10 Minutes With Ant Walach of Snowdrift Coffee

Ant Walach, owner of Snowdrift Coffee, is building an education center for the LGBTQ+ community to learn more about roasting coffee. We follow Ant to his roastery in Roscoe, Ill., to find out more.

Photos courtesy of Ant Walach
When Ant Walach isn’t roasting coffee, he’s probably working on his truck or planning the new garden he’s set on planting. Ant and his partner, Rita Kaminsky, are the owners of Snowdrift Coffee & Workspace, a roasting company and education center aimed at teaching members of the LGBTQ+ community how to roast coffee. Ant brings over 10 years of experience to Snowdrift, which is based in the small town of Roscoe, Ill., just south of the border with Wisconsin. We learn more about Ant’s coffee background, what it’s like to own a business with your partner, and why education is important to Ant.
AR: Let’s talk about your life pre-coffee. What were you doing and what career path did you envision for yourself? What was your first coffee job?
AW: We’re going WAY back for this one! I was bouncing between café and art gallery jobs while finishing up a fine-arts degree. At that point, I was focused on a career in gallery management.
I’ve been working in the service industry since the very beginning of employment. At some point down the line, I was able to hop on the espresso machine at one of the restaurants where I worked. It was at this point I became a regular coffee drinker and started seeking out specialty coffee. The true beginning in this industry was after graduating college, when I moved to Oakland, Calif., in 2007 and started working at Ritual.
Ant Walach got his start at Ritual Coffee in 2007, after working in restaurants and fiddling around with espresso machines.
AR: Opening a business is hard, obviously. How did you do it? How would you advise others who want to do the same?
AW: Opening a business is no easy task, that’s for sure! For me, it’s been important to focus on doing what I love and what makes me happy. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, the workload seems a little bit lighter even if you’re actually putting in double the time.
AR: Why did you decide to open a business? What did you want to achieve in your business that you weren’t seeing done by other roasters?
AW: Snowdrift Coffee & Workspace is a result of Rita and I wanting to find a better work/life balance. We both have a deep work ethic and a tendency for long hours, so we were looking to structure our company to allow us time outside of coffee life. We’ve figured out a way to diversify our revenue streams to get more flexibility in our schedule when we need it. We were surprised by the lack of coffee at farmers markets. So, we’re getting out there, meeting the community, and building our brand up in that way.
AR: How do you approach coffee? How do you source? 
AW: I’m always looking into the potential of the bean. Since we have such low overhead, we’re able to find some amazing green through importers that we can still offer at a price that’s accessible to our customers. I like to make sure we have something for everyone, so we have a minimal menu with a wide variety of flavor profiles and price points.
Ant, who was part of the opening crew at Linea Caffe in San Francisco, cut his teeth roasting and working with coffee companies throughout the Bay Area, most recently Equator Coffee before opening Snowdrift.
AR: I’m interested in businesses that are operated by partners, especially when there’s a personal relationship involved. How do you two manage these different aspects of your lives? How do you ensure that you have some separation? How do you deal with disputes or divvying up tasks?
AW: Rita and I have the experience of working together at multiple companies prior to starting our personal relationship, so our interpersonal communication style was already in place. Those shared experiences give us a foundation to build Snowdrift Coffee. We have already figured out our strengths, weaknesses, and how we work under pressure. We’re very good at respecting each other’s individuality and just communicate well. We’re also that couple that talks about business and coffee on “off” time because we love it.
AR: You revealed a very personal aspect of your life when you were profiled for the Matchbook Coffee Project—what did that feel like? Why was it important?
AW: It felt very freeing to talk about. I wanted to make sure I was able to give back to LGBTQ+ community as a member of that particular community.
AR: What have you learned from your previous jobs?
AW: Every single job I’ve had to this point has taught me a lesson I’ve been able to use at the next job. I’m drawing from everything I’ve experienced throughout the years to create the exact business model that will work for me.
Ant is using his roasting space to teach others the knowledge he has accumulated over the years.
AR: What feels important to you in coffee? What would you like for our community to work on?
AW: Community feels important. I hope we continue down this path of asking questions and standing up for each other, throughout the supply chain.
AR: Have you every received a compliment or criticism that surprised you or made you reconsider the way you operate? Any piece of advice that really bowled you over?
AW: Actually, there are two that I draw from on the regular. I received a criticism once that for all the studying I was doing, I didn’t share the knowledge I was gaining. I know that’s a main reason for my push with including an educational side of Snowdrift Coffee & Workspace. The compliment actually goes for that push to teach as well; I received a lovely handwritten thank-you note (which I still have) from a woman that was so happy I took the time to talk with her over the phone to figure out what coffee she should buy. She loved the recommendation and took the time to let me know. This reminds me to slow down and take the time to talk it out.
Snowdrift is both a roasting operation and educational center, aimed at teaching members of the LGBTQ+ community applicable coffee skills.
AR: What’s next for you, both small and big?
AW: We’re focusing on getting the word out for our no-cost Intro to Roasting class for members of the LGBTQ+ community who want to have access to this education to get started down the coffee roaster career path. There’s also prepping for this upcoming farmers market season and getting our web store up and running.  We’ve also got some big news in the works, but it’ll be out in the open soon.
AR: What do you do in your spare time?
AW: Ha! We are living on a little bit of land, so there’s always work to do. It’s great, we’re gearing up to put in a huge garden this year. If I’m not working in the yard, I’m probably working on the truck.
About Ashley Rodriguez 413 Articles
Ashley is the Online Editor for Barista Magazine. She's based in Chicago. If you want to share a story or have a comment, you can reach her at ashley@baristamagazine.com.