One chilly morning at a local farmer’s market, two small business owners decided to warm up by pouring Stringbean Coffee into Windcrest Dairy’s Greek-style yogurt. “It was disgusting,” says Peter Cohen, owner of Stringbean Coffee. But the partnership was forged, and Cohen went on to perfect a coffee concentrate for a new Vanilla Latte Greek-style Yogurt that is now flying off the shelves.
The small Fenton-based commercial roastery and the cow-to-cup dairy farm in Trenton, Ill., are among many local companies turning to collaboration for inspiration, promotion and expansion. “First and foremost, it’s fun,” Cohen says of the partnerships. “And it’s a good way to work with other small business owners to highlight each other’s products and promote each other.”
Cohen has connected with Kurt Bizenberger of Windcrest and about a dozen other locally grown companies at Clayton, Schlafly and Washington University School of Medicine farmers markets.
Among the collaborations, Cohen’s coffee has been added to everything from chocolates to cookies and pies—and even to beer. His popular brew, Pete’s Redeye Roast, has been mixed with Maplewood-based Kakao Chocolate, including its Turkish Truffle. Another Maplewood small business, Pie Oh My, is baking Stringbean’s handcrafted coffee into its Chocolate Espresso Cream Pies and Espresso Pecan Pies. And fellow musician Mike Marino, maker of hearty, healthy Mookies Cookies, joined Cohen to offer Expresso Cookies and Scottish Expresso Granola, both featuring Pete’s Redeye Roast. Cohen notes that many of these unique products are available at local farmers markets, as well as mom-and-pop shops such as Ladue Market and Freddie’s Market.
For the 'mature' crowd, Cohen and Derrick Langeneckert of Alpha Brewing on Washington Avenue have developed a dark coffee ale called Coffee Storter. And Cohen, O'Fallon Brewery and Bissinger’s teamed up to offer Cocoa Latte beer, a rich cream stout with hints of chocolate, caramel and coffee.
Speaking of Bissinger’s, the internationally lauded local chocolate company is busy building on multiple successful collaborations of its own. Throughout its 86-year history in St. Louis, Bissinger’s has fostered relationships with various local businesses, including Straub’s and Edgewild Restaurant & Winery, as well as St. Louis mainstays like Whole Foods Market and Neiman Marcus. “By having a presence in our home market, it gives us an opportunity to get hands-on with customers,” chief chocolatier Dave Owens notes.
Bissinger’s accomplishes this through various in-store demonstrations and events, such as the monthly Meet the Chocolatier evening at Edgewild in Chesterfield. The restaurant features a wine-tasting bar with a confectionary counter and case of Bissinger’s bulk chocolates, from bear claws to soft caramels and chocolate-covered blueberries and cranberries. Customers can sample chocolate and wine pairings at the counter or take a dessert back to their table.
Plus, Bissinger’s Rain Forest line of natural chocolate bars has satisfied the sweet tooth of the Whole Foods customer. Now the bars are not only offered locally, but at its stores across the nation. And Bissinger’s rich history with Straub’s continues, as it offers chocolate-covered fruits and nuts and holiday assortments at the local upscale grocer. The stores also play host to the confectionary company’s chocolate-tasting events.
And the Bissinger’s signature gold boxes of assorted chocolates fit well with the high-end clientele at Neiman Marcus, Owens adds. “It’s an extension of our own store at Plaza Frontenac.”
The collaborations allow Bissinger’s to reach loyal, longtime clients, as well as new, non-traditional customers, Owens notes. “Even after 86 years in St. Louis, we are still finding new customers.” That certainly speaks to the power of partnerships.