Founder Chris Mellow fuses his passion for coffee, golf and marketing to create the Good Walk Coffee Co.
The origin of coffee is shrouded in nearly as much obscurity as the origin of golf. But one coffee legend attributes its discovery to much the same occupational source — a shepherd, albeit in this case of goats rather than sheep.
The story goes that Kaldi, a ninth-century goatherd tending his flock on the plains of Ethiopia, noticed his goats munching berries from an unfamiliar tree and afterward frolicking around with scant interest in sleep.
Kaldi took the berries to a nearby monastery where a disapproving abbot tossed them into a fire. The resultant aroma beguiled the monks, who salvaged the beans, ground them up, added hot water and had the world’s first cup of Joe.
It’s probably not true, but few care because many find that first cup of coffee in the morning to be one of life’s great blessings and necessities.
Chris Mellow happens to be a coffee and golf nut, and he has turned his dual passions into the relatively new Good Walk Coffee Co. To roll out more apocrypha, Mark Twain did not coin the phrase about golf being a good walk spoiled. But he was a fan of a good cup of coffee.
Mellow is surely a good name for a coffee maven — and indeed one of Good Walk’s best sellers these days is Breakfast Ball, from a single origin farm Colombian bean, medium roasted. It’s middle of the road as far as darkness goes — unless one favors a roastier cup. Then you’d want to tee up the Dew Sweeper Organic French Roast blend with beans from South America, Africa, Indonesia.
“That’s just an amazing mouth full of flavor, yet smooth, with very low acidity,” Mellow said.
The other regular offering in the Good Walk bag of beans is the Clubhouse South America Dark Roast blend from Brazil, Honduras and Columbia. “This one also has low bitterness, low acidity. Feedback from some customers say they always drank darker roasts with milk, but they’ve starting drinking this one black, which is great,” Mellow said.
Mellow, 46, says the commingling of golf and coffee began when he was just a young sprout heading out to the nine-hole Franklin Golf Course with his grandfather in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains:
“We lived in Nashville then and would frequently visit the little town of Franklin,” he said. “My grandfather, Bill Clark, lived across the street from the course’s first fairway. He made me my first set of clubs. He’d take me and a cousin to ride in the cart and knock it around on the first three holes, which looped back to his house.
“At what you could barely call a clubhouse then they always had an all-day pot of coffee on, and he’d always have a steaming serving with him in one of those Styrofoam cups, which was a little perilous from time to time.”
It might seem a perilous time to be running a new company. Unless, perhaps, you’re a mail order gourmet coffee company in an era when people are sheltering in place and working from home in vast numbers. Good Walk incorporated last July, and Mellow said, “It all happened quite quickly. We had the brand and logo by early August and our first coffee roasted and for sale at the end of August.” Not too surprisingly, sales went through the roof beginning in the second week of March.
Mellow didn’t just pick coffee and golf out of the air. He had plenty of business savvy and a deeper golf pedigree, too — his family moved to Michigan when he was 11 and became members at Oakland Hills Country Club right before it hosted the 1985 U.S. Open.
In New York at the beginning of the dot-com boom, Mellow worked for branding agencies, helping to create and launch businesses or refine their images — marketing on the digital side. One agency sent him out to Los Angeles for a one-month project.
“After three months my boss basically said, ‘Come back here or stay out there,’” Mellow said.
He stayed. It’s been about 20 years now. He met his wife, they had two children, and started their own marketing agency, Mellow Partners. While doing all his digital branding work Mellow always had in mind finding his own business to build and sustain longer than a short-lived project.
L.A. is one of the epicenters for the third wave of coffee companies, brands popping up around the notion of extremely high-quality coffee. With the emergence of e-commerce and the subscription model, Mellow surmised that expertly roasted coffee was just table stakes: “Coffee was becoming a commodity again — and if it was all of such high quality you couldn’t differentiate on that aspect.”
He pondered brands like Bulletproof, identified around the CrossFit lifestyle, and Black Rifle, founded by a military vet and identifying with a second amendment gun culture.
“Building a brand around the golfing lifestyle that I know many share with an absolute passion seemed so obvious I figured someone must have thought of it already,” Mellow said.
Though coffee is a $14-15 billion industry, growing at about 9 percent a year and slated to grow through 2023 at least, no one had, so Mellow and team kept moving forward. The company also sells a few accessories — mugs (not Styrofoam), golf hats, towels, club covers, tees.
“We had our e-commerce store up before we even had coffee. We took it as a good sign that people were buying some gear before they’d even tasted the coffee. That’s when we thought: We may be onto something,” he said.
Golf has never lacked for gimmicks. But Mellow knew that to make Good Walk work the brand had to be grounded in authenticity, rooted in a true passion for both golf and good coffee. “The greatest challenge is to communicate that clearly, so as not to get lost as another throw-away novelty idea,” he said.
With wider distribution on the horizon and K-Cup versions about to come out, the company appears to be striping it right down the middle. It’s already clear that it knows how to put it in the cup.
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