Flint, MI—It’s been just over a year since Rootless Coffee Co. launched in Flint, and to celebrate its first birthday the roaster is putting on an exhibition during the city’s Oct. 8 Art Walk.

“We consider ourselves an art-focused coffee company, so why not do an art show?” said Jonathan Diener, CCO and co-founder of Rootless Coffee Co. “It’s just weird enough to work.”

The free show will take place from 6 – 9 p.m. at recently-reopened Flint Trading Co. and feature prints of artwork normally stickered to Rootless Coffee Co. bags—artwork the company credits with its success despite launching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We all buy stuff if it looks cool,” said Sean Murray, CEO and co-founder of the coffee company. But the goal of the company’s ‘cool’ package designs is to make coffee approachable, he added.

“There’s an intimidation level that comes with craft coffee,” said Murray. “You walk into a shop and you’re like ‘What is an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe?’”

Murray said he and Diener are happy to answer that, too, but they spent a long time considering a different question before launching Rootless. 

“How do we make (coffee) more appealing and accessible to people that deserve to have good coffee but just have been kind of shuttered by this industry?” Murray said.

The founders’ solution was to mix high-end coffee with fun and quirky art.

Rootless is now sold in over 16 locations, with packaging that showcases colorful designs by comic artists and playful names like “A Damn Fine Cup of Coffee” and “There’s No X in Espresso.” 

Rootless Coffee Co.’s “A Damn Fine Cup of Coffee” roast. (Nathaniel Shannon | Courtesy Rootless Coffee Co.)

“Year one is like, ‘throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks,’” said Murray. “That’s kind of what we’ve been doing, and we’ve been fortunate that a lot of this stuff has stuck.”

Rootless has parlayed its offbeat brand to support others, too. The company offers limited roasts in partnership with nonprofits—like Edible Flint—to startups, podcasts, and even a professional wrestler named Danhausen. 

“It allows us to … expand our connections with people and help other people in the community,” Murray said of the partner bags.

He said Rootless wouldn’t be around without that community, which is why they wanted to put on an art show commemorating the company’s first year.

“We just wanted to say thank you to the Flint community,” said Murray. “Thanks for supporting this crazy thing that we did.”

As for year two, Murray said Rootless Coffee Co. will be purchasing a new roaster to keep up with increasing demand and continuing to grow its wholesale operations.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....