It’s fair. It’s fresh. It’s local.
Keywords: Entrepreneur, Cold Brew, Family Biz, #nointernet.
Jake and Chelsea Giffen started Six:Eight Coffee Roasting. Six:Eight Coffee Roasting is on the short list of “Coolest Things That Happened to My Hometown in the Last Decade.” Willow and I had a Six:Eight Nitro Coffee bar at our wedding, that’s how cool they are.
Walking into Jake and Chelsea’s house made me feel like I was coming home, even though it was my first visit. Jake opens the door with a big welcoming smile and Chelsea has set their family-sized dining table with croissants and of course cold brew and drip coffee – all for our conversation together.
Based on the welcome I received, it is little surprise that our discussion quickly turned to the intersection of coffee and hospitality. One of Jake’s proud moments as a father came when he was watching his oldest son (then 7 years-old) play outside with a friend and his son stopped to offer his friend some coffee. His son ran inside, got the cups, the cream and sugar, and made two cups of coffee for he and his friend to share together. Now, think whatever you want about 7 year-olds drinking coffee, but this little boy already had a pretty good handle on the terrifying and uncomfortable skill of hospitality that most adults are still struggling to figure out. And this, all from watching how his parents use coffee as a tool to foster community in their home and in their town.
Jake and Chelsea’s introduction to coffee and the passion that soon formed explains their approach to their own company, Six:Eight Coffee Roasting. They each had high school jobs at coffee shops – Jake at a locally owned shop and Chelsea at Starbucks.
Like most honest human beings, Jake didn’t like the taste of coffee at first. But after closing up the shop on his first day at work, his boss started pulling shots of espresso and teaching him about all of the nuances that make coffee such an intriguing pursuit. Like every high schooler trying not to get fired from their first job, he just smiled and agreed that the coffee was incredible and yes of course he could tell the subtle differences between the roasts. While he wouldn’t get much sleep that night thanks to the eight shots of espresso, his journey from coffee objector to coffee connoisseur had begun.
Jake latched onto the craft of coffee roasting – he’s the mad-scientist of the two. Chelsea is the marketeer and their couple mantra is that “He roasts it and She posts it!” He remembers when Verve Coffee Roasters first opened in Santa Cruz, CA. Jake and his friends were so excited to have a shop that placed such a high value on the art and craft of coffee making, that they would load up after class on a Wednesday afternoon, drive two hours to Santa Cruz – each grab a shot of espresso, a cappuccino, and a drip for the road – then drive two hours back home. These adventures kept Jake’s passion stoked and provided a steady lifeline to the craft he was pursuing and that he would eventually bring back to his hometown.
Chelsea’s own coffee journey began not out of a passion for the liquid chemistry, but because of everything else that grows around that liquid chemistry and the community it creates. She remembers Starbucks before the drive-thru lines, when people would actually meet there to spend time together. Not only was it the place where she worked, it was the place where she would gather at a table with close friends, craft coffee, and create a lasting community.
She makes it very clear that they do not hate Starbucks (Maybe the first person I’ve talked to who is truly into coffee to hold this opinion – it’s refreshing). Chelsea views the godfather of corporate coffee as a visionary that started a wonderful conversation, but then along the way, lost some of what made it so special in the first place. She remembers the top-notch training she had to go through as a new employee and the emphasis that Starbucks placed on the care that went into their coffee. She remembers the excitement of a Starbucks actually coming to her small hometown, bringing Italian craft coffee to the land of Folgers. Starbucks was like Moses, basically, and the land of milk and honey lived up to the hype.
Even if Starbucks has abdicated its post, it began a widespread movement that made space for passionate artisans to carry on the best parts of the coffee community. Jake and Chelsea’s company mantra is Fair – Fresh – Local. This is their idea of what coffee at its best looks like, and that is exactly what Six:Eight Coffee has brought to its hometown.
Fair: From the very beginning of Six:Eight Coffee, they decided to source only Fair Trade beans. Unless you live along the equator, good coffee isn’t going to grow in your backyard. This means that coffee is global. Being a global industry offers some really incredible benefits, but historically, it has instead been used as a way to hide the shady business practices of coffee plantations. Since it wasn’t in our backyard, it was easy to turn a blind eye and get cheap coffee while other people paid for it with their quality of life. One of the most inspiring qualities of Jake and Chelsea is their willingness to take action and make a difference, no matter how significant or insignificant the impact. When they started the business, the amount of coffee beans that they sourced from Fair Trade farmers was negligible when compared to the broader industry. Even now, after growing for the past decade, they aren’t ordering the same amount of product that Starbucks is and their actions don’t carry the same weight. But they aligned their actions with their values and have continued on the same trajectory year after year. Most of us, myself included, see the same big problem that everyone else does but it seems too big for us to solve it, so we do nothing. Jake and Chelsea offer an inspiring glimpse at what it looks like to take action no matter the eventual outcome.
Fresh: It doesn’t get much fresher than Jake roasting the beans in the evening after the kids are asleep and a van-full of smiling Giffens personally delivering it to your doorstep on Saturday morning. If the words “Fresh & Local” remind you of an old school milkman, you’re spot on, and Six:Eight Coffee is basically as close to a modern milkman as we are going to get. Every Saturday, Jake, Chelsea, and their three kids load into the delivery van and personally deliver a bag (or three) of Six:Eight Coffee to each of their loyal subscribers. To carry the 1950’s Americana nostalgia one step further, they are also like the U.S. Postal Service – rain, snow, sleet, or hail, you’re getting your coffee. Chelsea gave birth to their second child on a Monday, and they were delivering coffee that Saturday! It is one of their family rhythms and it wouldn’t feel like Saturday morning without it.
Local: They make the coffee in Turlock, CA – sell predominately in Turlock, CA – and deliver to people living in Turlock, CA. During my freshman year of college, my mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I was feeling a little homesick, so I asked for a bag of coffee from Jake and Chelsea. They are literally the only people doing what they are doing in my hometown and it tastes like home. The local community recognized what Jake and Chelsea were bringing to them – their offer of hospitality in a cup, the quality product, the face and the story behind the product – and that community showed up. Even when they were first starting out and still learning how to walk in this new world of coffee, the local community steadily supported their young business because it believed in what it would become and not only in what it was right then. The story of Six:Eight Coffee surviving as a young business and now enjoying the stability of an established small business after more than a decade, shows the circularity of giving that small local businesses provide: A local business gives something new to its community, the community gives its support because it believes in the mission of the owner even before the product is great, then because of the community’s support, the local business gives something truly great that makes the community better. Starbucks is cool, but it won’t ever be for Turlock, CA, what Six:Eight Coffee is for Turlock, CA.
So, the business has a loyal following and it’s a proven concept – when is it time to scale and expand and take on Starbucks?
Well, not right now anyways, and maybe not ever. Jake has plans to keep his day job as a math teacher at their kids’ charter school. Chelsea has plans to continue juggling homeschooling while running the day to day business operations. They have intentionally curated a life that aligns with what they value most, and while Six:Eight Coffee is playing a large and important role in that life, it is just one of the many pieces. If they were to go “all in” and put pressure on the business to be their sole pursuit, it would change things. They have a good thing going and have chosen to enjoy the good place where they are right now, rather than jeopardize it in the name of striving, financial success, and the American Dream.
That’s one of the inspiring things about Jake and Chelsea – they live their own life, 100%, and not someone else’s life. You could describe it as countercultural, weird, or different, but at the end of the day, they are living a fulfilled life and that is a better result than most of our society is getting doing things the normal way.
One more piece of the puzzle to this intriguing couple – they don’t have internet at their home. Yeah, seriously. If your mouth is gaping open right now, then you’re doing exactly what I did when they first told me. I thought internet came standard with being an American adult, but once again, the Giffens are broadening our horizons. They are literally running a business – out of their home – without internet.
Now, Chelsea does have an iPhone, so most of the business is taken care of on that thing, but there are some things you just can’t do on a phone. When those things come up, she loads her kids in the van and goes to her parents’ house to borrow some wi-fi. If you think this sounds excessively cumbersome, I think Chelsea would probably agree with you. Their approach isn’t always the easiest, but it achieves the goals that they have for their family, so it’s working.
Six:Eight Coffee is generational. It is both the result of Jake and Chelsea’s own upbringing as well as the learning grounds for their own children’s upbringing. Chelsea remembers seeing her mom being able to take anything and make something beautiful out of it. She remembers her dad as being a creator. Each had their effect, and she has always been intrigued by the making of something and then the selling of that something. Now, fast forward to the newest generation, and their kids are literally along for the ride with their family business.
Jake sees it as a gift to have a craft that he can teach to his kids. Being a math teacher is a little tricky to pass down to your children. But making coffee – there is a skill that they can learn right alongside their dad. If “He roasts it and She posts it,” then their kids are going to grow up learning the one-two punch of a hard skill combined with business know-how. It’s so simple and so old-school that it just might work.
There are plenty of reasons to worry about the next generation, and I don’t think those reasons will ever go away completely. But here are three kids who will grow into young adults having grown up with a front-row seat to what it looks like to pursue a passion, open a small business, and continue to operate a successful business based on the principles that the founders value. The Giffens might be doing things differently, but I know they’re not the only ones – and that gives me hope for the future.
Six:Eight Coffee is a gift to my hometown and I’m grateful to my hometown for recognizing the gift by embracing the coffee, the Giffens, and the mission. I’ve spoken a lot about the people behind Six:Eight Coffee, because people are what I’m best at. If I was really educated about coffee, I would have spent a lot more time explaining why their coffee tastes so good. Jake’s the mad-scientist though, so ask him about it and he’ll tell you. What I can tell you though, is that it tastes good – it’s fair – it’s fresh – and it’s local.