Shots fired—espresso shots, that is. On the night of December 21, Saratoga Coffee Traders’ General Manager Scott Swedish took to social media to air grievances he had with local coffee juggernaut, Death Wish Coffee Company—a business, which, ironically, had been founded in the basement of Saratoga Coffee Traders in 2012 and whose founder/owner, Mike Brown, had once owned it.
Saratoga Coffee Traders opened on Broadway in 2006, in a market where coffee shops had already been flourishing for some time (see: Uncommon Grounds), transitioning to ownership under Brown two years later. Swedish, whose brother, John, is the director of strategic engagement and partnerships at Death Wish, was part of the original launch team that began producing Death Wish Coffee, before it went national in 2016, after landing a Super Bowl advertising slot through a nationwide small business competition. Since then, Death Wish has been growing at a clip, with the company recently opening its new headquarters in Saratoga, going on an executive-level hiring spree and predicting a 40 percent uptick in revenue by year’s end.
Somewhere in the last seven years, though, the relationship between Saratoga Coffee Traders and Death Wish soured—and it appears that this latest spat is only the tip of the iceberg.
The gist of the dispute that appeared on both Saratoga Coffee Traders’ Instagram and Facebook pages seems to be business-related. Saratoga Coffee Traders has long sold both Death Wish Coffee beans and brewed coffee to its customers, but according to Swedish, he had recently ordered a $1,400 wholesale shipment of Death Wish Coffee from the company on December 11, and 10 days on, hadn’t received it. “We have been put in a position to continually apologize for not having [Death Wish Coffee] and now I’m publicly apologizing,” said Swedish in the post, seemingly addressing his customers, many of whom offered their support on both social posts and even took screenshots of them canceling Death Wish Coffee orders. “I’m just as frustrated as you are. When we do get it, we will have it on the shelf.”
Along with the apology, though, Swedish posted an undated email from Death Wish Coffee, addressing him, which seemed to suggest that Death Wish was cutting him off because of late payments. “Effective immediately,” read the message, “we will be discontinuing our business relationship. Your wholesale account has been disabled. Furthermore, please expect a demand letter from our CFO, Will Spurgeon, regarding the ~$13,000 owed for goods you have received.” The company added: “Our key priority is our relentless devotion to our people which includes our customer, our community and our team. Death Wish Coffee Company has been extremely generous to you and your company for many years—we no longer will allow our team to be the target of your abuse. I ask that in good faith for all that DWCC has provided you, please refrain from disparaging comments of any kind including but not limited to your conduct on social media.”
In a sub-thread from his original Facebook post, Swedish defended himself, telling a commenter that “I have paid back over $11,000 since June after being closed 11 weeks and operating at a 45% loss.” He then made the unsubstantiated claim that Death Wish Coffee had taken out a $475,000 PPP loan after logging more than $68 million in sales (though neither of those exact figures could be independently confirmed, CNN did note that Death Wish had been approved for a PPP loan between $350,000 and $1 million this year). “If it was money they want,” Swedish told the commenter, “we were still paying it back in addition to wholesaling more than we owed and paying that up front,” noting that he’d posted Death Wish’s letter for “transparency” purposes only. (When emailed earlier today, both Saratoga Coffee Traders and Death Wish Coffee Company declined comment.)
It’s unclear what will come of the dispute, but it appears that, at least for the foreseeable future, Saratoga Coffee Traders customers will have to look elsewhere for their Death Wish fix.