EATING, DRINKING, AND BREATHING COFFEE
In 1983, I left my home in Southern California and moved to Seattle to learn more about coffee from a small 5-store chain of coffee stores you may have heard of called, Starbucks Coffee. I practically pushed my way into Howard Schultz's office, who was Director of Retail and Marketing at the time and in charge of the 4-coffee bean stores. Coffee beverages and the like were not served in those days and you couldn't get a cup of coffee in one of their stores if you wanted one.
I convinced Howard that he should hire me. Two months later I managed the University Village store, the 2nd highest in volume. Over a 2-year period, I managed all 4-coffee bean stores in Seattle and Bellevue Washington.
In 1984, Howard traveled to Milan, Italy, and discovered the cafe culture, on his return convinced Jerry Baldwin (Starbucks co-Founder/CEO) to open the first coffee beverage and bean store serving drip coffee and espresso-based beverages in downtown Seattle. In those days coffee was served in a Styrofoam cup, with a flat lid, one size only, and without sugary flavorings. The details are in Howard's book, "Pour Your Heart into It". Needless to say, the store was a great success and by 1987 Howard, backed by a handful of investors, acquired the company’s 5-stores.
Lucky me, I packed my bags and went on the road to launch Vancouver, B.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles. It was an extremely challenging time since everything we did was cutting edge, from the types of beans we used, to the roasting style and a whole new way to flavor coffee drinks. The cost to consumers was more than double the norm, and you can imagine explaining this to skeptical people who were trying us out for the first time. A consultant once told Howard I was parachuted into enemy territory with a 'Boy Scout' knife and somehow survived. We were tight on capital and I wore many hats, but looking back on everything now, it was the best experience of my career.
In 1992, Starbucks got too cookie-cutter for me so I left the company to do my own thing and opened Caffè at Dawn in Malibu, CA. My brother, Joe, and his wife, Christine, ran the cafe while I did consult for small startups in the area. We were very popular with the local celebrities and I remember well the day Joe called to say that Demi Moore came by to talk about the store and the coffee. We were 'in' with all the very discerning residents. It was quality in a very small space and I often long for those days when life was simply about good friends and amazing coffee.
However, I had wanderlust in my veins again and I sold the cafe to a crazy Italian who was later caught drinking Grappa behind the counter… I love those Italians! I sent my resume to a startup coffee company in London called Seattle Coffee Co., Ltd. Starbucks was nowhere to be found in Europe, as they were busy in the US, Canada, and Japan. I knew this was a great opportunity to pioneer a different way to do the coffee business.
At that time Europeans thought they had the market on coffee and the French thought American coffee tasted like "the juice of socks." I pitched my knowledge in coffee and scale to Scott and Ally Svenson, the Founders of Seattle Coffee Co., Ltd. and became their first Director of Retail Operations. Within 2 years we expanded the brand to 89 stores throughout the EMEA. Starbucks took note of our success and acquired most of the company in 1998. Déjà vu!
Fast forward 6-months later, I moved to Paris and joined Columbus Cafes as a Specialty Coffee Consultant. It was challenging to say the least because I knew very little French but the language of good coffee and American-style customer service was easy to explain in any language. The proof was in the cup after all. Within 2 years we had 25 stores in France and Belgium.
While living in Paris I was approached by an American entrepreneur to launch Mojo Coffee in Stockholm so I moved to Sweden and met many like-minded entrepreneurs. Later I was involved in the opening of 8 other coffee and food concepts throughout Copenhagen, Moscow, and the United States.
In 2013 I was approached by Dave Asprey, CEO, of Bulletproof Coffee, and shortly after was made Chief Retail Officer. We launched restaurants in L.A. that highlighted the Bulletproof Keto diet and buttery coffee drinks. What started as a fad became an amazing health concept that thrives still today.