Interview: Verve Coffee Roasters co-founder Colby Barr

Coffee California

Colby Barr frequently connects on the Farmlevel at origin. [Verve Coffee Roasters]


Where do you see the California coffee scene in five years, and how does Verve fit into that vision?

CB: The California coffee scene is changing constantly, but in the next five years we predict a few big trends. One big category shift that Verve is at the forefront of is what’s next for cold coffee. To move away from the stale, flat, murky taste of traditional cold brew, we recently launched our Nitro Flash Brew Coffee in kegs and cans. Our approach to that is more of an iced pourover suspended in time. We use craft brewing equipment with precision specs and do it in an oxygen-free environment. The result is super clean, fresh, sweet and vibrant. There will be a lot more innovations and iterations in the cold coffee world over the next five years.

The single-serve market will definitely continue to evolve as well. We launched our single-serve pourover Dripkits this year and they are only the beginning. We’ll also see a rise in soluble coffee options. With so many people living a more on-the-go lifestyle and traveling for both work and pleasure, there needs to be more options for making a great cup of coffee anytime, anywhere.

Finally, it will be critical for cafes to kick their food programs up a notch if they want to stay relevant over the next five years. People are now looking for places to not only get an incredible cup of coffee, but also to find a food option that matches that brand’s proposition. Coffee brands will need to look at food and beverage with same amount of passion and detail as they look at pulling espressos and pouring latte art. At Verve, we’re in the process of hiring a Head of Culinary to lead our perspective on what food + coffee looks like in the future for our brand. It’s not just hiring somebody to knock out recipes, but to find someone with a true point of view, and something to say.

JL: What are some key facets to company culture, and what are some efforts you’ve made to foster culture?

CB: Culture is everything. We have always prided ourselves on cultivating a creative, empowered and positive company culture both at our headquarters in Santa Cruz as well as in our cafe locations in LA, SF and Japan. We encourage all of our employees from the top to the most junior staffers to feel comfortable speaking up and sharing ideas for how to make Verve better. We’re always looking to stay at the forefront of the coffee industry and are constantly in pursuit of innovation, so ideas to help do that can come from anyone in the company. We’re passionate about driving for the best product, customer experience and partner relationships, and hire our employees who are aligned with those passions. Some of the specific efforts we’re making to foster culture include:

  • Leadership development
  • Staff to Origin
  • Leading compensation and benefits
  • Promoting from within
  • Enabling the team to shift professional gears in new geographies or departments
  • Team events: Annual staff summits, holiday parties, record swaps, bowling, roller-skating, bonfires and BBQs, mini golf, you get the idea… we get weird.
  • Barista exchange program to different regions
  • Support Barista / Brewers Cup / Cup Taster Competitors
  • Staff to coffee industry events like SCA
  • Open door policy

JL: What are you doing to ensure that the company is still thriving in 10 years?

CB: Ryan and I only ever think about Verve in perpetuity. We built it because we were passionate about coffee, design, people, culture, brand, innovation, and challenging the status quo. 10 years deep, I can say that we feel that same way more than ever. We want Verve to be here long after we are and to be a company that is crafting the future of coffee indefinitely. In order to do that we have to make sure that we are building a great culture of empowered and inspired professionals. We put a lot of energy into our people and always looking for ways to make sure Verve is a company people can grow with. We’re focused on ongoing professional and leadership development, growth opportunities and leading compensation and benefits, and a real connection to the “why” we do what we do. Connecting our team to Farmlevel (where we are building long-term relationships) with trips to origin, as well as initiatives we are looking at over the next several years to amplify our impact are a top priority and have deep connections with our team. We want our team to grow and for Verve to grow alongside them.

JL: What are your company’s expansion plans, and what are the biggest possible impediments to your desired expansion?

CB: In terms of cafe openings, Verve plans to open about 1-3 new locations per year focused in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Japan, though we do consider East Coast frequently and see a lot of interesting offers from there. We take a strategic, measured approach to deciding what neighborhoods we’re going to open our next cafe, and are always thoughtful about the design of each location. In Q1 2019, we have plans to open a cafe in Palo Alto and another exciting L.A. opening. We’ll have more details to come on both of those in January, but we’re definitely gearing up to make a big splash with those locations. For wholesale partners, we’re expanding everyday while making sure our partners are likeminded and focused on quality as paramount – Verve Coffee can now be found in more than 400 top-tier cafes, bakeries, restaurants, and grocers across the country and beyond.

We also have great relationships with some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley. The idea behind these partnerships is that great ideas require great coffee – Verve hopes to change the landscape of corporate coffee. Not only that, but coffee means culture, which is huge for a lot of these companies where building culture is a key priority. Verve is served exclusively in a number of different campuses and offices in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, including Evernote, GoPro, Google, Salesforce, Microsoft and Airbnb.

Finally, with our new ready-to-drink Nitro Flash Brew Coffee, we’re giving Verve fans a more convenient way to have a quality coffee – it can now be found in all Verve cafe locations, is rolling out online over the next month, and can be found at select retailers and grocery stores including Whole Foods, Lazy Acres and Mother’s Market.

As far as any impediments, we don’t dwell on those. The noise never stops, and the trick is not getting distracted by it. We are of course aware of and solve for issues whenever they manifest, but we just remain focused on building our culture and brand, while staying truly rooted in great coffee and great people. We’re more of a glass half full / eye on the prize kind of company I guess you could say.


Joshua Lurie

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

Blog Comments

Great post. Life is coffee, and coffee is life.

I’m definitely addicted to coffee. More important than ever during the pandemic.

so for all the credit you bathe yourselves in do you think the fact that both of you started out in life with tremendous amounts of money gave you a decisive advantage. you have a whole marketing time you hired correct ? but hey props on the blood sweat and tears after all you farmed in highschool..must have been brutal

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