Mary Allen Lindemann: A leader and now, a mentor

Mary Allen Lindemann: A leader and now, a mentor

Mary Allen Lindemann, co-owner of Coffee By Design in Portland, can tell you all about the coffee beans sitting in trays in the coffee tasting room. She can tell you what the shelf life of one of their signature coffees is, and how many minutes it takes to roast a batch of Diamond Street Blend on their new state-of-the-art, smokeless coffee roasters.

But for Lindemann, who opened the first Coffee By Design with her husband, Alan Spear, 20 years ago, Coffee By Design is about much more than making coffee. It’s about the people whose lives are affected by her company’s presence, from its 55 employees, to the neighborhoods that surround their shops, to the farmers and the families who grow and pick their beans – and, of course, to the customers who drink their coffee.

Her husband calls her “the heart and soul” of the business they’ve grown from one tiny shop on Congress Street to a mini-chain of four shops, 300-plus wholesale accounts, and a spanking new roastery/coffee bar in the Bayside neighborhood on the Portland peninsula. Lindemann is proud of that title because it hints at a way of doing business that has helped CBD weather the recession, stave off the competition, and grow “carefully and responsibly” in the past two decades.

“For me the question has always been, how do you take something and grow it, while still staying true to your mission,” says Lindemann as she nurses a latte at the bar of the roastery/coffee bar on Diamond Street. Lindemann defines that mission as being “a community coffee company.”

“Coffee is a drink that brings people together,” Lindemann explains. “Coffee houses are places that can create an environment around them.”

The idea of being an important part of the community and building partnerships with local businesses has been integral to the company’s success, Lindemann says. From the art on the walls of the new cafe? to the custom light fixtures, concrete flooring and granite countertops made with local materials by local craftsmen, CBD makes every effort to contract locally and buy local products. Even the pastries and baked goods beside the cash registers showcase local businesses, such as the nearby pie bakery, Maine Pie Line. By the same token, local chefs work with CBD to create unique coffee blends for their restaurants, and local breweries have used their beans in some of their seasonal brews.

One of her proudest achievements, Lindemann says, was being a founding member of the Portland Buy Local movement in 2006. She is still on the advisory board and has seen the group grow tremendously in the past five years. In late September, Lindemann was one of 10 “visionaries” who spoke at the Envision Maine Conference in Freeport, which was attended by U.S. Sen. Angus King and gubernatorial candidates Mike Michaud and Eliot Cutler. A founding member of this group, Lindemann talked about the need for Maine entrepreneurs to support each other.

“We have everything we need here in Maine (to grow a thriving economy),” she says. “Connections. That’s what it’s all about.”

While she considers herself still “evolving” as an entrepreneur, Lindemann is in a position to mentor young women who are going into business for themselves. She is thrilled by the young women she meets who are “doing amazing things” and who “believe in the real Maine.” She remembers when Coffee By Design first began expanding, how few women applied for manager positions with the company. She says she was lucky growing up that she had a father who understood the need to help provide daughters with the same opportunities as sons. In 1978, she transferred from Bowdoin College to Brown University after her freshman year because she didn’t find Bowdoin to be a welcoming place for women.

She also has felt the sting of being considered an outsider, or less than capable because of her gender. Her advice to females is to be yourself, write down your mission statement and be true to it. She also advises women in business to love what they’re doing because of the many sacrifices they’ll have to make in the early years.

Lindemann says it is important to be as hands-on as possible as a business owner, and she urges women to increase their expertise in an area not always thought of as a woman’s purview: financial literacy.

“It’s amazing when I talk with women – what they struggle with is what we struggled with,” she says.

Lindemann also advises entrepreneurs not to be afraid of calculated risk. A case in point was CBD’s recent move to an old, run-down warehouse in a run-down neighborhood at the base of Munjoy Hill. While it provides a fine place for the expanded roastery and the wholesale shipping operation, the attached coffee bar isn’t exactly within walking distance of the Old Port. Lindemann’s vision, however, has turned the coffee bar space into a community showcase that attracts not only coffee-drinking customers, but also people looking to learn more about coffee-making. The building also provides employees with a comfortable work environment with brightly lit break rooms, a place to shower for those who bicycle to work, and offices that look out onto the roastery. While there is room to grow in this new location, Lindemann is adamant about retaining the company’s identity as a local institution.

“As a small business owner, we can inspire others and make a difference.” she says. “We want to continue to grow as a company, but our goal is never to be huge.”

How to brew coffee

Coffee by Design’s website offers information on different brewing methods.

French press

The use of a French press is a sure way to brew an excellent cup of coffee as long as you pay attention to the correct size of the grinds and temperature of the water. The grinds should be a medium to coarse grind. If they are any smaller, they will clog the filter and seep into the brewed coffee. Because of the larger grind, this brewing process tends to take a little longer than other brewing methods. When you’re ready to add the water, it should be between 195 and 200 degrees Farenheit. As the coffee brews, the grinds stay in contact with the water, which allows for a fuller, more defined flavor that would otherwise be lost to the filter of a drip machine.


The drip method is widely considered to be one of the simplest brewing methods and the most popular way to brew coffee in the United States. Water ranging from 195 to 205 degrees F is slowly poured on the grounds and drips through a filter, resulting in a clean, smooth cup of coffee. While the drip machines are easy to use, they do not guarantee an exceptional cup of coffee since most drip machines have warmers that can ruin the coffee as it sits in the pot.

Pour over

The pour over brewing method is a cheap, easy way to make a great cup of coffee. With this method, you have a lot of control over the different elements of the brewing process. To brew coffee this way, all you’ll need is a filter, filter holder, hot water, and, of course, your fresh grounds (which should be close to a medium grind). You will start by heating the water until it is 200 degrees F and placing the filter over the top of the cup. Pour just enough water onto the grounds to fully wet them. Let it soak for 15-20 seconds, and then drain into the cup. Repeat this process until you have a full cup of coffee to enjoy.


The espresso brewing method is a way of brewing coffee that involves hot water, very fine grounds, and strong pressure. An espresso machine takes water that is just under the boiling temperature and uses pressure to force it through the fine grounds of coffee. The espresso method extracts the flavorful and aromatic oils while leaving behind the bitter elements of the bean. The result is a strong, concentrated cup of coffee that is full in flavor without the bitterness.

?Mary Allen Lindemann of Coffee By Design explains the differences in coffee beans at the company’s new roastery/coffee bar in the Bayside neighborhood in Portland.  

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