The Roaster: Steve Shatkin
By Madeline Adamo
Steve Shatkin ’89 is the man tasked with caffeinating students in the dining halls of his alma mater — a hefty responsibility, particularly during finals week.
But that’s not even his day job.
As owner of the Los Angeles-based design manufacturer Tortoise Industries, Shatkin, 53, spends most of his time in a 20,000-square-foot studio managing 40 employees who make everything from ladders to giant art installations. On a March afternoon, an assembly line of varying commercial parts glides slowly from one end of the building to another as workers powder-coat the metal items in a spectrum of colors.
On the production line is an order from a major national coffee company — speaker-box frames for drive-thru kiosks. Shatkin chuckles because he’s new to the coffee business himself.
Shatkin and his wife, Tracie, founded Mammoth Coffee Roasting Co. in 2016 because they wanted to offer something different from the country’s larger coffee chains.
UCR residential dining halls Aberdeen-Inverness and Lothian are now brewing Mammoth Coffee, which was named after the Santa Clarita-based couple’s love of the Eastern Sierras. The company actively participates in philanthropy and works with customers to create fundraising programs. In UCR’s case, 20% of proceeds are donated to the Guardian Scholars program, which supports foster youth on campus through scholarships.
“We’ve always wanted to give back; that’s just a part of our lives,” Shatkin said of himself and Tracie, who serves as Tortoise’s vice president of operations. The duo also donates 3% of all Mammoth Coffee sales to Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra, a nonprofit that provides adaptive sports and therapeutic outdoor recreation for people with disabilities.
“We are a for-profit coffee (company), but I think the two can coexist,” Shatkin said.
The UCR psychobiology graduate said he bought a coffee roaster on a whim for his garage three years ago and started playing around with tasting profiles.
The initial product, small-batch artisan coffee sourced from Colombian fair-trade beans, was such a success that it quickly fueled his son’s marching-band fundraiser, an idea that came from Tracie.
“In two weeks, they made $2,700,” Shatkin said.
Mammoth’s UCR fundraiser emerged out of a friendship between the Shatkins and Tuppett Yates, a UCR professor of psychology and executive director of Guardian Scholars, which serves the nearly 150 current and former foster youth on campus through the broader Office of Foster Youth Support Services.
The Shatkins have treated the most at-risk of these scholars, a group of around 30 young people, like family. Scholars have also attended Thanksgiving at the Shatkins’ home, as well as barbecues and tours of the roasting facility in Mammoth, a learning experience that shows scholars what’s involved in running a successful business.
“Being the science geek that I am, I have the coffee roaster hooked up to my computer with a special program that allows me to control all the various parameters of the coffee roasting process,” said Shatkin, who’s had to enlist the help of a national roasting company to keep up with orders, which sometimes total thousands of pounds of coffee a month. He samples all of it to make sure it’s roasted to his exact specifications.
“I really enjoy the chemistry part of coffee,” Shatkin said.
In the works to augment the Guardian Scholars fundraising efforts: chocolate-covered coffee beans, a nitro cold-brew product, and perhaps a student-run coffee cart the scholars would operate through a loan from the Shatkins, who would also mentor and train the scholars in purchasing, accounting, and other business skills.
“I feel the best way to help an organization is to create a self-sustaining financial entity that they can draw from in addition to asking for donations,” Shatkin said. “We consider ourselves lucky to be in a position to use an enterprise to help.”