Death Wish Coffee gets boost from Super Bowl ad

Death Wish owner Mike Brown (right) with coffee roaster at Round Lake facility. PHOTOGRAPHER Peter R. Barber. 2/3/17Death Wish owner Mike Brown (right) with coffee roaster at Round Lake facility. PHOTOGRAPHER Peter R. Barber. 2/3/17

By Kassie Parisi

Starting at a small coffee store in Saratoga Springs, Death Wish Coffee has, in just a year, gone from being a local favorite to the top-selling coffee on Amazon.

Now a household name, Death Wish can attribute some of its success, and its recent momentous growth, to a Super Bowl ad featuring the company that aired one year ago.

Death Wish Coffee was catapulted into the eyes of the nation when a 30-second advertisement starring the coffee was played during the 2016 Super Bowl. The company won the ad slot after a hard-fought battle against thousands of other small businesses all gunning for the same 30 seconds of fame provided by Intuit’s “Small Business Big Game” competition and the chance to launch their brand to superstar status.

Owner Mike Brown, 36, started the company in 2012 after customers at his coffee shop, Saratoga Coffee Traders, started asking for a cup of his strongest coffee. Wanting to satisfy them, Brown searched fruitlessly for a stronger coffee he could bring into the store. Soon enough, he decided to take matters into his own hands and create his own brew by combining the strongest organic beans he could find. His customers loved the coffee, and Death Wish was born.

Before the Super Bowl ad, Brown said that Death Wish was doubling in revenue each year anyway. Over the last year, the coffee has moved into 500 grocery stores, including Price Chopper and Hannaford. Death Wish will soon be moving into 250 stores in northern California, 50 stores in Hawaii, and a few in Nevada. Brown said that while it’s still early to tell, sales there seem to be going well.

“We take some risks, try different things, see what works, and keep doing what works. Just keep adjusting,” he said.

 Death Wish, as of the end of summer, has moved its operations from a 6,000-square-foot space to a 16,000-square-foot space in Round Lake. It now has around 20 employees and a new roaster, bring the total to two.

Tim Dunn, chairman of the Malta Economic Development Committee, said Death Wish has successfully found a perfect niche in a highly competitive market.

“It’s just such a genuine source of pride for the area,” Dunn said. “They’re also just good people, and incredibly hard workers.”

Death Wish presents a good diversity of companies in Malta, said Dunn, which is known for housing computer chip manufacturing giant GlobalFoundries. While the number of employees hired is too small to have much of an economic impact in terms of salaries yet, Dunn said Death Wish is an example of companies that grow organically and are what he wants to see in the future for the area.

“This is the lifeblood of what we want to see in Malta,” he said.

“We love those stories of personalities who have created something unique and different and fun, and that’s what Death Wish is all about,” Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, said. “Obviously having a name like Death Wish helped. Whoever came up with a name like that is a brilliant marketer.”

 Shimkus personally helped Death Wish last year in its effort to win the Intuit contest. Tasked with getting 100 votes in a short amount of time, Shimkus pledged to drink nothing but Death Wish coffee until the company got the required votes. By the time the necessary votes were in, Shimkus had consumed five cups of the world’s strongest coffee, which he claims didn’t actually phase him.

“I personally love coffee,” he said. Shimkus said that Death Wish’s rise to fame was particularly poignant for Saratoga, a place where people become successful by taking chances, whether it be by betting on horses or starting their own businesses.

Now, even though Death Wish passed its 10-year goal after just four years, the company shows no signs of slowing down. Brown acknowledged that, while the company is very social media savvy, they have some focusing to do on the local, on the ground end. Five years after simply wanting an extra $5,000 to keep his coffee shop going, and after years of carrying around a small piece of paper with his goals written on it, Brown said that what he did with Death Wish is within the reach of other entrepreneurs too.

“Don’t worry about failing,” he said.”Draw up your worst case scenario. I did. What’s the worst thing that could happen? And if you can live with that, take the risk, do it. It’s fun and you’ll enjoy it, and keep doing it. If it’s not, you’ll figure it out pretty quick and then, at least you can say you tried.”