Barista Magazine

OCT-NOV 2017

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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er Rhodes, Hammond organ—instead of carrying one synth that weighed 10 pounds," says Colby. Colby and Ryan started Verve a decade ago, in 2007, and a year later Mike Eyre joined Verve as CEO to round out the triumvirate of leadership at the company. Over the past 10 years, Verve has expand- ed from its roots in idyllic Santa Cruz, where it's got four cafés and a roastery, to three stores and a roastery in Los Angeles, and cafés in both San Francisco and Tokyo. Colby calls Santa Cruz home, however, and nature always beckons. He gets out in to the great outdoors surrounding the small Cen- tral-Coast city often, heading into the mountains either on a mountain bike, endurocross motorcycle, or on foot. Or he might head down to the beach and surf. In other words, he fi ts right in to his local commu- nity, just as Verve has for the last decade. Since Verve just hit the big 10-year milestone, we thought this a perfect time to share the story of Colby the person, Verve the compa- ny, and the journey they're on together. Barista Magazine: How did growing up on a farm infl uence or edu- cate your coffee career? Colby Barr: Besides the work-ethic part and sense of purpose, grow- ing up on the farm defi nitely informed me as a coffee buyer. Because we not only farmed pears but also had a packing facility for them, I really saw these different aspects of the supply chain and how they were so different but so important. I also saw the struggles and areas of frustration, including at the marketplace. Farmers are bad-asses. They are smart. They will outwork you. They don't want your pity; they want respect. This has been the premise of our approach to Farmlevel at Verve, and something I feel strongly about. [Editor's note: Verve's Farmlevel Initiative is a project to connect farmers and customers while paying premium prices for quality coffees.] Under- standing farming through their eyes—like that harvest labor is their number-one expense—yet also sharing market insights with them: Ripe cherries can pay more, and also weigh more. The same is true at the mill level. In the end I feel an incredible responsibility as a marketing agent for these producers, and at the same time feel a responsibility to the consumer to live up to the brand promise we are making, which for Verve is focused on quality. This is the fi ne line in the supply-chain part of our business, and why trust and communication are paramount. BMag: Was there an "a-ha" moment for you with coffee where your perception of it changed? CB: Yes, absolutely! Everyone has their moment, but mine was at that SWRBC [Southwest Regional Barista Competition] in 2007. I had left my job and taken over the "cool" local coffee shop in Chico, Calif., and was about seven months in when our team went to this event. It was Sean White, Jared Truby, and myself. We met Chris Baca there, Eileen Hassi, and Jeremy Tooker, and countless others. It was like the California third-wave jump-off. We had no idea what we were doing but wanted to learn. So when I had this light-roasted Yirgacheffe on a proper batch brewer with proper specs, I was like, "What the f— is this?!" I remember tasting this Meyer lemon fl avor and candied sweet- ness, and a pronounced jasmine fl orality, with a complex, lingering aftertaste. My mind exploded. It never went back. I immediately realized I had to learn everything about why this coffee didn't taste like every other coffee I had ever tasted, and that I needed to chase this rabbit down the hole to wherever it needed to take me. Welcome to Verve. BMag: Speaking of that, can you tell us a little about your relation- ship with your cofounder, Ryan, and when you two decided to go in to business? What was your vision for Verve when you guys opened it? CB: Ryan has worked in coffee since he was like 18, and was my fi rst coffee-geek friend. He's done everything from delivery driver to manager. He was also the only guy I knew who roasted his own coffee, which is what prompted me to hit him up to start Verve about a year into me running that shop in Chico. Though I met him through music, our Verve spark was because of coffee. The goal for Verve when we set out was really about roasting. We fi gured we would open a café to have a showroom of sorts for the coffees, but the idea was that Ryan would roast and I would source. We would share the café responsibility and everything else. In all honesty, we thought we would be shredding lattes for the rest of our lives in Pleasure Point. Luckily, we caught some traction. Ryan and I are both pretty chill but if you get to know us, behind the "chill" we are both very competitive and specifi c in how we want to do things. It's never about other people or brands but always just an ambition for Verve. We want it to be its best version of itself at all times, in all areas. This was always our goal—we just didn't know if people would care. Fortunately they did. BMag: Verve is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Looking back, are there any unexpected turns the company has taken? What about the next 10 years? CB: Ha! Yeah, it's been a wild ride. Honestly the unexpected turns have been every single thing that has happened in the last 10 years. We never set out to become who we have become, but somewhere along the way we became aware of Verve as something that was great- er than just us. This idea that it had a mind of its own, with things to do, people to see, and places to be—it's kind of amazing. The trick is to get out of its way, which is easier said than done at times. As far as the future, I could not be more excited. It's a very in- teresting time in our industry, with more and more people drinking coffee, and more of them wanting better coffee. You roll into that all of the big fi nancial moves, investments, and acquisitions that have been happening, and you start to see that this "niche trend" I tried to explain to banks in 2007 has become something very much validated, globally impactful, and real. I think, looking ahead, coffee will continue its up-and-to-the-right trajectory in both overall growth and a focus on quality. How we meet that demand will be the next stages of business for everybody. Also, the idea of what is happening in the traditional retail landscape because of online and Amazon in particular is very interesting, and it shines a light that coffee's experiential retail has a bright future despite whatever happens to companies like Best Buy and Staples. BMag: When you guys were just getting started, what kinds of chal- lenges did you face? What would you tell someone about to jump in to coffee-business ownership knowing what you do now? CB: In the beginning, it's hell. Not because the work is so demand- ing—which it is—but because of the burden of the unknown. Will this work? Will they come? Will we make it? That's the real test. It's defi nitely a mental game, and it's really brutal at times. I remember when we fi rst opened Verve, sitting in the middle of the store with Ryan drinking beers just staring at each other like "WTF have we done?" It was 9 p.m. and we hadn't seen one customer for over fi ve hours. Serious mind games. Once you persevere beyond the fi rst wave of panic, then you have the money issues: "How do I make payroll?" "I owe how much sales 108 barista magazine

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