OCS Success Story: Unmatched Expertise

Dec. 7, 2015

Chicago, IL-based Workwell/Truebrew Coffee & Tea Outfitters is re-defining what it means to be in the OCS industry. What began as an amusement and vending company 17 years ago has grown to be a premier coffee service, micro market and vending company with more than $10 million in annual revenue. The company continues to expand into locations across several major U.S. cities due to its partnerships with local roasters, customized coffee programs and focus on coffee trends.

The machine that changed it all

Chicago is sometimes known as the City of the Big Shoulders, referencing its hard work and labor mentality. No OCS company in the Chicago area embodies that mentality more so than Workwell/Truebrew—operated by Michael Klong and Jim Carbone— with its motto and business practice, “The answer is yes, now what’s the question?”

The pair met when Carbone, working for an equipment distributing company, sold Klong a bean-to-cup machine in the early 2000s. The two struck up a partnership and Carbone came to work as a partner with Klong in 2007. “We bought out a small OCS company to get a couple of accounts and we learned the business that way,” said Carbone. “But it all started with a bean-to-cup machine.”

Klong and Carbone were both passionate about coffee service and providing their customers with the best quality options available. Although it started with bean-to-cup, the company’s OCS division grew and so too did its OCS reach.

Separate from the rest

Carbone and Klong knew early on that the consumer trend for gourmet, high quality coffee would not end, so they took their passion and turned it into business relationships. They began partnering with local roasters for their Workwell OCS accounts (which they renamed from The Classic Group in October 2015) and their hospitality brand Truebrew Coffee & Tea Outfitters.

The company partners with Chicago-based roasters Dark Matter Coffee and Metropolis Coffee Company as well as Arizona-based Press Coffee Roasters and Wisconsin-based Colectivo Coffee, to name a few. “Our local roasters are so passionate about their coffee and we wouldn’t be able to partner with companies who don’t have the same passion for it as we do. They stay on the cutting edge of coffee trends and we are able to bring that to consumers,” said Carbone, who believes that partnering with local roasters is one reason the company has an advantage over its competition.

But it also has to do with the service they offer to their customers, says Carbone. “We offer coffee programs to fit the needs of any location, from the first wave coffee drinkers to third wave consumers who prefer drip coffee and cold brew.” Workwell/Truebrew customizes coffee service plans based on locations’ needs and coffee trends around a particular region. The company offers cold brew kegerators and even provides fully trained baristas at some of its high-tech locations.

Staying on trend

Cold brew is the big trend that Carbone sees in the coming years and he’s not alone. Mintel reported that cold brew coffee sales grew 115% from 2014 to 2015. In order to get out in front of trends, Carbone travels to specialty coffee trade shows in the U.S. “We don’t just take management either, we take as many of our employees as we can so that everyone is exposed to what’s coming up.”

These points of differentiation have led the company to compete and expand from its Chicago roots into Arizona, California, Texas and most recently, New York City.

Despite added competition from national OCS providers who have more purchasing power, Carbone sees a bright future for his company and the industry. In fact, the company is looking at expanding into more cities across the country.  “We bring differentiation to our customers through our specialty coffee offerings and by putting together a good coffee program that fits any clients’ needs. We show our clients what quality is,” Carbone concluded.