SCOUT COFFEE 1130 Garden Street San Luis Obispo, California WEBSITE
Seriously, we’re not writing about this cafe because we love how similar the name is to Barista Magazine’s app; I’ve been following the progress of this coffeehouse located in Southern California’s San Luis Obispo ever since it was an unnamed dream in Sara and Jon Peterson’s heads. I came to know both Sara and Jon through Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz, California. Sara was a star barista there and had some great success in barista competitions, and Jon was my contact in the marketing department, so we talked often, and it was always a pleasure.
I was sad to hear they were leaving Verve when Jon told me about the move, but it was for a very good reason: they were going to open up their own place! I love seeing successful coffee people and baristas making this move. (To learn more about it, read the article, “Own Your Own” by Erin Meister in the new issue of Barista Magazine.)
Now that their coffeehouse, Scout Coffee, has been open and buzzing for about 2 weeks in San Luis Obispo (which, if you didn’t know, is one of the most delightful and picturesque Southern California cities in existence), I wanted to talk to Jon about how the process of opening went, the very interesting financing experience they had, how they’re doing, and just all about this great new hangout in SLO.
Sarah Allen: How did you and Sara choose San Luis Obispo as a location for your coffeehouse?
Jon Peterson: We’ve always loved it here, and we really wanted to find a family friendly town for [their daughter] Lilly to grow up in. My parents used to live here, and we have really great friends who moved here several years ago, too, so we had a lot of encouragement as we started looking in the area. Sara and I have been on a long, slow journey toward starting Scout (almost 10 years now of saving and gaining experience), and we’ve looked at a lot of towns and spaces, but none felt as right to us as San Luis and the space here at 1130 Garden.
After focusing in on SLO, I looked online for spaces for a couple months, and we made several trips down to walk around downtown SLO on our weekends from Verve. We found our space on one of those trips ¦ it wasn’t listed online, and after meeting the landlord and checking out the space, then calling the planning department, everything just seemed like a really great fit. We also have the nicest landlord ever ”I negotiated the lease with him in his living room over cookies his wife brought out while Lilly and Sara played in their garden ”and he’s truly believed in us and has been an encouragement from the start. Now he brings all his friends in for cappuccinos. Since things went well from the start, we kept waiting for something to fall through, but the whole process from lease to open went relatively quickly and smoothly (we moved here in July, officially signed the lease in August, opened 2 weeks ago today). We invested our life savings and got an SBA loan, and then did all the design and build-out ourselves ¦ it was crazy, hard, fun, and eye-opening in a lot of ways, but I’m so glad we did it the way we did. As for SLO ”we knew we’d like it, but honestly it’s better here than we even imagined. We absolutely love living here.
As we were looking for spaces, the parallel story was in trying to find financing. We had been saving for a long time and had a really good start, but needed additional resources to get it all the way open. I put together a really extensive business plan and brand kit and started going to banks to try to get the remaining funding. We knew that we wanted to own the business entirely, so we didn’t want to go the investor route, and neither of us had any family resources to tap into, but we got rejected over and over because nobody wanted to do start-up loans. It probably happened five or six different times before I found a lead from a little non-profit (located in SLO) called Economic Vitality Corp. I remember it was a work night, and I had to be at Verve pretty early, but I was just searching for any way to get this thing moving. I found the EVC website and put together a quick email to the CEO Mike Manchak at almost 1 a.m. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but he called me by 7:30 the next morning and said he really liked everything we had put together and wanted my permission to put it out to some of the banks he works with. By 8 a.m. and then throughout the day, my phone was ringing with banks calling us. It was really crazy, and a complete game changer for us ”I really owe a ton to Mike for believing in us and doing that. After working through the process with several banks, we ended up with a couple different ones that wanted to do our loan, and we decided to go with the credit union right across the street from our space. Pretty sweet the way everything came together on it.
Sarah: What’s the coffee scene in SLO like?
Jon: The coffee scene here is like a lot of cities now ”lots of coffee shops, but all pretty old school in style and approach, with a couple of them serving coffee from third wave roasters. Even though there was a lot of coffee, we felt Scout could really add value by doing something that wasn’t really being done here yet. We had some people question us for doing “another coffee shop,” but I’m pretty sure now that that happens to almost anyone who starts anything. Fortunately, since opening 2 weeks ago, the response has been really amazing, and it’s been so exciting to have the place full of happy people enjoying great coffee.
Sarah: What coffee are you using?
Jon: We are exclusively serving Verve, and are working with them on a little deeper level than what is typical. We obviously have a lot of history together and are good friends, but we also just really respect and appreciate their approach to coffee. They are doing some exclusive lots for us, and plans are in the works to head on a buying trip with Colby to find some of the coffees we’ll be serving in the coming months. We’re really excited about continuing to work with them.
Sarah: Tell us about the menu!
Jon: Sara loves taking a seasonal approach to our menu, so everything will be fresh and new with the changing seasons, from our coffees to milkshakes and sodas. And we use as many locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients as possible.
”Baking: We weren’t planning on baking, but after checking out the scene around here, we ended up doing it because we really wanted our baked goods to be the very best around. It’s been one of the more time consuming things we’ve done, but people are really loving it, and now we just have to figure out how to keep up with the demand ”obviously a good problem!
”Milkshakes: We also do old-fashioned milkshakes. They’ve been incredibly popular. We work with McConnell’s Ice Cream out of Santa Barbara. They’ve been making real ice cream without any weird ingredients at all pretty much forever (established in 1949). All of our shakes (currently: Askinosie Chocolate, Coffee & Cream, and Salty Caramel) are all made with McConnell’s all natural Vanilla Bean ice cream, milk, and either our Askinose Chocolate sauce, 24-hr Cold Brew concentrate, or our house-made salty caramel sauce. They’re all really tasty!
”House made sodas & sparkling tea: We make seasonal sodas in house (currently fresh ginger, lemon & lime), and also have sparkling tea, currently made with Guayusa tea that has Strawberry and Hibiscus, with a little jasmine.
Sarah: What equipment are you using?
Jon: We have a custom white La Marzocco FB80! We love it. We brew most coffee on our 2032 Fetco, but also offer v60 pour overs for single cups and Chemex for 2.
Sarah: Any other tidbits to add?
Jon: Notable on our buildout: Our building was built by a famous doctor named William Stover in 1911. We maintained the original exposed brick and used reclaimed Douglas Fir for the front of our bar that was from a house in town and is over 100 years old. We just put it through a planer and cut off the tongue and groove, and it made for a beautiful bar front. Our high bar is from an old Monterey Cypress tree that lived just down the road on S. Higuera for 80 years. The atrium wall is made from redwood remnants from a local lumberyard, and is home to our 15-year-old Staghorn fern, but will be joined by a full living wall being put together by botany students from Cal Poly.
Thanks, Jon! And to all of you out there with plans to pass through San Luis Obispo, be sure to stop by Scout Coffee for a cup!
Sarah Allen (she/her) is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.