Inside the $90 million ‘coffeehouse’ north of Fort Worth

The first thing you see when you enter the new Farmer Brothers headquarters is the coffee bar.

An inviting leather couch and cozy counter space sit near a line of brewing machines, allowing employees and guests to prepare their favorite style of joe.

Beyond that area is a wide open space with tables and chairs, brightened by natural light from large windows. The goal was to create a coffeehouse culture, says CEO Mike Keown, to inspire change at the century-old coffee supplier and distributor as it competes with the likes of Starbucks in a new era.

“When you look at this facility, we should be much more appealing to more sophisticated customers,” said Keown, who made the decision to relocate the company from California. “The U.S. coffee industry is becoming more and more high end every year. And our facility in Torrance would not allow for that.”

Farmer Brothers CEO Michael Keown at the new Farmer Brothers headquarters. Joyce Marshall -

Employees moved into the $90 million corporate complex, at the northeast corner of Texas 114 and Interstate 35W across from the Texas Motor Speedway, earlier this year. It includes executive and administrative offices, 100,000 square feet of space for roasting beans, 300,000 square feet for distribution and labs where new blends are tested. RGA Architects of Roanoke was the project architect for the complex; Gensler & Associates designed the headquarters interior; and EMJ Corp. was the general contractor.

Farmer Brothers currently has about 175 employees at the Northlake headquarters, with employment expected to reach about 225. About 50 more work in the distribution operation, which has been outsourced to a third-party company. Only about 20 management employees made the move to Texas from Torrance, Calif., where Farmer had about 300 employees.

Atrium at the new Farmer Brothers headquarters. Joyce Marshall -

The company supplies coffee to a variety of food-service clients from restaurant chains such as Einstein’s Bagels and McDonald’s to airports, convenience stores and casinos including the Hard Rock. Like other corporate headquarters, this coffee facility is not open to the public, but we were given a look around.

The entryway to the headquarters has an open sitting area with multiple tables, designed to evoke the feeling of a coffeehouse. Two large murals greet visitors on the first and second levels, which are connected by a wide wooden staircase. Keown said Farmer Brothers, which sources its coffee beans from 25 to 35 different countries, wanted to stress its commitment to sustainability.

Coffee beans are green before roasting. Joyce Marshall -

In its coffee lab, Farmer Brothers employs a team of certified “cuppers” who are trained to taste and evaluate coffees and develop new blends for customers. Beans arrive green and then are evaluated after being roasted. The color of the roasted bean, and the size of the ground particles, all affect the flavor of each coffee, said Dora Jaramillo, director of product development. Farmers is often asked by customers to develop a blend that can match the flavor of a rival’s brew.

Roasters in the R&D lab. Joyce Marshall -

After coffee beans arrive in burlap sacks from Central America, South America or Africa, the beans are cleaned in a machine to remove chaff or twigs and move through tubing into the roasting area. There, large roasters prepare beans in batches, producing 26 to 28 million pounds of coffee per year. The roasted beans are then packaged into bags, sometimes ground and then moved to the shipping area.

Farmer Brothers recently performed its first test brew in Northlake and expects its new roasting area to become operational in the next quarter. The company also roasts coffee in Houston and Portland, Ore.

Farmer Brothers’ new distribution center. Joyce Marshall -

Farmer Brothers has consolidated distribution centers from Oklahoma City and Houston into the new Northlake facility. The warehouse, which is heavily automated, handles about 255,000 pounds of coffee each week.

So the next time you enjoy a cup of coffee in a restaurant or an airport, remember that the beans may have come from Northlake, Texas.

Steve Kaskovich: 817-390-7773, @stevekasko