For The Love of The Bean: An Interview With Jenna Woodruff and Salpi Sleiman

Where does your love for coffee come from?
Salpi and I grew up in the Bay Area before we decided to move to San Diego. We worked at a small café in the Financial District together, which gave us our initial peek into the San Francisco coffee culture. We quickly fell in love with the atmosphere of community and conversation that emerges from the café scene. San Francisco is a place filled with residents who have a strong passion for food, and prefer to support small, local businesses and restaurants. It was a wonderful experience to have so much education about coffee, where it comes from, how it gets to us, the different types of roast profiles and styles, all at our fingertips—we became infatuated with the coffee world.

What influenced you to start Roast Coach?
To escape the coastal fog, Salpi and I found ourselves taking weekend jaunts to San Diego. After scouring the city for a great cup of coffee, we found that there was a lack of quality, small batch coffee in the area. Selpi and I previously shared a dream to open a mobile coffee truck and came up with the name “Roast Coach,” as an obviously play on the slang term for the classic taco trucks “Roach Coach.” We decided to give the idea a down, so we packed up, moved to the city and made it happen. After collaborating with Dennis Stein and Elena Revellino, owners of Sea Rocket, and Keenan Hartsen and Elliot Holiday, our welding and woodworking friends, our cart was created and our cart was born!

What makes the company you work for unique, in comparison to others in your field?
We strive to make each interaction at the cart a personal one. Whether it’s following up from the last conversation we have had with a customer, or knowing each regular customer’s order, or writing a special note on a cup, our number one goal is for each customer to feel like they have had a personal experience.

Where do you turn for inspiration?
The North Park restaurant community in San Diego has such a wonderful “foodie” community. From the local breweries and mixologists, to the many creative and inspired chefs—Salpi and I are so blessed to have many of these industry folks as customers at the cart. We love talking food with our customers. We are constantly getting new ideas for our “coffee cocktails,” and new flavors for Aebelskivers from everyday conversations at the cart. We are fortunate to live in San Diego where fresh and local fruits and vegetables are readily available, and we are in a community of people that take pride in supporting their local vendors.

What is the best thing about your career?
The people we are able to meet and relationships that form through the everyday interactions at the cart.

What is the worst thing about your career?
Because we really care about the customer experience and the atmosphere that we have worked very hard to create at the cart, it is so easy to become obsessed with the hiring process of finding just the right people to represent your business. After 10 months of Salpi and I running the cart alone, it will be a big transition entrusting our regulars to new hands!

What would you say to other young CEOs/social entrepreneurs to encourage them to pursue their passions?
Create a solid business plan, and go for it. Take risks! Starting Roast Coach has been the greatest adventure so far. The amount of personal growth both Salpi and I have experienced is incredible. Everyday we are faced with new challenges that test us and make us get creative. There are times when we get frustrated, overwhelmed, and of course, exhausted, but I can speak for both of us in saying we would do it all over again in a heartbeat. And, whatever you think your startup costs will be, double it (you were right Mr. Rich Murphy).

Tell me about the people you see everyday.
When we were first creating our business plan, there was a section on customer demographics. We had to speculate what are customers would look like: age, occupation, income level, etc. and we noted m/f, mid to late 20s/early 30s, hip kids who know good coffee. We are happy to say we were proven very wrong. Our customers have such a huge range and it’s what makes getting up at 5 am every morning worth it. We have artists, soccer moms, stay-at-home dads, retired librarians, auto mechanics, hipsters, coffee snobs, 7-11 coffee converts, you name it. This is one aspect of our business that has been a pleasant surprise. We love the diversity that exists at our coffee bar and the ever-eclectic North Park neighborhood. We couldn’t have found a better neighborhood to start up Roast Coach.

What is the most meaningful story you’ve heard along the way?
Salpi and I have always had a knack for getting people to open up quickly. We hear stories from our customers every day that somehow makes a huge impact on us, and we are humbled by many of them. Can you tell? We found ourselves in a love affair with our customer base.

Is there a trick to your trade?
Patience. Learn to slow down and engage each person. Even if you’re in a rush and have a line 10 people deep, a sincere, “thanks for coming by today guys, so good to see you!” can make a difference.

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