the retail side of the store. “He’s in town here and he’s known this business for a long time.”