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How It Started: Good Coffee

Every January, our Imbibe 75 issue puts a spotlight on the inspiring people, exciting new places, and influential organizations that we think will impact the drinks world in the year ahead. And while often that means new places and fresh faces, we also like to give well-deserved attention to people and places that are having a sustained, positive impact, such as brothers Sam and Nick Purvis who founded Portland, Oregon’s Good Coffee in 2014 and continue to expand and innovate year after year. On the precipice of their 10-year anniversary, Sam Purvis tells us how it all started.

Sam Purvis:

My brother, Nick, and I started Good Coffee in 2014, along with another partner who is no longer involved in the business. Nick spent that summer serving coffee to guests from a cart on the sidewalk outside of our first store on Division Street. Meanwhile, I was running around trying to get us sorted for opening the café, along with a second café on SE 12th that was soon to follow.

We had both worked in coffee for quite some time prior to starting Good. Nick worked closely with a great roaster and retailer based in Santa Barbara, California, called Dune Coffee Roasters. I had worked in the Portland coffee scene for various companies like Barista and Coava Coffee Roasters. We also both had the privilege of competing as baristas. Nick competed both in the southwest region and nationally, and I competed in the Pacific Northwest region and nationally, as well. Barista competitions enabled us to meet so many incredible friends—people who really encouraged us in our love for both hospitality and coffee. 

“The feeling we’ve always wanted people to have in our cafés is one of inspiration.”

Today, we have seven coffee bars in the Portland metro area, and our roasting facility is in Troutdale, just outside the city. Our cafés are typically very fresh in both color and texture, playful at times. The touches that make the space feel more human and warm are a mixture of pops of color from the packaged retail products we produce (or from some of our favorite brands), along with lots of plant life. The feeling we’ve always wanted people to have in our cafés is one of inspiration; not inspiration related to us, but inspiration related to them and their life and their dreams.

We think coffee shops are special in the fact that you can go to a café, sit down, maybe pull out something to write on, or just spend time in thought. You remember those things that encourage you, those things you are grateful for, those things you want to get better at or want to pursue. If there is any through line at all in our design, it’s that we start by imagining how our guests are going to use our cafés, and we design for those uses and those desired emotions when you step inside. 

Ripples of Change

We are still very small relative to many of our peers. I would say we’ll roast around 60,000 pounds of coffee this year. We work very closely with a group called Red Fox Coffee Merchants. Red Fox was started by Aleco Chigounis who, in the early years of Stumptown Coffee, really helped to build a supply chain to support and lift up often smaller growers and producers from all over the world. Because we’re unable to travel to these areas often, we work with Red Fox as a trusted and experienced party to invest in what we believe is instrumental to supporting and sustaining a super-premium supply chain, as well as the growers whose livelihoods are dependent on being able to farm their land in the most sustainable and beneficial way possible. 

Meanwhile, here at home, we launched the project Common Good in 2018. It came out of conversation with a friend, Kali Ladd, who is a co-founder at KairosPDX and now is the CEO at Children’s Institute. We really wanted to use what we do—roasting and preparing coffee and designing packaging experiences for people to take coffee home—to support work that we felt was really important.

We came up with the idea (which is not new or novel by any means) to build a packaging experience around organizations who were doing really meaningful work. We use the coffee package to expose our customers to the great work these organizations were doing, to both get our community more involved and to donate 20 percent of the total sales from these coffees to support the featured organizations. Currently, we work with two organizations: KairosPDX and Open School. We were so committed to the work they do with kids that we wanted to take a long-term approach to supporting that work.

Looking Forward

This past year was a busy one for us. We opened a really fun café in [Portland suburb] Beaverton, and we’ve been working on our newest café in the Pearl District of downtown Portland, which should open in early 2024. When it comes to growth, you can talk to 10 different people who will give you 10 different answers about whether or not you should grow and, if so, how you should do it. For us, we like having work and having projects; we like growing our ability to invest in our team and offer opportunities for people we care about. We also really like being given the opportunity to meet and serve a growing number of communities.

“Coffee has been a great tool to use to build a community where everyone feels they belong.”

The journey has been one of significant learning. It’s great to say these things, but we have made mistakes, and we have had to figure out how to build a working relationship across our team of people where our mission—of using coffee to create delight for others—is actually happening. We have had to learn to build a business engine that holds the resources that can provide and sustain good jobs around this mission. Ultimately, we have learned so much from the team members who have journeyed with us.

Good Coffee’s story is really the story of a team of people who came together with a deep desire to use hospitality to communicate to each other and to our guests that every single one of us is incredibly valuable, incredibly beautiful and worth being delighted in. Coffee has been a great tool to use to build a community where everyone feels they belong.

As told to Penelope Bass

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