Anticipation was high for Sightglass Coffee when Oregon-born brothers Jerad and Justin Morrison started building their industrial chic coffeehouse and roastery in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood in 2009. They opened in full last year, and continue to fine-tune. During my July 5 visit to the 7000-square-foot space, they were readying the second floor mezzanine for an alternate service bar that focuses on single origin coffees and tasting flights. We spoke in their top floor office, and the Morrisons shared a number of caffeinated insights.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you in operating and opening a coffeehouse and roastery?
Jared: Opening was a challenge in itself. It took us a lot longer than we had anticipated. Just with city permitting, there are all sorts of prerequisites you have to get before you can open. One of the biggest things was the roastery, so we have all vintage machinery. That was an obstacle, getting that stuff certified. The emissions that the roaster puts off – locally here in San Francisco, and in other cities as well – there’s an organization called Bay Area Air Quality Management, and they basically monitor and sort of govern all emissions that production factories, even some restaurants, put out. That was a big challenge in itself. It’s just time consuming. It’s just part of the process.
And now that you’re open, what’s the biggest challenge?
Jared: Now that we’re open, the majority of our time is spent focusing on origin projects. It’s really time consuming, and we’ve been doing it for about a year now. Naturally, we’re getting better and better at it. That was a big sort of challenge, to start off with doing that, because we had never really done it before. It was a lot of navigating unfamiliar territory. Now that’s at a solid place, we’re just thinking about what our next step will be as far as growing Sightglass.
Who became interested in coffee first, you or Jerad?
Justin: Timing wise, we both kind of fell into coffee at the same time. Both separately. Sightglass is really the first project Jerad and I have had where we worked together. We both grew up in the Northwest.
Where in the Northwest?
Justin: Southern Oregon. Jerad got his first coffee job up in Seattle. I think he was 18. I started working in coffee when I was 15 in Oregon.
Jerad: Yeah, starting out.
Justin: We both fell into coffee, not intentionally, but over the years, as there was more to learn, the more interested we both became. At a certain point – this was probably six years ago or something – Jerad and I were both at a similar point in what we were looking to do in coffee. Coincidentally we had this conversation and both had the same idea and mentality of what we wanted to do on an individual basis. At that point, it really made sense to us to combine forces and put our ideas together and start trying to create Sightglass.
What originally brought you to San Francisco?
Jerad: School, and then shortly thereafter I got involved in Blue Bottle and did various things with Blue Bottle, some management stuff and then I got into doing production. I did a lot of roasting and production and dabbled in green coffee buying, which was a wonderful experience. It was definitely a stepping stone.
How do you divide up your duties these days?
Justin: Jerad and I don’t necessarily split our time in specific areas of the business. It’s not like one of us focuses on green coffee and the other focuses on business development. We really kind of act as co-General Managers, so we kind of oversee this whole umbrella of things that are going on here. We have different Directors in place. Jerad and I take on tasks collectively. Smaller stuff, we’ll kind of head up individually, but for the most part, just the partnership and collaboration we’ve found works really well. If we put both our heads to it, it just makes for a much more cohesive decision and just allows us to have one another’s input and opinion on every little thing going on.
Jerad: It lets us be in touch with all the little or big different things that are happening on a day to day basis. It works well for us.
Would you say that you’ve had any coffee mentors over the years?
Jerad: Probably a lot. A personal mentor, having worked for James Freeman at Blue Bottle for such a long time, our business model is a lot different from Blue Bottle’s business model, but James is such a gracious, thoughtful person, as far as being a business leader. Just in respect to how he treats his employees, and how he treats the people he works alongside with at Blue Bottle, I’ve always had a lot of respect for that. A big part of his success is probably due to just that.
What about for you?
Justin: I agree with Jerad. I had limited time at Blue Bottle, but the time I had there, I got to know James, and he definitely carries a very positive outlook on the company and how he treats employees. Beyond that, I think there are lot of people to look up to in the industry. I don’t know if there’s been one individual, specifically, who’s been my mentor, and I’ve looked up to throughout my coffee career. More so just different individuals who are doing progressive things within the industry. I just kind of look up to those people. Just trying to continue to push the industry in many different directions, all the way from buying practices at origin, just continuing to grow the industry in a quality focused direction.
What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work at Sightglass?
Jerad: Good question. Personality, foremost. You can really just tell if somebody’s going to be successful in this sort of environment. We’ve hired a lot of people. A lot of coffee companies specifically look for people that have been in the trade, in the industry, for a long time, and have credentials to their name as far as what they have accomplished or who they’ve worked for. For us, I think it’s more personality based. If somebody has or shows an excitement or a passion about what we do or is interested in what we do – but don’t really have a lot of direct industry experience – then it’s worth the investment on our end to take them on and really show them the ropes and expose them to more of the intricacies involved. We’ve had more success with that with baristas and in positions that are barist oriented. It’s always exciting to bring on somebody and expose them to our take on coffee and watch them accelerate.
Is there any sort of through-line of what a coffee has to be for you to serve it at Sightglass?