During a late night of emergency calls last year, Dallas firefighter and paramedic Paul Clarke decided he was sick of drinking bad coffee to keep him alert during shifts. He wanted to create a better brew for himself and his fellow first responders. But before he could, Clarke—an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve—was deployed to Iraq for nine months.
But he didn’t abandon the idea. In his free time he developed a concept for a coffee operation that would give back to the men and women on the frontlines back home. “We started pricing out the roasting equipment and working on the brand, the logo, and the art on the packages,” Clarke says. “When I got back, I pulled the trigger on everything.”
With the help of two Air Force captains, a fellow Marine captain, his best friend, and his dad, Clarke launched Fire Grounds Coffee Company at the beginning of this year. Helping Clarke behind the scenes is Kyle Lund, a fellow resident of Dallas Fire-Rescue Station 38 in Oak Cliff. They roast single-origin Colombian Excelso at a space in Tyler Station, located in the old Dixie Wax Paper Company factory in Elmwood.
“It is a high-grade coffee,” Clarke says. “It has hints of almond and caramel, which I was really excited about, because no matter how you roast that flavor variety it’s going to taste great.”
The multifaceted flavor profile lends itself to different levels of roasting. Clarke and Lund have come up with four: Rescue Roast, Bubba Brew, Bury Up Black, and Back the Blue. Back the Blue is a doughnut-flavored medium roast that was created to honor the Dallas Police Department, since the fire and police departments often work closely together. “It’s a stereotypical idea that cops eat doughnuts, so we figured we would leverage that,” Clarke says. “We back the blue as firefighters and they back us up, so the name just kind of fell into place.”
One of the company’s priorities is investing in the community. Fire Grounds donates a portion of its proceeds to Next Rung, a nonprofit focused on providing PTSD and mental health support for first responders. It recently donated 722 pounds of coffee to the Muscular Dystrophy Association to be distributed to Dallas firefighters as thanks for raising more than $360,000 during April’s Fill the Boot drive. And the company also donates one bag of coffee to first responders for every five bags sold.
“I figured if we were going to make great coffee branded for them, then we might as well create a mechanism within the company to also give them coffee for free,” Clarke says.
The grounds cost $16 for 1 pound, $40 for 3 pounds, or $20 for a variety pack that includes a 4-ounce sample of each. The company plans to add several more flavors in 2020 and to begin selling K-Cups. It’s time for the city’s cops and firefighters to toss out all that bad joe.
Available at weekend pop-ups at Dot’s Hop House & Cocktail Courtyard and Truck Yard.