When 6 p.m. rolls around and Kevin Fox is the last remaining person in the kitchen, he turns on Pearl Jam. It’s the way he rounds out his day, which often begins with classic rock blasting out of the windows of his 2016 Ford Transit on his 6 a.m. morning commute toward New Market, Virginia.
His first batch of coffee beans waits to be roasted in the far right corner of his cafe’s kitchen, where he puts aside the ‘80s music and gives in to the younger employees’ love for today’s Top 100 hits.
Fox, the owner and manager of both Crazy Fox Roasting Company and Jackson’s Corner Coffee Roastery and Cafe, jokes that despite being around coffee as much as he is, he’s not necessarily a coffee addict. He often lets his first cup linger into the early afternoon hours.
“I’m addicted to the whole coffee thing, the whole knowledge of coffee — where it comes from, the different ways to roast it, the different ways to brew it,” Fox said. “I think I’m addicted to that.”
The roasting process starts at 7 a.m. when he logs his roasting orders, most of which are blends: some Brazilian, some Colombian. He then labels the tinted five-gallon buckets accordingly by writing on old business cards. A batch of dark roast, Fox says, can be differentiated from his favorite Guatemalan medium roast by its oilier tint.
The machine constantly whirs and tumbles beans, allowing for it to heat evenly after its initial drop at 445 degrees. As the moisture is drawn out at 380 degrees, the beans expand, creating a popcorn-like crackle. For a dark roast, the beans will reach a second crack and be left to slow-roast to fully develop its flavor.
While different beans vary, Fox says he knows where he should be with each minute — a craft he’s fine-tuned in the past three years. In the first minute and a half, the process involves making sure the beans don’t get too cool. At three minutes, the color of the beans begins to form and at six minutes, he aims to be around 300 to 310 degrees. Then, it’s all about cutting the heat back or turning it up.
“It takes about half a day, and it’s just me babysitting this,” Fox said of the machine, patting it lovingly. “I love roasting coffee, but the best part — my favorite part — is going out delivering to a bunch of different people.”
Before owning Jackson’s Corner, Fox started out roasting in his garage, which he converted into a certified coffee roasting workspace. Bagging up the beans, labeling them and personally delivering them has always been part of the job.
What started as an idea a coworker had to use coffee beans as a fundraiser resulted in Fox entertaining the thought of having a full-blown roasting company. Although he originally wanted a simple name and logo — such as Rocktown Coffee Roasters — his wife felt a play on his last name, Fox, would be more fun and “crazy.”
After she passed away, Crazy Fox Roasting Company became “a sentimental thing.” Five months later, the owner of Jackson’s Corner died suddenly from a heart attack, and Fox was approached about taking it over.
“It’s still that stupid fox, and it’s loud, but it works,” Fox said. “I just wish they both could come back and see what’s going on … my wife would probably be amazed that I didn’t change the name of it or the logo. That’d make her happy.”
In almost three years, Fox has seen the place grow from a shop with no sign and only one to two tables to a business with local regulars who Fox says are “the backbone of this place.”
“Everybody wants to see this town do well, and there’s so much support,” Fox said. “Just the fact that this town didn’t have anything like this, and they want this here. It’s amazing to see the support and people cheering for you.”
Kim Butterfield, a customer who frequents the cafe at least two to three times a week, has loved seeing Jackson’s Corner create a gathering space for the people of New Market.
“For lunch and dinner, honestly, I’ve tried almost everything on it, and I’ve loved it,” Butterfield said. “So it depends on the day.”
Through working for Fox the past two years, Madelene Roma says everything at the cafe is genuine and done with purpose, including the made-from-scratch pastries and sandwiches.
“There are so many regulars that come in,” Roma said. “Everyone is so familiar with each other, and everyone is so close.”
From the two women who volunteer at the library who come every Thursday morning to the guys who always get decaf and a cinnamon raisin bagel with butter and cream cheese, Fox says the regulars are a reminder of how far the cafe has come. As a small roaster, he’d crank out maybe 50 pounds of coffee a week. Now, he roasts nearly 600.
While he used to be a brewer working for Coors, he quickly found that the art and science behind coffee roasting — as well as selling coffee beans at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market — was where he was meant to be. Fox says the first few months were the best he’d felt in a while.
“There’s not enough hours in the day to do my full-time job and do the coffee, and I said, ‘You know what? I think I’m quitting my job,’” Fox said. “I’ll never know what I can do with it unless I got 100% of my time to devote to it.”
He’s proud of how he remains being the hands-on coffee roasting guy even now that he’s merged Jackson’s Corner and Crazy Fox. He looks forward to continuing his role as the go-to person of contact in nearby towns when anyone needs a good batch of coffee beans for their shop.
“I don’t go around telling everyone that it’s the best and nothing else is as good as it, but I get a lot of customers coming in telling me, ‘This is the best coffee I’ve ever had,’” Fox said. “And it’s like yay … I’m doing it right.”
Contact Sabrina Moreno at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the Culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.