The owner of Omaha, Neb.-based Archetype Coffee and veteran barista competitor reflects on running a business and taking part in competitions.
Photos courtesy of Isaiah Sheese
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
If you’ve watched a United States Barista Championship in the last decade, chances are you’ve seen Isaiah Sheese perform on the national stage. The barista has been taking part in competitions since 2008, and has participated in seven full seasons of regional and national barista contests.
But Isaiah isn’t known in the specialty-coffee community solely for his competition experience; he is also the founder of Omaha, Neb.-based roaster-retailer Archetype Coffee, a two-location business focused both on sourcing high-quality coffee and cultivating community.
Quick with a joke but ultra-committed to his craft, Isaiah is known as a friendly, encouraging part of the coffee community, both in the barista-competition world and beyond. We talked to Isaiah about his intention with Archetype, why he competes, and his former dreams of rock stardom.
Chris Ryan: How did you start working in coffee, and what did you like about it that made you stay in that world?
Isaiah Sheese: I had a friend opening a coffee shop in Tulsa, Okla., called Shades of Brown Coffee and Art who asked if I would want to help. I always loved coffee and was tired of working at a uniform factory and took her up on the offer. It’s hard to tell whether it was the community aspect or my love of coffee that took me down the rabbit hole first. I had never experienced such a fun working environment and met so many great people in such a short amount of time.
How did you end up in Omaha?
Most people move to one of the coasts, Chicago, or a big city. Not me, I’m touring the Midwest. Totally kidding. My wife got a job in Omaha so we made the move.
When did you start taking part in coffee competitions, and approximately how many have you done? What do you like about competing that keeps you going with it?
I feel like I’m dating myself with this question. … I believe it was the 2008-09 South Central Regional Competition. Since then I have competed in seven full seasons of regionals and nationals. In that time I took a year off to judge and a year off to open the first Archetype shop. I love how competitions push me to grow professionally each year. As competitors we really aren’t competing against each other, but against ourselves. I feel like competition season is when I am at the top of my game.
Why did you decide to launch your own business with Archetype?
I felt like I was at the point in my coffee career where I needed to either open something and pursue my dreams, or change careers. I had fallen so in love with what I did that the thought of doing something else didn’t feel right. So after a lot of planning, praying, and stressing, I made the jump.
What were some of your guiding principles with the business to differentiate it?
That is a tough question. In this day and age there are so many great cafés and roasters, I feel it’s getting harder to differentiate ourselves. Like most, we are striving to be as excellent as possible, from sourcing, to roasting, brewing, customer service, and trying not to forget Mother Nature. “Archetype” means the original that all things model themselves after. The goal has always been to try and set a good business example by taking care of employees, farmers, our communities, and be good humans. I definitely haven’t arrived, but I am constantly learning, growing, and trying to do better.
What has the experience been like of operating the business and growing?
The experience has been great, but has definitely come with lots and lots of steep learning curves. I may have been a little naive as far as knowing what it really meant to be “the owner.” All I knew is I loved being a barista and wanted to make tasty coffee for people and build a fun, loving community. Little did I know, the owner is the bookkeeper, manager, janitor, ambassador to the people, general contractor, CEO, COO, and OOO (I made that one up). I learned quickly you have to wear many hats. At the end of the day I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever had the honor of doing.
What do you see as the future for Archetype?
I hope to keep growing responsibly. There may or may not be some other concepts in the works. What I’m most excited about is finally being able to start visiting the farms we have been buying from for the last couple of years. I can’t wait to see where those relationships will go.
What do you enjoy doing outside of coffee?
There was a time when I had aspirations of being a rock star. Well maybe not a full-on rock star, but a professional drummer traveling playing music. Although I never made rock stardom, I do still enjoy playing music when I get the opportunity. There has been a band in the works for some time now. Hopefully 2019 is the year. I also enjoy rock climbing. I know the joke’s on me, Nebraska doesn’t have any rock. Luckily some great people opened up an indoor climbing gym.