Sarah Dooley: A Quiet Force of Connection and Inspiration

Sarah Dooley: A Quiet Force of Connection and Inspiration

Breville Group

Reflect for a moment on an imagined solicitation for the names of leaders/luminaries who have touched you. As I did just that, I quickly landed on the many people who have touched me thanks to a remarkable 19-year career as a high-school art/photo teacher and a subsequent 25 ½ years as a coffee educator with Starbucks.

Of course, I thought first of the more well-known names. For me, that was Howard Schultz, Dave Olsen, Mary Williams, Ted Lingle, and Alfred Peet, to name just a few. Famous folks, but less representative of what I have seen as a marvelous community that exists with abundance within the ranks of the coffee industry today. People who transcend brands and self-interest to support colleagues and even strangers in our shared efforts to bring coffee to life-for ourselves and others. No one has done that for me more than Sarah Dooley.

Sarah has been in coffee for 27 years. Starbucks, Caffe D’arte, Visions Espresso Seattle, Espresso Parts, Olympia Coffee, La Marzocco, Baratza, Pete’s Milk, Slayer, and Breville, highlight her work resume. Numerous independent entrepreneurial projects in not only coffee but in landscaping, commercial fishing, product development, and film production. She has been a chapter Chair for the Barista Guild of America, competed in NW Regional and USBC championships, and is a USBC accredited sensory judge. She collaborated and was a featured speaker in the RECO This is Milk.

I met Sarah at Visions Espresso Seattle in 2009. She was managing a new training facility and programming for them and shared this about that venture. 

“Visions was a pinnacle growth change for me. I launched out in total faith to Dawn and Pat Loraas (owners) pitching a concept no one was doing- “Let’s build a hub for coffee people of all types to test gear, take or host training and rent as a venue, open all year round.” I worked for Starbucks as a project manager and was responsible for Starbucks venture into newly inspired cafes. I was working quietly as the project was not being shared with the public until we opened. I needed a collaborator from the non-Starbucks side of coffee to partner with me and help bring the project to fruition. Due to her huge heart and desire to bring ALL coffee people together in a stronger community, Sarah was that person. Always a champion for the barista and always assuming positive intent despite the competitive climate in which we live. I often reflect on the actual conversation we had as it represented a pivotal moment. I had not shared any details with anyone outside of the corporation, and I was standing in Visions’ talking coffee’ and the state of the industry with a stranger. In only a few minutes, I found myself hearing what she was saying, both about her own experiences but also her philosophy for community and critique of many of the barriers that existed then and, to a large degree, still exist today. While listening, I remember thinking to myself that this person is the first person I will trust with the details of what I am working on. She will openly collaborate, be completely trustworthy, and expect the same from the team we built together and me. We became great friends, and I have shared this story and admired her many times over the last 12 years.

I am not at all alone in seeing Sarah as a noteworthy but unsung champion. From Counter Culture coffee, Jesse Kahn had this to add: “What has always amazed me about Sarah is her tireless dedication to learning. It is truly her quest for knowledge that inspires all those around her and creates an incredible culture of openness and accessibility. I have worked with Sarah in vendor relationships, training relationships, and no matter what her ‘official’ role at any given time, she is the same person – seeking common ground and understanding and searching for ways to welcome new thoughts and voices into every conversation in which she’s a part. I don’t know if I can think of a less dogmatic person in coffee, and I hope that we all take that page out of Sarah’s book”. 

 Laila Ghambari, currently at Stumptown and former US Barista Champion, shared, “Sarah has been a champion of the barista in every facet whether it has been supporting through the barista guild, on an individual level of mentorship, hosting throwdowns, or coaching barista competitors. In every role she has held, through my years of knowing her, it has always had some sort of connection to the barista community as she values a barista’s role in the greater coffee community. Even after all her years of growing her career, I think Sarah will always be a barista at heart. Seattle is a stronger coffee community because of Sarah and her investment in building relationships and raising the tides for all. I have personally benefited from her support, and I know many others who would say the same.”

Hundreds of others from Sarah’s past will see this and think of their Sarah moments. All four of us know the industry’s future depends on the thousands of others who, in their way, are celebrating the potential of the unique community of which we are all part. Not necessarily the champions or the CEOs but the Baristas, Roasters, Store Managers, supply chain workers, growers, mill owners, and beyond who are selflessly giving of themselves to ensure a sustained future for coffee and each other.

by Major Cohen

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