Randy Fasig is what’s known today as a serial entrepreneur, but back when he was starting his many companies in the 1970s and 1980s, the term wasn’t yet popularized. And while he’s started many businesses over the life of his career, the one he’s arguably best known for is his coffee company.

Fasig’s Coffee was once an anchor tenant of the then-fledgling Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, a program of the Allentown Economic Development Corporation. We recently checked in with him to get the history of his company, learn about his time in the business incubator and find out where it is today.

 

Getting started

Prior to starting the coffee company, Fasig had started a spice company in a downtown storefront on 8th Street in Allentown and sold primary to local restaurants. Since he’s always been particular about his coffee, he decided to learn how to roast his own so he could make and sell it. “I wanted to roast my own coffee so I could enjoy it as fresh as possible,” said Fasig. The idea was a hit and the company took off.

His clients included several high-profile local companies such as Bethlehem Steel at Martin Tower, Rodale, and Northampton Community College’s food service. There were also many food service companies, restaurants, stores such as Dollar Tree, and grocery stores like Wegmans, Laneco, and Giant, some of which are still with him today.

At one point he decided that he wanted to flavor coffee beans back before it was as trendy as it has become today. “There are only five flavoring manufacturers in the country and we have special flavorings made just for our coffees.”

 

An early Bridgeworks tenant

It was the late 1980s and the then-head of AEDC reached out to him looking for an anchor tenant for the organization’s business incubation program.

“They needed an anchor tenant to help establish the program and it had to be a business of a certain size that would take up a lot of space in the former Mack Trucks building. At that time I had expanded my company and was servicing clients up and down the East Coast, including several supermarket chains. I was roasting 3 million pounds of coffee a year and had 13 storefront cafes.

His business had grown and needed more space, so he moved it into Bridgeworks where it would remain for over a decade. In addition to coffee roasting and packaging, the facility was also its storage warehouse and distribution hub. Over time he added a commercial bakery for his retail stores so they had food to sell along with the coffee. There was even space where he fabricated product displays for his grocery store and other retail clients to use to display his product.

In the end Fasig’s Coffee took up over 6,000 sq. ft of space at Bridgeworks. During the company’s heyday, accounts included M&M Mars, Jaguar, and even Dean Whitter at the World Trade Center in New York City.

“I love how centrally located Bridgeworks is and I really liked the character of the former Mack Trucks space it is housed in,” Fasig said. “It just felt like home, which is why we stayed as long as we did. I was happy to help out other tenants in the building since many of them were just starting out and my company was older and more experienced.”

 

An entrepreneur ahead of his time

The “third-place” concept hadn’t yet entered the pop culture lexicon when Fasig opened his first coffee house in 1973 in Reading. All he knew at that time was that he wanted to create a space where people could gather and communicate outside of their homes. He wanted it to be a special place that was their home away from home, which was precisely the third-place concept that became popularized in the early 1990s. People were in search of welcoming spaces to congregate, outside of their home (primary) and work (secondary) environments.

This social need spawned the coffeehouse craze in the 1990s, and in 1992 Fasig opened his first cybercafé at Tilghman Square in Allentown. “People were much more scared to use the internet back then and not everyone had it in their homes yet,” he said. “So they would come to the café to try it out and familiarize themselves with it. Today the third-place concept has expanded to include wineries, breweries, and distilleries.”

As a serial entrepreneur, Fasig has also experimented with some concepts that never got off the ground but were actually ahead of their time.

“One idea I had was to create cup carriers that hook onto shopping carts,” he explained. “But the idea was many years ago and it never took off. I also contacted Carnation to request the development of flavored creamers but was told there was no market for it. That one makes me laugh to this day considering the proliferation of flavored creamers we see on store shelves now! I had an idea for flavored hot chocolates that didn’t work out, and a partnership with Breyer’s Ice Cream to do joint ice cream and coffee kiosks in supermarkets that also didn’t pan out.”

 

Fasig’s business today

For the past four years Fasig’s business has been located in Chapman Borough, just outside of the City of Allentown, where both manufacturing and storage are located. Today the business is predominantly online and it wholesales a range of products including coffee, tea, jam candy, spices and herbs, snacks, granola, cookies and dried fruit. In a good week the company can sell 10,000 lbs of candy.

The company does $5 million in online sales a year. It sells on Amazon, which is also a packaging customer of Fasig’s. It has a small staff of nine full-time employees who have been very busy during the pandemic due to the increase in online sales.

While the goal of AEDC’s Bridgeworks, Urban Made, and Urban Sites programs is to provide local manufacturing businesses with the support and tools they require to thrive in the City of Allentown, client companies sometimes move out of the city as they grow. In that event, keeping them in the greater Lehigh Valley region so they can still contribute to the economic growth of the region is the best potential outcome.

While he considers himself to be semi-retired, he still puts in a 70-hour work week, primarily working from home. “I taught someone to roast the coffee just like I used to do” he said. “It took me three years to train them but now they do it right. What can I say? I’m picky about my coffee!”

When asked about a succession plan, he says he doesn’t have one yet and may leave the business to his two daughters to run. “I like what I do and I do what I like. I don’t consider it work so I plan to keep doing it for as long as I can. I get to pick the clients I want to work with. What more can you ask for?”

In the meantime he will continue to keep an eye on the market and attempt to predict what trends might be coming along in the next couple of years so he can get ahead of them. “People become innovative when they are forced to, so I like to take an educated guess at what’s coming next so we can continue to innovate.”