Big House Beans founder wants to help others turn lives around
Photos and story by Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Tucked away in an Antioch strip mall is a modest coffee-roasting business. The owner, John Krause, enthusiastically discusses subtle flavors and nuances while serving samples in his tasting room. While others share their knowledge of wine, he’s sharing his passion for freshly roasted, ground and brewed coffee.
Krause discusses the beans, the regions of the world where they are grown, and the subtle flavor differences between them, all accented by various roasting techniques.
While many entrepreneurs have backgrounds in their fields, Krause is a former offender.
Self-taught as a coffee-roaster, he said he doesn’t hide his background, even acknowledging it with the business name: Big House Beans.
From big house to businessman
“From age 14 to 29, I did 12 years incarcerated multiple times,” he said. “I was severely addicted to drugs.”
A string of poor choices landed him behind bars.
“Whenever I got released, I sincerely thought I would turn my life around,” he said. “There comes a time when you give up. I gave up. I accepted that I wouldn’t live until the age of 30.”
He hit bottom when his grandmother, the woman who raised him, passed away.
“I knew I had three kids I wasn’t able to be a dad to,” he said. “I spent years trying to redirect my thinking patterns.”
He credits a 12-step program with his sobriety and religion with helping him find purpose.
“I was introduced to a church and they loved me until I learned how to love myself,” he said. “I worked the 12 steps and it really opened a lot of doors for me.”
On a mission
Dressed as any other businessman, Krause said many are surprised to learn of his past. His personal story is printed on the back of his shop’s brochure.
“It’s challenging to be as transparent as I choose,” he said. “(With my past,) I don’t want to glorify poor decisions.”
“As a former San Quentin (State) Prison inmate, John Krause knows of the challenges life can throw at you,” the brochure states. “Prior to his incarceration, John’s mother abandoned their family shortly before his father’s death.”
He was 4 when his father was killed in a motorcycle accident. Krause was a passenger on the motorcycle at the time of the crash.
Krause said he wants to help remove the social negativity associated with those who have served time.
“Our goal is to create more local jobs as well as allocate portions of our proceeds to rehabilitation/re-entry efforts in our community,” the brochure states.
“So the heart of my mission statement is to change the stigma attached to ex-offenders,” Krause said. “Once we become sustainable, I want to create opportunities and train people (and) help ex-offenders as much as we can. I know the challenge. You don’t go from prison to a job and be uber-successful.”
For the love of coffee
“Big House Beans is a coffee roastery. We roast specialty beans,” he explained. “We have this shop where people can come in and taste fresh-roasted coffee without cream and sugar. They can fall in love with coffee the way I did.”
Krause said he’s always been a coffee drinker but he was more interested in the flavored creamers and sweeteners. Then, he tasted fresh-roasted coffee for the first time.
A friend built a coffee roaster and invited him over to give it a try.
“I just experienced the flavor of coffee itself,” Krause said. “The flavor changed from beginning to end from one sip of coffee. I wanted to learn more. It became a hobby at least once a week.”
To get his own roaster, he realized was going to be expensive for a home hobby, so he decided to open a business.
“There are a dozen different kinds of coffee we roast right now,” he said. “The coffee industry is vast and intimidating. I just kind of jumped in.”
Reading all he could, he taught himself how to roast coffee.
“There are a lot of senses involved – seeing smoke come off the roaster, smelling and hearing the cracking of the beans,” he explained.
Learning hard lessons
Krause credits his time in prison with helping get him into shape.
“I learned about being disciplined – getting up in the morning, going to work, learning to set boundaries, to not allow myself to be segregated in my heart,” he said. “(What) really helped set me on a different path were the programs available in prison. Looking back, I wish I had (been involved in) more of them.”
He said yoga was life-changing.
“The Prison Yoga Project allowed me to try something different,” he said. “Doing yoga allowed me to break (the) stress.”
While he ended up roasting coffee for a living, he was unaware of the coffee roasting program at Mule Creek State Prison. He has since reached out to the program to see how they can connect in the future.
There is hope
Krause said someone facing time in prison shouldn’t give up hope.
“I would advise someone about to get sentenced (to) embrace life and get in touch with yourself no matter where you are,” he said. “It allows you to become one with yourself.”
He said help is available inside prison if someone is willing to put in the work.
“I advise them to seek out every program that would help them long term,” he said. “You need to establish a strong support group (and) to care for yourself emotionally and spiritually.”
Krause said people shouldn’t be afraid of hard work if it’s going to help their rehabilitation.
His shop serves plenty of hot coffee, freshly roasted, ground and brewed. But there is an alternative which Krause is eager to share.
He is a fan of cold-brewed coffee, which can use just about any kind of bean or roast – from light to dark.
“It’s a coarser grind,” he said. “You put the grounds in a container with cold water for about four hours. You then filter out the grounds.”
He serves it over ice, with some milk.
“It’s refreshing and clean,” he said. “It’s one of the many things I’ve learned.”
Where is the shop?
Big House Beans coffee roastery is at 1925 Verne Roberts Circle in Antioch. Visit them on the web at https://bighousebeans.com/.
(Editor’s note: Some websites may not be accessible from a CDCR computer.)