I have know Jim of Wilson Coffee for some time. Back in the day, he delivered coffee to a coffeehouse that I worked at for many years. You could imagine my delight when years later I heard that he bought the business that he used to deliver coffee for!
Recently I caught up with Jim and visited his business. Check out my interview with Jim about Wilson Coffee, being an entrepreneur and his plans for the future.
what made you decide to go into this business?
Honestly, my wife and I had just moved back from New York City, where we had both been working in restaurants and bars, and I was just kinda done working for someone else. When we got back to California, I heard from Tony (Wilson) that he was selling the family business, and I went for it. Tony and my mom used to own Wilson, and before that, Tony and my aunt Patti owned Alta Coffee/Wilson Roasting, and when I was in my early 20s I used to roast for them, so it was sort of an organic unfolding for me to step back in to the business.
can you explain some details about your business (teas, cold brew, wholesale, retail, collaborations) and all of the things your business currently does.
For the most part we sell whole leaf organic teas and whole or ground organic coffee beans wholesale. Restaurants from Los Angeles to Laguna Beach serve Wilson Coffee; however, some of our clients put their name on their labels, so it is not known to the consumer that it’s our coffee. Still, it’s a collaboration, right?
Our really talented friend, Dave Singly, did all the artwork for Wilson thus far including the labels, the t-shirts and the hats, etc… Working with Dave has been an awesome collaboration too. We’re super stoked on his work.
Then there’s retail side. There are a lot of people who come directly to the roaster while I’m packaging or roasting or doing general business stuff. They come in for a few pounds for themselves and friends. I also deliver to some folks retail and wholesale in Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Santa Ana and Fullerton. We’re seconds away from launching our cold brew brand as well! Vending at Patchwork Show, selling cold-brew coffee has been rad. We’re looking forward to getting into more things like that. It’s nice to just open the fridge and open a cold brew in the summer time.
tell us about a typical workday:
I get to the roaster, check messages for orders, and make a cup of coffee. I roast coffee in small batches. So I’ll roast, package, and deliver. Then I come back to the roaster, fill more orders: roast, package and drop-off UPS orders. Somewhere in there I get to the bank, answer phone calls, do the books and administration stuff and (of course) drink more coffee.
you mentioned that your roaster is different, can you explain how?
Most roasters are of the drum sort which entails a large metal drum being heated up thus heating the beans and roasting them. Coffee processed in this manner tends to be a bit smokier and with hints of burnt sugar. My roaster is a Sivetz style fluid bottom. Hot air is forced through the beans. This style of roasting makes for a cleaner tasting coffee. Whether or not either is a better or worse approach to roasting is for each person to decide. I prefer the fluid bottom.
where do you see your business in one to three years?
In everything I’ve ever done, be it music, or running a coffee roasting business, I’ve always wanted to be almost famous. Successful, yet still under the radar. I pride myself on roasting a damn good coffee bean on my little homemade 33 pound roaster and exponential growth can compromise quality of goods and service. I’d like for Wilson Coffee to be known locally as the best coffee around but for people to always feel special when they walk into my tucked-away warehouse in Costa Mesa.
what has been your biggest learning experience in your business so far?
Owning a small business is really fun. The creative freedom is great. But I have learned that it is also extremely stressful. When things are going well I feel awesome. But when something goes wrong it affects me personally. The weight of my little roasting world rests squarely upon my shoulders. So, I wouldn’t say I’ve learned this but that I am learning how to not take all the stress to heart and leave it at the roastery when my work day is done.
how long have you been in your current space?
Wilson Coffee Roasting has been in the same space for about seven years. When my Mom, Tony and I ran the company in the early late nineties/early 2000’s we were just around the corner from where we are now. Actually we were, directly across the street from where Kean Coffee’s roasters are now. So we’ve been in the same ‘hood for almost 20 years.
what is your personal favorite roast and what do you like to pair with coffee?
I tend toward a lighter roast for espresso and I think I’d go for my organic Brasil for that. Nice nutty chocolaty flavor. For drip coffee I’d say the medium roasted organic Ethiopian Washed PeaBerry. So smooth. I like my coffee with breakfast, dark chocolate, and preferably on a porch someplace.
what have been the most difficult & rewarding aspects of your business
The most difficult aspect of my business is dealing with government agencies. The most rewarding aspect is honestly knowing that I put everything I’ve learned into each roast, and hearing how stoked people are on the quality my coffee. It’s also rewarding knowing that I am doing this without ripping people off- it’s affordable organic coffee, that tastes super great.
do you have any business tips or advice for our readers?
Never stop working hard and don’t let the small failures overshadow the successes, and make your job fun no matter what.