For Andrew Shepherd, owner of Railbed Roaster in Belleville, making coffee is a crucial ritual to his everyday life.
Shepherd, born and raised in Belleville, spent the majority of the COVID pandemic as an intensive care nurse in Arizona. He says his morning coffee ritual was the one thing that got him through the tumult of pandemic health care.
“The unit that I worked on, it only had 24 ICU beds. In the year and a half I was there…we had over 450 people die in our unit,” says Shepherd. “There’s a lot you can’t control when people are critically ill, even when you try your best. I think having that ritual every morning allowed me a little bit of control in my life and the outcome of what I’m doing.”
Eventually Shepherd says he had to make some hard choices: to move back to Belleville, and to find a way out of nursing. He turned again to coffee, looking into the science of the perfect way to brew a delicious cup. He bought a roaster, saying it was the natural next step for him. And from that first roast in the summer of 2022, Shepherd says he knew he was onto something special.
“That first roast was surprisingly good, and I’ve just kept refining it over time,” says Shepherd. “I’m hyper critical of my work and my best indicator that I’m doing well is when people buy my coffee and then come back to buy it again.”
As his roasting business started to take off, Shepherd says he began to see a future outside of nursing. The pandemic burned him out, he says, leaving “a bitter taste in my mouth.” Though he continues to work as a nurse in Belleville, Shepherd says he’s finding a community that is enhancing his life outside of his current profession.
“One of the best things my wife and I do is stand outside with our cups of coffee and chat with our neighbours,” says Shepherd. “Other businesses like the Brake Room and Myer’s Creek Brewery have shown me the passion someone can have for bringing great things to their community. They just inspire me so much.”
And through their support, Shepherd continues to grow his business. He has begun a “zero-emission” delivery service: he hops on his bike every weekend to deliver people’s coffee throughout the Belleville area. Even with the arrival of winter weather, Shepherd says he plans to continue biking.
“I should probably stay true to my word,” Shepherd says with a laugh. “Come rain or shine or in the snow, I’m going to get their coffee to them.”
Shepherd says chasing that perfect cup of coffee has been a lifelong dream and he’s so grateful to bring it back to the Belleville community. Moving back to his hometown has made that process that much better, a side effect he says he didn’t quite expect.
“When you’re a kid you’re always thinking, ‘I gotta get out of this place,’ but I’ve never felt better to be back,” he says. “Since moving back to Belleville I’ve never had a bad day.”