Coffee Talk With Aerosmith's Joey Kramer
He's the cymbal-crashing drummer of Aerosmith: Boston's original bad boys and America's all-time top selling rock band. But Joey Kramer has another gig going on. The self-avowed coffee junkie launched his own brand, Rockin' and Roastin', last year. This summer, though, Kramer kicked up the tempo via a partnership with North Andover-based Comfort Foods. Since August, the packaged coffee has already been placed in 120 grocer locations, from Big Y stores to smaller, boutique markets. Kramer wants his coffee to be a "staple across Massachusetts," but he says he doesn't want to go down one cliche route: that of the over-extended celebrity marketer.
"We're doing this the right way," says Kramer, who gulps down three to four cups ("big ones!") of coffee each day: often spiked with an espresso shot. He says he started the business because the rock star life of late nights, early mornings and travels around the world made coffee a necessity, and good cups were hard to find. "I'm focused on quality over quantity. I'm not looking to make a fat buck by just slapping my name on something."
The famous drummer took a few beats to chat with Zagat.
Zagat: Why did you decide this was the right time to launch Rockin' and Roastin'?
Joey Kramer: It's something I had been wanting to do for a long time. I've always wanted to have a company of my own, but I didn't really have time for it for many years, with my career going the way it is. And I'm very grateful for that, but as we began to take more time off between tours - well, I get antsy to be honest. Once I'm home for two or three weeks I'm looking for something else to do, and now I have the time. So I assembled a team of people that I want to work with on this business: people I've known over the years who are true to their roots and won't have any drama.
Z: Like Stephen Beattie, CEO of Comfort Foods in Andover. How does that relationship work?
JK: He knows everything there is to know about coffee. I cup the coffee with him, which is when you taste it fresh out of the roaster. He roasts it to my specs. I describe to him how I want it to taste and he brings it to my description. The thing I want to be clear about is that I'm not just another celebrity putting my name on a product, sitting back and collecting checks. I'm the CEO. I take part in all decisions that are made: getting it into supermarkets, going into meetings with executives and retailers. They get a big charge out of me coming in, and I get a big charge because it's this other side of the business world!
Z: Has the music business helped you prepare for the food biz in any way?
JK: I think it would help me in anything I decided to do. It has really opened my eyes and given me an education about a lot of different things, especially working with people. It’s introduced me to all kinds of different people, and now I’m circling back and calling on contacts all over the world to help me with this.
Z: You said you want to make the best cup of coffee. So, what makes a bad cup of coffee?
JK: Oh, I’ve had plenty of bad ones! Without divulging the name of any competitors - you know, I don’t care for a lot of the coffee out there. One of the biggest companies, I think you'll know who I mean, has gotten to the point where they confuse quantity with quality. They were better quality when they first started, but have since become such a big conglomerate that they’ve outgrown themselves and gone downhill. I don’t care for it myself and I don’t understand what people like about it: it’s bitter, and it’s burnt. I think people are just into the lifestyle they offer. But I’m not concerned about getting to be that big; I’m interested in maintaining the quality of what I do and bringing gourmet coffee to consumers at a reasonable price, which I don’t feel has really been done before. If it gets to the level where I feel I can’t control it, I won’t let it grow.
Z: How did you select the roasts you have now?
JK: The three places they represent, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Sumatra, are all where I like the coffee best. I think they have the richest, most robust coffee. We started with half a dozen but I narrowed it down to my favorites because I didn’t want to start with too much. We went back and forth and cupped a lot of coffee to get it to the point where I’m happy! But now we’re starting to experiment with another roast.
Z: And any hints on what's next on that front? Or in other aspects of the brand?
JK: Well I played with Colombian, but it just seems that everyone has it. I want something a little different. So we’re toying with the possibility of an espresso roast. Something else I want to do over the course of the next year is to try a couple of small-batch roasts. Super high quality coffee at a reasonable price: something for Christmas, for instance. And I’m partnering up with other people who work in foods that go well with coffee - like cupcakes.
Z: Must be nice to have something outside the band that just belongs to you.
JK: It’s great. It’s my baby, and everyone is always willing to listen to what I have to say. My ideas are all heard, which has nothing to do with me being CEO. [Laughs] And it’s fun, it’s not work; when you love what you do it’s not work. That’s the story of my whole life. I’ve been doing what I love to do for 44 years now.
Z: On that note, what's next for Aerosmith?
JK: Well we put out a new album in November, we just came back from Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, and we’re touring Central and South America at the end of this month. When I say we don’t tour as much as we used to, I mean we don’t do as many shows during the course of a week. But we stay out for longer so in the end it’s the time. We’ve been doing it a long time; I’m not 20 years old anymore but we’re probably out there rocking as well as anyone who is!
Z: I have to ask, since we're Zagat. Any favorite restaurants to visit when you're in town?
JK: Absolutely. My favorite spot for breakfast is Arthur & Pat’s in Marshfield. They do the best breakfast and lunch. Tell “Dee” I sent you; she’s a buddy of mine! For dinner, probably Abe and Louie’s. When I’m town I usually stay at the Mandarin, and I love just being able to go across the street for dinner. Plus I know everybody there, and that seems to help!