Dagger Mountain holds a special place in my heart. When I moved south in 2011, there wasn’t much in terms of the craft market in northwest Indiana. There were a handful of breweries scattered across the region but the nearest quality coffee roaster was in Chicago. In 2015, Dagger Mountain changed this opening up their roasting operation in a small town about 30 minutes from where I grew up. Shortly later they added a storefront and moved their operation away from the town center to a warehouse that better suited their needs. I credit Dagger Mountain with being the only craft roaster in the region and they do a damn good job.
That being said, this is a shop review and not meant to cover all aspects of their business. Unfortunately, Dagger Mountain follows in the greater trend of roasters with shops that don’t live up to the reputation of their roasting operation.
As a credit to the quality of their roasting, the drinks here are great. Espresso is bright and smooth and on par with what you expect from a craft coffee shop. There are several options on slow bar curated to give you a sampling of everything their roasting operation has to offer. The menu is a little lacking in variety with just a handful of espresso based drinks, none of which are particularly unique or noteworthy. An issue I ran into here which I’ll talk about more in the staff section is that they also don’t go off menu. That means no flat whites, macchiatios, undertows, etc.
Dimly lit with a heavy focus on dark wood creates an atmosphere reminiscent of a cabin in the woods, the decor actually does a decent job of hiding the fact that you are in a warehouse. Seating is too sparse to make this a work/study spot though and I feel space is poorly spent. The majority of the floor is taken up by the counter which is much larger than it needs to be especially in a shop this size.
The roasting is done in the back of this shop which is a cool feature, but when it’s on display in needs to be displayed well. There are many shops that pull this off, the Bow Truss roastery is the first that comes to mind. On all of my visits here though, the back has looked cluttered and unorganized much like the stereotypical artist’s desk. When disorganization is visible to the customer, it distracts from the atmosphere they are trying to create.
Overall I feel things are done ok but it doesn’t feel like there was a grand design plan; it feels more like pieces were added a little at a time as afterthoughts.
Staff has always been a struggle for me to grade. I’ve been to Dagger Mountain about a half dozen times and have seen some pretty consistent faces behind the counter. Generally the service has been decent and on my first visit I had a great conversation with the owner about what it was like starting up a craft coffee operation in a small town. Sadly, that was the peak of my service experience here.
During my most recent visit I asked the barista working the counter if I could get a macchiato and two other drinks (a latte and affogatto for what it’s worth). I ended up waiting about 15 minutes for my drink only to be presented with a cortado. I understand mishearing an order, I’ve done it dozens of times. What loses Dagger Mountain big points is that when I asked if I could get the macchiatio I ordered instead, the barista said “I can’t make that. It isn’t on the menu.” Now the difference between a macchiatio and a cortado is about 1.5 ounces of milk in the coffee shops favor. I explained that and offered to pay the cortado price and the barista declined with another “I’m sorry.”
I’ve worked in service long enough to know the customer is not always right, sometimes they’re too stupid for their own good. But it’s a basic coffee concept though to tailor your drinks (within reason) for your customer. Chocolate sauce in your drip coffee? Sure, why not. Six shots of espresso in your latte? It’s your heart, I applaud your courage. This exchange was me asking “Can you put less milk in my drink?” and the barista saying “No.”
As I said at the start of this review, Dagger Mountain does some things really well. Unfortunately this shop isn’t one of them. It’s a shame because for many people the storefront is their only interaction with the brand. It doesn’t matter how good the coffee is if there isn’t a seat, the barista takes forever, or if they refuse to make my drink of choice. All of these things reflect poorly on the brand as a whole and tarnish a stellar roasting operation.
If I were to do things differently, I’d reduce the size of the counter and open up more seating. Bar service is great, but it takes space that they don’t have here. I’d either close off the roaster from the public eye, or make it a centerpiece with a lot of attention put into how it presents. Beyond that I’d spend some time thinking about who is representing the brand on a daily basis. Baristas are the point of contact between the customer and the business which means they make or break reputation. Having a barista who “can’t” make a common drink is an issue. The reason behind that can’t tells you what the issue is; it’s either incompetence, ignorance, or poor management. All of which suggest deeper issues on the business side.