Though Dune travels the world creating strong relationships with farmers, its heart remains in Santa Barbara. Married co-founders Julia Mayer and Todd Stewart have a driving passion for sharing great coffee with its community and are equally committed to its partnerships across the entire supply chain.
How did you get started roasting?
We opened our coffee shop in 2009. We served Verve and it was great, and when we started to look for another location, Ryan and Colby from Verve encouraged us to start roasting our own coffee. They demystified the process for us, and sometimes all you need is a little bit of encouragement! In 2011 we signed a lease on our roasting space, bought our Giesen roaster, and got to work!
"Dune" is our favorite work of fiction. When Todd and I were dating, I lived in Los Angeles and he lived in San Francisco, and I mailed him my copy. When he read it right away I knew he was a keeper! -there is another piece though. A sand dune in all its geographical glory, is a phenomena of protection from storms and tides. So Dune is a nod to the magic of science fiction and a nod to the geography of coastal California.
What do you look for when sourcing coffee?
Our customers are adventurous and love to be surprised and delighted by new coffees, so when we are buying coffee we are looking for sweet, balanced coffees with some excitement. We are committed to developing relationships with our producers and importers and exporters, so we are focused on coffees from folks who we can work long term with.
How does Dune approach sustainability?
Everything we do comes from a lens of sustainability. How can we ensure that the business we are building will be here in 20 years? How do we ensure that the employees who choose to work for us will have jobs that they can depend upon? How can we guarantee that our producing partners are being compensated for their coffee? And most importantly how do we build this business without depleting this planet? The environmental movement was born here in Santa Barbara after a massive oil spill, and two years ago we were the seat of California’s biggest wildfire (at the time), and doing the bare minimum is not enough. Operating a business that generates as much trash as we do, we are working all the time to figure out different and better ways to lessen our impact. Santa Barbara is a fragile ecosystem-we are moving toward using only compostable packaging (stay tuned for our new bags!) and compost all the trash we generate in the coffee shops. We have been working to build long term relationships with our producing partners so that they can depend on us. This question is hard because none of us feel like our work is done with regards to environmental sustainability. We recently promoted Teal -one of our roasters- to sustainability manager and she is working to get us green business certified as well as working with local environmental groups to improve our business.
Tell us more about your team.
We have the raddest team. Because our business is such an evolving organism, everyone in any management position started somewhere else, so the depth of understanding each person has of our business is crucial! Chach, our brand manager, started 10 years ago in the coffee shop, he was one of 3 employees. Over the past 10 years he has been part of every major hurdle, decision and celebration. Matt Fewel is our head roaster and green buyer, he started as a barista while completing his math degree. He still trains our folks on espresso prep. Kay Cheon is our wholesale manager who loves Barista Competitions and is preparing to head the semifinals of the US Barista Competition. Mal, Jeremy and Zoe are our store managers and are all heart and magic. Collin and Felix keep the whole thing running! We have a value “we can do anything” and this value is expressed by all these people every single day. Everyone who works in the roastery also works in the coffee shops which gives them the opportunity to talk about coffee with our customers and their co-workers. It’s a cool thing .
What role has the Santa Barbara community played in your business?
It would be hard to understate the importance we place on being located in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is my hometown, I am a 3rd generation resident. Both my grandparents and parents started businesses here and they instilled in me an importance is taking care of your community. So our business is built with the goal to make Santa Barbara a better place to be. Santa Barbara is a sliver of land smashed in between the pacific ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains. We live in this pocket in between Los Angeles and Central California, far enough away to be left alone but close enough to have lots of visitors. People that love this area really don’t want to leave, and so it is our mission to give them jobs that can allow them to stay! We have a thriving farmers market and have access year round to fresh local produce, and we are inspired by our farming neighbors. It is a good place.
What excites you most about the third wave coffee movement?
We are most excited by third wave coffee’s stripping away of rules and status quo! Once upon a time there was THE WAY to do things, and our young industry has taken coffee seriously enough to learn and dismantle and try new ways to improve. I think that we will only continue to improve as an industry.
Which of your current coffee offerings are you most excited about?
I mean, every single one of them, but if I have to narrow it down, it is definitely the Panama Elida: Elida was our first experience with "direct trade" when we bought coffee from Verve, and it was the first farm Todd visited when we began buying green coffee. We have served it every year since we opened 10 years ago. Elida is insanely delicious: full of strawberry and grape juice, it's fun and dreamy to drink. Maybe buy a bag, brew some up, put your sunnies on and a cocktail umbrella in your mug and take a little summer vacation in the middle of winter!
What sets Dune apart?
We try really hard to listen to our values when we buy coffee, hire people, build business. We acknowledge what is going on around us but don’t follow the trends. What sets us apart is that we are different! We live in a different place! We aren’t in New York! We have a unique perspective and we believe in what we are doing. Todd and Matt and Kay have a really beautiful and calibrated mission for buying coffees that are exciting and surprise and delight our customers.
-Julia Mayer, Co-Founder of Dune Coffee Roasters