MARSHFIELD — When word got out early last year Levitate surf and skate shop was developing a next-door site for a boutique coffee spot, the owner was inundated with applicants. The least qualified were Zac Carpman and Fletcher Souba, who had a dream but no blueprint for a coffee shop, but they talked about opening one all the time.
Nonetheless, Levitate co-owner Dan Hassett says he “had a really good feeling about Zac and Fletcher.” He liked their passion and work ethic (he asked around) and then went with the 28-year-old Marshfield natives. SlackTide Coffee Roasters opened in a sliver of a place, 10 feet by 30 feet, attached to Levitate on Ocean Street in August 2019.
The shop featured some brewed and espresso coffees, bags of single origin coffee beans, and a smattering of treats made by Carpman’s mother. All coffee beans were roasted by Souba on a ridiculously small roaster. “We were just hitting our stride,” Carpman says when, in March, the coronavirus pandemic blew up and businesses shut down.
Today SlackTide is thriving. Carpman and Souba, able to operate their shop during the pandemic as an essential business, closed it for just three days. In that time, they bolstered the website to include takeout and enlarged coffee and tea offerings. They also added bagels, some more breakfast toasts, and called upon Pamela Price Carpman to expand her doughnut repertoire. A new, larger roaster warehoused down the street came online in May.
“Before we opened, the big question was whether we’d have buy-in with specialty coffee” in Marshfield, says Carpman, referring to coffee farmed, sold, roasted, and brewed to high standards. Instead, during the shutdown, “we had new people every day, ordering online, which was really cool during a difficult time.”
The tack taken at SlackTide was similar at many small coffee shops during the pandemic, says Yannis Apostolopoulos, CEO of the Specialty Coffee Association, a global trade group. A SCA survey conducted in May and June, with 1,227 respondents worldwide, found 90 percent of specialty coffee shops never closed or closed then reopened during the spring. “We saw a lot of revenue with online sales and with coffee-to-go, with delivery,” says Apostolopoulos. “That was something many were not offering before, and they had to make that big change.”
Carpman and Souba grew up practically next door in Marshfield, attending the same grammar school and high school before heading to different colleges. Souba is the self-professed coffee nerd of the duo. Gifted a tiny coffee roaster by a coffee-loving uncle, Souba roasted small batches of coffee beans while an undergraduate. He persuaded friends to take a break between classes and relax over a cup of coffee.
“That’s where our name came from,” Souba says. “It’s an extended metaphor of the peace and calm during the cycle of your day.” (Slack tide, or slack water, refers to the brief nautical period when water currents are between tides and at minimal current movement.)
Carpman encouraged Souba’s passion and set up a website for Souba to sell his roasted beans. Even when Souba lived out of state, the two shared assessments of specialty coffee shops. Carpman was (and still is) working as a digital coordinator for a Boston consulting firm. Souba was an analyst at the US Energy Department. The Levitate option pushed them to make their dream a reality.
“Being next to Levitate and growing up here, the feeling is if you want something, just do it, make it, build it, try to figure it out,” Carpman says. Marshfield, with its surfer vibe, also fit their ethos. “The South Shore is less city business corporate,” Souba says. “It’s more laissez faire.”
A big part of SlackTide’s success is down to Carpman and Souba’s affability. Often, they are the folks bringing orders out of the shop, engaging in chat, always smiling. “As soon as we got out of the car to order, [Zac] came out to greet us,” says Jeanne Chappuis of Duxbury and a coffee lover who recently visited the shop. “My son got a Pour Over dark roast he thought was good. I bought some Guatemalan Huehuetenango beans to have at home. It’s really good, nice and smooth. I’ve been having it all week.”
Another part of the success is Price Carpman’s doughnuts. Classic glazed and cinnamon sugar on brioche dough — only butter, eggs and flour — were sometimes on offer but the shutdown invited more creativity. Now Price Carpman and a friend turn out 500 decorated, Instagram-friendly doughnuts weekly in her town-permitted home kitchen. “It’s crazy,” she says. “It’s gotten bigger than I thought it would ever be.” The doughnuts are available Thursdays through Sundays.
SlackTide recently began selling merchandise featuring its fish logo: T-shirts, sweat shirts, tumblers, and stickers. All of which hints at Carpman and Souba’s ambitions. They foresee multiple SlackTide locations and their coffee beans in grocery stores and restaurants. They’re already doing small collaborations with Levitate and local businesses.
If Hassett had any doubts about Carpman and Souba’s prospects, he’s not sharing them. “They had a kind of vision for what they want,” he recalls. Sometimes strong vision is the best start.
SlackTide Coffee Roasters, 1871 Ocean St., Marshfield, 781-319-2754, www.slacktidecoffee.com