Interview: Octane Coffee co-founder Diane Riffel

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Octane Coffee was already one of Atlanta’s most ambitious specialty coffee companies when I visited the Westside location in 2009. Since then, they started roasting their own coffee, opened a Grant Park location and downtown Pocket Bar, began Birmingham expansion efforts, and added a full bar, complete with coffee cocktails. Diane Riffel co-founded Octane with husband Tony, and on November 25, she discussed her connection to coffee.

Josh Lurie: Who became interested in coffee first, you or Tony?

Diane Riffel: I feel like we met in coffee. When we first started dating, we met at a coffee shop, so we were really interested in coffee then, and then kind of through the course of working our corporate jobs, just became more interested in trying to find something we could do on our own. It just kind of kept coming back to coffee.

JL: What were you doing for a living leading up to this?

DR: I worked in a bank for several years and then worked in the telecom industry, out in California. My husband, Tony, managed call centers for a hotel chain and then a travel company.

JL: The two of you, had you worked in coffee before opening Octane?

DR: We got some research positions at different coffee shops just to see how we liked it behind a counter. We liked it a lot, and then when we started the business, we just realized there was so much more to learn about coffee.

JL: How do the two of you divide up the duties in terms of running the company?

DR: I pretty much am the general manager at this store, for now, until we fill a position down the road. Tony works on more broad scale growth for the company. We have somebody running the Westside store, which is our original location in Atlanta. We’ll have somebody managing the store in Birmingham as well.

JL: Why Birmingham?

DR: Last year, we picked up a partner in Birmingham, Primavera Coffee, so we brought them on into Octane, and we picked up another partner there as well. So Birmingham just made sense for us. We wanted to keep roasting there. We have a loyal customer base there through Primavera. It just made sense. I think we want to focus on the Southeast because we’re comfortable here.

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JL: What’s your favorite part about working with coffee?

DR: I think a lot of it is just the culture that brings people to coffee and understanding why people like to converge around coffee. It’s just great to be here and see this, and see people wanting to have conversations around coffee, in this kind of environment.

JL: It seems like a different kind of vibe than the Westside location. There are fewer people working here.

DR: It is. Actually, this location is kind of unique because we share the space with another business. We share it with The Little Tart bakeshop, so we’re dealing with two different sets of employees, which is a lot of fun. When we decided to design out this space, we thought of things that we would have liked to have done on the Westside, that we weren’t able to do with the space that we have here.

JL: This kind of convergence of alcohol and coffee doesn’t really exist in Los Angeles, or even in California, having a bar where you also have a coffeehouse. How did you decide to incorporate alcohol into what you’re doing?

DR: We realized we have a lot of the same customers from the morning that continue to be customers of ours in the evening who are serious beverage enthusiasts. It just made sense for us to continue down that same path. We started a bar program over here by hiring a bartender who’s a mixologist who started our bar program. We’ve just been having a lot of fun with it. We find we get a lot of crossover from our customer base, between morning and evening.

JL: You have coffee cocktails, too?

DR: We do.

JL: Tell me about those.

DR: We started out with an espresso martini, basically, years back, and we’ve just kind of developed that. That’s been pretty popular for us. We do an espresso infused vodka that is part of that beverage. And then we have another cocktail as well that involves a dry shake with an egg white. They’re both just really delicious.

JL: Who is your bar manager?

DR: Aaron Drobek. He’s been with us since we opened up this location in Grant Park. He’s spectacular.

JL: Why was it important for you to start roasting your own coffee, instead of continuing to source?



Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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