During his first year as a professor, a student named Mark introduced Tracy McKenzie to specialty roasted coffee—specifically, the savory notes of blueberry in a cup of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. This first sip launched a quest to pursue that very same flavor.
As professors do, Tracy began to research roasting methods. One afternoon he gathered his colleagues in the alleyway separating two university buildings to “yuk it up,” as Tracy says, between classes. They stood cradling fresh mugs of pour-over Yirgacheffe beneath the billow of smoke rising from the roaster as coffee beans crackled in the drum. Then and there Back Alley Coffee Roasters began.
As his coffee roasting grew into more than just a hobby, Tracy and his wife, Beth, realized that their coffee had the potential to be used for the betterment of others, all the way from its earthy beginnings with hard-working farmers in rural communities around the globe to its final form in the cup of those who drink it. With a desire to empower others, they generously implemented Back Alley’s Net 50 Campaign. This program allows Back Alley to participate with specific non-profit organizations by donating 50% of its net profit from any whole bean purchases in which the non-profit or its constituency is responsible.
After outgrowing their home roaster, in October of 2015 the McKenzies set up shop at 314 Brooks St. in downtown Wake Forest, NC, where they now sell whole bean coffee, hand-crafted pour overs, nitro cold brew, local baked goods and more. The front of the shop has quickly become a hub for conversation, community and collaboration in Wake Forest and the craftsmen of Back Alley utilize the production area in the back to continually push forward with new brewing and roasting methods.