Fire Department Coffee brews success

Luke Schneider launched Fire Department Coffee in 2016 to bring great coffee to firehouses and raise funds to help injured first responders.

ROCKFORD, Ill. — For Luke Schneider, military veteran, former firefighter and founder of Fire Department Coffee, the mission of his coffee company goes deeper than just a great cup of joe.

“Our vision, our goal, our mission is to make great coffee, but to do more than just make great coffee. It’s how can we have an impact in the communities that we are connected to,” he said.

The mission and the communities have grown far beyond what Schneider envisioned when he started roasting coffee in a strip mall storefront roastery for friends and family.

The story of Fire Department Coffee starts with a love story.

“I met my wife at a business class I was taking. She was a barista, so I would go in and visit her at her work,” Schneider said.

Both loved coffee. Schneider started his coffee habit while serving in the U.S. Navy and then as a full-time firefighter with the Rockford Fire Department in northern Illinois.

After they married, they started roasting small batches of coffee for friends and family. Since Kate is a talented baker, their initial plan was to sell their own roasted coffee and baked goods at farmers markets in the area.

“We rented a place in a strip mall with a 5-kilo roaster. Out of all the coffee blends we created, everybody loved the Fire Department blend,” he said.

Schneider always wanted to be a firefighter. He joined the Navy at age 19 to become a firefighter in the military, since he couldn’t apply to be a full-time firefighter in Illinois until he was 21.

After four years in the Navy, Schneider tested for and was hired at the Rockford Fire Department, where he worked for 12 years as a firefighter.

It was while he was working as a Rockford firefighter that he had the idea to not just sell small batches of coffee locally, but to create a whole company — and a mission — around his most popular blend.

“My wife said so you’re going to create a coffee company around firefighting? I said yes. She said that’s a dumb idea — but she supported me all the way,” Schneider said.

In 2016, he started Fire Department Coffee. Schneider started with help from his fellow firefighters.

“We got to a point where we were roasting coffee 24/7 for three months straight. I started recruiting other firefighters to help and we were sleeping at the roastery in the strip mall just to keep the roaster going all the time,” he said.

When he started the company, Schneider had two missions.

“I started with a mission to make great coffee and support my fellow firefighters,” he said.

Fire Department Coffee has fulfilled both those missions in a way that Schneider said he could not have imagined back then.

The company, still based in Rockford, will debut in Walmart stores later this month. They employ around 50 people.

The company has moved from a strip mall roastery to a 38,000-square-foot facility, along with two other buildings.

From a few blends, Fire Department Coffee now offers around 20 different coffee blends.

The coffee, which is Safe Quality Food- and kosher-certified, can be purchased online, at the Fire Department Coffee storefront on Rockford and at different retail stores throughout the United States.

Fire Department Coffee also has a T-shirt and merchandise line, which is available through their online store, along with their coffee line.

“We are growing very fast right now. We are national, and in May, we’ll be in over 10,000 retail spaces. This year, we will do around $20 million in revenue,” Schneider said.

Throughout the growth and success, Schneider and his team, which includes retired and active firefighters, remain focused on the original mission.

“Supporting sick and injured firefighters is our main mission and we do that through several different initiatives,” he said.

“We also have the Fire Department Coffee Charitable Foundation. We use that to direct funds from Fire Department Coffee sales to help sick and injured firefighters.”

As a military veteran and former firefighter, Schneider retired from the fire department to focus on growing his company, Schneider understands the sense of connection and sense of purpose that both the military and public service careers bring.

“When a firefighter gets sick or injured, they are no longer part of that team. They can lose their sense of identity and purpose,” he said.

“We want to make sure that any firefighter who gets sick or injured knows we support them, we are here for them and we want to show them that the larger community supports them.”

One way Schneider and his team seek to keep that sense of community is through their use of social media.

Fire Department Coffee posts and videos can be found on Facebook, X, formerly Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.

“We are creating family-friendly content and we also engage, not just with firefighters, but with everybody who can see the humor in some of the stuff that firefighters experience. We just try to bring positivity and joy by creating engaging content,” Schneider said.

The efforts have paid off. The Fire Department Coffee YouTube channel has some 800,000 subscribers. In March, the YouTube channel had 55 million views.

The Fire Department Coffee community includes the producers who grow the coffee. The beans used in the Fire Department blends primarily are sourced from Central America and South America.

Schneider started out using and still uses traders to buy coffee beans. The company recently started a direct trade and fair share initiative to build relationships with the farmers who raise the coffee.

“As we have grown, we want to have relationships at all points of the supply chain and we want to make sure we know what is going on in the producing regions,” Schneider said.

“We have a goal to be 75% direct trade by the end of 2025. We started a fair share initiative where we are giving back to and supporting the producing communities.”

This year, the company is on tap to purchase around 5 million pounds of green coffee.

Luke and Kate are the parents of three children, ages 15, 11 and 10. Schneider said one of the greatest joys is having his children witness the recognition and popularity of the company he started.

“We’ll go somewhere and somebody will say, ‘I love your coffee,’ or we go into a grocery store and our coffee is there or they see somebody wearing one of our T-shirts. That is very cool and exciting,” he said.

Like firefighting, building a business has not been without challenges. But just like that job, Schneider said the key is to keep going with the support of a strong team, keeping the mission always in mind.

“There is risk in business, too, and when you are growing there are challenges and problems to work through. It can create stress and it can be exhausting at times,” he said.

“Even through all the highs and lows we are building something that is doing more than just making great coffee.”

Fire Department Coffee’s retail store is located at 811 W. Riverside Boulevard in Rockford. The website is

Jeannine Otto

Jeannine Otto

Field Editor