Longtime colleagues Jeff Taylor of PT’s and Chuck Patton of Bird Rock share their thoughts on the merger of their companies and what growth looks like for both in the future.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Earlier this month, two veteran, direct-trade-focused coffee companies joined forces when PT’s Coffee Roasting Co. of Topeka, Kan., acquired San Diego’s Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. PT’s will take a primary leadership role and financial stake in the Southern California company (which has three San Diego cafes), with owner Jeff Taylor moving to San Diego to lead the transition.
The merger between PT’s (which launched in 1993) and Bird Rock (which started in 2002) was born out of a nearly decade-old friendship between Jeff and Bird Rock owner Chuck Patton. Barista Magazine talked to Jeff and Chuck to find out how the merger came together, its impact on PT’s and Bird Rock, and how the two companies will look to grow.
Chris Ryan: How did you guys get to know each other and became friends?
Jeff Taylor: We met in Nicaragua in 2009. Sustainable Harvest was sponsoring a Q certification event at the Selva Negra farm outside Matagalpa, bringing farmers and roasters together to try to get Q Certified. We were down there for a week and got a chance to know each other and walked the farm a lot. And then I think the next year we took a trip to Bolivia together and had a lot of fun.
Chuck Patton: Not only did we get along, but we had a very similar philosophy when it came to buying at origin. It’s all about establishing relationships with growers founded on quality coffee, and then maintaining those relationships. We approached sourcing similarly and we also had a lot of overlap, buying from a lot of the same farms.
CR: Why did this merger make sense for each of you?
JT: Back on one of our early trips, I actually joked to Chuck: “Dude, if you ever want to sell your cafes in San Diego, I’d be happy to buy them.” I always loved the idea of living in San Diego, in large part because I have family here. I’d been in Kansas for 25 years—long enough that it felt like home—but I didn’t have any family in the area. But we do here, and I really felt like the timing was right for us.
CP: I feel like with Bird Rock, my wife and I were just working too much to keep the business going, and not really able to see what’s next. We were so internally focused on the day-to-day, and the idea of adding more locations was too difficult. So this was a great opportunity. I’ll lead the green buying, and Jeff will take over more of the day-to-day stuff as the president of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. PT’s and Bird Rock already share the same level of quality, though the brands will remain distinct and separate. I can’t wait to see how we’re able to grow.
CR: Any idea yet what that growth might look like?
JT: We’ll open more Bird Rock retail locations as we find good locations—that’s really what it’s all about for us, it has to be the right location. On top of that we have to continue to be able to buy great coffee in our direct-trade model. Chuck and I will be staying in close communication to see what coffee he’s able to buy, and as long as we’re maintaining our quality, then we’ll keep opening more stores so we can keep buying more great coffee. While I’ll be identifying some new locations out here to grow the retail side of the business, we’re also going to be expanding Bird Rock’s wholesale. They have such a thriving retail business that the wholesale was always a bit of an afterthought for them, but there’s a lot of potential there.
CP: And there’ll be some things we’ll finally be able to get off the ground, one of which is a bigger and better cold-brew program. That’s something we were never really able to get to, and Jeff’s bringing a fresh, energetic pair of eyes to it.
CR: Beyond the two of you, what does the merger mean for the rest of your staff?
JT: Both companies are extremely fortunate because we have great staffs at both locations. At PT’s we just have a rock solid core of people, and Bird Rock has an exceptional staff here as well. It’s making the transition very easy.
CP: That was another reason why it was exciting to partner with someone like PT’s that wants to grow the Bird Rock brand: It’s great for the brand but it’s also great for the employees. We had been a bit bottlenecked as far as opportunities for growth for our employees—with three locations there are only three managers, Now they’ll see new opportunities for growth.
CR: Finally, Jeff, what does your current Bird Rock focus mean for the future of PT’s?
JT: I’m still focused on both companies, and I’ll be flying back to Kansas every six weeks or so. We also have my business partner at PT’s, Fred Polzin, staying back in Kansas, in Topeka, and our director of operations Brent Piepergerdes is there. The two of them will oversee PT’s Coffee. We have a new PT’s store opening in Lawrence, Kan., probably in April, and we’re identifying new locations in Kansas City we want to open. So while I’m involved in developing the brand of Bird Rock right now, I’m still involved in developing the brand of PT’s. That’s also why I need Chuck to source coffee—you just can’t do all that with one person!