Wallet of the Month – Nolan Hirte

Wallet of the Month

Nolan Hirte, Founder, Proud Mary

Proud Mary is one of Portland's hottest coffee and brunch spots, and it's just 3 blocks away from where we started Woolly Made. Unfortunately for us, we left the neighborhood the year before they opened.

Before this Melbourne-style cafe opened its flagship US location in 2017, we were regulars in the neighborhood. In May of 2015, just a few years out of college, we spent the better part of our savings on a laser cutter (pictured here). This was the tool that would enable us to launch our wallet company from our basement. It was also the reason we spent countless long nights tinkering after work to assemble the machine and learn to use it.

If Proud Mary had opened a couple years earlier, it would have been a regular stop for us and a nice escape from the dark, dingy basement where it all started.

Recently our friend Ryan Christensen (father of a very cool kid named Kastle, our first Wallet of the Month) told us about his good pal Nolan Hirte, Proud Mary's founder and owner. He thought we should meet Nolan and that maybe he'd like a custom wallet too.

If you haven't been to Proud Mary yet, you're missing out.

We tried their brunch a few Sundays back and were blown away by an incredible potato hash and live DJ dropping "big vibe" beats while we "brunched hard" (just like their Instagram post promised). Aside from the exceptional food, great service and laid-back atmosphere, Proud Mary offers some of the best coffee in Portland and it's all ethically sourced direct from origin.

A week later, we got to sit down with Nolan over some freshly brewed espresso from Guatemala, the region they were showcasing at the time. Nolan is warm, inviting and authentic. And like any Aussie, he's a great storyteller. So he had our undivided attention for over an hour as he shared his life journey, his passion for coffee and his vision to change the way people think about it. 

Coffee is undervalued and it's a problem.

Nolan really opened our eyes to all that goes into the world's second largest commodity (second to oil) and second most consumed drink (second to water). It's a huge industry and there's a ton of work that goes into it from seed to cup. Most of that work happens before it's even roasted and, as Nolan puts it, "we're just at the little end sitting back sipping lattes." With a limited view of the process, most consumers expect to get their coffee at $3.50 a cup. The problem is that price point makes it extremely hard for all the people on the other end who need to earn a living from it. 

Nolan has a deep respect for the growers and pickers that make coffee possible. He's seen first-hand, in places like El Salvador and Brazil, how difficult it is for them to get by being paid so little. He says, "20 years ago we were selling coffee for $3 a cup. If the price of coffee had kept up with the times, it would be $8 a cup today. At that price, the farmers could get their fair share." 

There's a story behind every bean, and Proud Mary serves you that too.

Proud Mary often pairs a small-batch, one-of-a-kind coffee with the story that explains its origin. And those stories often star the region Nolan and his wife Shari visit and the farmers they meet before bringing the coffee back.

In 2017, Portland Monthly published an interview with Nolan where he told The Incredible Tale of Bernardina the same week he debuted this super rare coffee in the states. It's a great story (and a quick read) and we were lucky to hear it from Nolan himself.

Here's the short version: 

Nolan finds out about five 70-year-old trees on a farm in El Salvador that the farmers think are Geisha, which is arguably the best varietal out there. But Geisha doesn't grow in El Salvador – it grows in Panama (and by the way, Panama Geisha easily sells for $25 a pound, compared to the typical $1.20 a pound for more common varietals). Nolan gets a sample, roasts it and cups it and he thinks it's Geisha too. So he buys it for $25 a pound knowing he can sell it for $10 a cup. 

As it turns out, it's not Geisha. The lab results come in saying the coffee isn't even in the database. It's something new! Nolan names it Bernardina, after Ruperto Bernardino Merche – the farm manager from El Salvador who had been saying for years that there was something special about these five trees.

This story is just one nice example of how Nolan goes out of his way to offer more than just the coffee. He looks for opportunities to pair that with the origin story while giving fair compensation and credit to the farmers who make it possible. In his experience, this has a real impact on how much people value the coffee they're being served. 

As local wallet craftsmen, we respect this a ton and believe in the same idea that sharing a little more about where things come from and how a product is made is good for the world. It invites people in, adds meaning to the things they buy and it raises the bar for more conscious consumerism.

Nolan worked with an artist to create packaging for a few very special coffees including the Bernardina. We love the visual storytelling and what it stands for. Naturally, we thought we should throw it on a wallet...

Nolan's goal is to share the value of coffee with his customers. He wants to pass along his understanding, curiosity and passion for this industry which he thinks collectively we can make better. 

Now that Proud Mary has become one of Portland's more respected establishments, we thought it would be fitting to complete this visual story of "seed to cup" by adding the city of Portland and Proud Mary's flagship US cafe.

Design Your Own Wallet

You can design your own handcrafted wallet using our built-from-scratch online wallet customizer, WoollyLab . Mix and match leather colors, stitching, patterns and inscriptions until it's perfectly yours. Or you can give the experience to someone else  with a mailed or digital gift card.

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