Back in Seattle, and today we are visiting Victrola Roastery and Café’s owner Dan Ollis. This man is one of the legends of the Seattle coffee scene, and we are happy to have him for our conversation:
V. Hi Dan! Nice to meet you! Please tell our readers how you got into coffee business?
O. Hello Max! My story begins in 1989 traveling from Fair to Festival selling coffee. This helped finance my first drive thru, which in three quick years went from one to three. Fast forwarding 23 years, I now operate and manage 15 locations that included drive thru’s stands and store-front cafes as well as two wholesale divisions under two separate brands: Whidbey Coffee being the first and Victrola Coffee which was added in 2007. Interestingly, getting into coffee was supposed to be a means to get me to Law School. Clearly, I have yet to make into law, but what I have gotten into instead has become my passion. My days are now consumed with great coffee, great people, and even better conversations. In the process, I met the love of my life, Kristen, and have two wonderful children, Mia and Max.
V. We know that Victrola was named after the popular home phonograph of the 1920s, and that you have wanted to transcend the exuberant and fun Jazz atmosphere of the 1920s into our modern lives through your place. Why were you inspired by the lifestyle of the 1920’s and Jazz music, and what are some key features of your business that helps to successfully communicate this spirit and time in history to the present?
O. Well, we believe that Jazz was about innovation and the creation of something new. We find the parallel in our connection to people at our coffee shops – a comfortable social place, interestingly eclectic music, unique and great coffee, great people, great conversations, and finding how they all connect. Our innovation comes from roasting and blending these unique coffees with the same passion for excellence as those Jazz musicians from the past.
V. How did a decision to roast on your own come along in 2003, how did you learn and what is your idea of sourcing good coffee? What roaster do you use?
O. For the longest time I was focused on making sure we had great coffee roasted by others, but as time progressed and my desire to pursue “the bean” became even more intense, I had to have more knowledge, I had to understand origins. This desire propelled me to get on an airplane and take an amazing eye opening tour of a Finca in the Northwest corner of Guatemala, I returned from this trip and I purchased Victrola Coffee from the original founders. Now five years later, I have two IR-12’s and a new CR-50 Diedrich Coffee Roasters. Our passion for coffee has led to multiple 90 plus scores on Coffee Review. Needless to say, we are passionate about the bean.
V. You have acquired two cafes in 2007 and 2009. Both once again seem to reflect on the comforts of the past. Has it been hard for you to connect to a younger clientele who nowadays carry two smartphones in their hand and perhaps have no idea what a “phonograph” is?
O. Victrola’s heart and soul has been created around a comfortable space, with the community in mind. Victrola’s original founders were tied to Seattle’s Capital Hill and we have continued on that path. We have not limited ourselves to just one community or place in time. So far, we have added a store on Beacon Hill and located another within Amazon.com’s world headquarters. Centered in artistic communities and in proximity of several colleges and Universities, we are intertwined into the lives of many younger people. Macbooks and iPads, and yes a PC or two, abound in our shops and our new Victrola Coffee app is soon to launch.
V. For you, what has been a major key to running a successful coffee business?
O. Listening, learning, and laboring. We listen to our customers and our employees. We learn from our experience as much as from industry trade groups. And frankly, we work as hard at roasting and training our people as we do running a successful business.
V. What is your 2nd biggest passion after coffee?
O. Besides the coffee, I would have to say that it would be finding ways to improve. Being a part of a company that is growing and watching the development of the people within the organization is inspiring. The most foundational aspect: Family.