It’s been 10 years since The French Press opened near the corner of State and Figueroa streets, changing the Santa Barbara coffee scene forever. I initially asked owners Julia Mayer and Todd Stewart to answer a few questions for a short story about the anniversary and the official name change to Dune Coffee Roasters. But Mayer’s reply was so thoughtful that I felt it worked better as a standalone story. —Matt Kettmann
It is really hard to get our brains around 10 years in business. We just experienced our 10th Fiesta on State Street, and our 10th Summer Solstice. There is something really wild about being sewn into the fabric of Santa Barbara’s downtown.
When we opened, it was just the two of us for three months. Fast-forward 10 years, we have 50 employees, two locations, and so many operations happening under our roof — it is beyond any future we could have imagined.
For the first six months, in the depth of the 2009 financial crisis, business was rough. We were asking people to interact with coffee in a way that no one in our town had ever done. Coffee was largely a fast-food product, and asking people to sit down and stay, to drink a coffee in a ceramic vessel, wasn’t embraced immediately. Todd used to stand outside on State Street and hand out free samples.
Slowly and surely, people gave us a chance, and a community formed within our shop. We have watched strangers meet and end up getting married; we saw businesses in the planning stage turn into actual businesses. A bunch of you had kids that hung out with you at 6 a.m. — now they’re off to high school.
This community gives us more than we can quantify. I feel the small town of Santa Barbara in it. We now have young kids, and I see adults who care about them: customers, employees, vendors. It is a really good feeling, one that I grew up with here in Santa Barbara.
I can remember trying to get in (low key) trouble during Fiesta when I was a teenager — my junior lifeguard instructor (Todd Capps!) set me straight. This is the Santa Barbara that I want to contribute to, the one where we take care of each other and look out for each other. I just hope that our community feels taken care of by us.
The way we approach coffee is to open doors for new consumers to trade in their old ways. We have a mission: Specialty coffee is for everyone and should be approachable and fun. The term “specialty coffee” technically refers to the quality of the coffee itself, but to customers, it signifies the shop’s ceramic, latte art, interior design, and more. If more folks who buy commodity-priced coffee switch to specialty coffee, that is a win for our entire supply chain.
Currently, the commodity price of coffee is hovering around $1 a pound, but the cost of production for farmers is around $1.29 — yes, they lose money while multinational corporations reap huge profits. We buy directly from farmers through excellent importers, which guarantees a higher price. Our prices average around $4.50 per pound but go up to $8. If we want coffee to be sustainable, we must compensate farmers fairly.
Today, there are more specialty coffee shops in Santa Barbara, which is a good thing for the long-term success of coffee. I like that there seems to be a place for anyone.
We try really hard to be excellent employers. As of this year, we have a comprehensive benefits package including vacation pay and health insurance — which we have offered since we hired our first employees! — and we are working toward employee equity/profit sharing. I just want to try to make Santa Barbara a place that the young folks can stay and have jobs that give them fair pay.
Lowdown on Dune
Dune Coffee Roasters is the intersection of Todd’s rigorous commitment to coffee quality, his dedication to tell the true story of the coffees we purchase, our employees’ commitment to getting it right and making the coffee their story, and my love of the customer-service experience and all the human beings that participate in this place. Coffee gave us our lives, and we owe it to coffee to do it right. We value the human interaction that happens when a person comes into our shops to have a coffee: It is not transactional! We hope that every time someone comes in, they leave feeling way better. That’s the magic of coffee. And it is delicious.
We have a really huge, wholesale program that grew completely organically. We sell Dune Coffee to Ireland, Canada, New York, Colorado, and up and down the coast of California. It’s amazing and humbling that something we make is received in this way. You can enjoy our coffee at The Lucky Llama in Carpinteria, at all the Cajun Kitchens, and at Backyard Bowls in town.
We roast all of our coffee in downtown Santa Barbara on the corner of Anacapa and Cota — roasted where people vacation! We do have plans to expand, but they are uncertain yet. We are looking for a bigger roastery space even though it pains me to imagine that.
We made a very hard decision to change our name officially this year, after trying to operate under both names for a few years. The French Press was not an option as a name for our roasting operation (we started roasting in 2012) as we couldn’t trademark it or sell wholesale. So Dune is how we have branded our coffee.
We have always been really involved with the coffee community beyond Santa Barbara. We have competed and placed in national competitions since 2009, and the world knows us as Dune. We recognized that under one name, we can really realize our vision for our company. The French Press gave us everything. We had nothing in 2009, and we have this unbelievable place now. It deserves a future that is unbelievable! I also still call the Douglas Family Preserve the Wilcox and know that some places can never be renamed. So if that continues to be our name for some folks, then that’s okay with us.
So long as everyone knows that we are the same. Just Todd and I (and American Riviera Bank — thanks, everyone!) are still the only owners, and we are just trying to get better.
More to Come?
We have a really amazing crew of people, many who have been with us forever, so our growth really comes from: How can it present opportunities for these people? Two of our folks are in Ecuador with a coffee producer, and they are working on new coffee-processing methods. These same employees have also been working with the materials department at UCSB to learn more about what is soluble in our coffee. It is my responsibility as their boss to make sure they have every opportunity to keep doing this!
To celebrate our anniversary, we have an awesome 10th Anniversary Blend available in our shops and online.
1101 State St., 538 Anacapa St., and 250 Storke Rd., Goleta; dunecoffee.com