Philz Coffee, a cult-favorite by many avid coffee-drinkers in the Bay Area, spent 26 years as a corner grocery store with an owner who had two great passions: coffee and community. Phil Jaber’s love for people and making custom coffee blends made it easy to convert the Mission District shop into the first Philz in 2002. And now–with Phil’s son, Jacob Jaber, at the helm–many Sacramentans are excited to hear that Philz is making a move to Sacramento with the opening of the area’s first shop in the R Street Corridor’s Ice Blocks Development.
The expansion into Sacramento (which Jaber says is coming in the next six months) represents the growth of a company that Jacob received the invaluable opportunity of watching grow from the ground up. As a child, his father’s stirring passion for coffee was something he spent time experimenting with and selling door to door. Soon passion became a craft, which then become a shop, which then didn’t take long for the Philz craze to grow among Bay Area residents.
While hands changed to Jacob in 2005, its values, he says, haven’t. Jaber speaks of growing up in San Francisco as a first-generation American with parents from Palestine who told stories of neighbors gathering together for food and drinks, just to connect with each other. From those tales, Jacob took many things but there are a few notable values he continues to carry.
“Respect people, do the right thing, be fearless, always try to keep an open mind, and believe in yourself,” Jaber said summarizing of his father’s values, the greatest of which he says is that community matters.
The company continues its progress in making a community-centric coffee experience available to cities across the United States. Philz is a bit different than most coffee shops in that they don’t sell espressos and lattes, but pour-over-like coffee crafted “One Cup at a Time” and in over 20 different roasts.
We spoke with Jaber about the first shop opening in Sacramento, his family, and what makes Philz coffee so good.
How did you first gain interest in coffee/the coffee industry?
Well, my dad started Philz, so I’ve been helping him since I was a kid. He’s always been passionate about coffee because as a kid, the community would always get together and have food and coffee and tea and just converse…He loved coffee, he loved community, and he loved people and wanted to do something with that. He started experimenting with different coffees and really wanted to make a special, personal experience. That’s how he really got into it, and that’s how I got into it.
Why did you choose to open a location in Sacramento?
We were looking in Sacramento because we have so many people asking us to open there. We thought it would be perfect because it’s close to home and the Bay Area, and it would be something new.
We hear you’re moving into the Ice Blocks Development — what is it about that location that piques your interest?
We thought that location would be great because we saw it, and there’s a lot of history there — it’s new, up-and-coming, and redeveloping. The landlord is a great person who wanted to really create a great environment that we felt we could help contribute to. We just thought it would be perfect! It has great seating, it’s warm, it’s inviting, and it feels Sacramento.
Are there plans to expand into other cities as well?
We’re in Washington DC, and we’re continuing to expand there. Boston is going to be next, and maybe New York after that. We’re very excited.
Philz has a cult following in the Bay Area — what makes it so popular?
I think the uniqueness of the experience and the quality of the experience. The flavor, the deliciousness of the coffee, the idea that you can have it your way, the friendliness, the warm and welcoming environment [make Philz attractive to people]. It is just a great environment. It is a very flavorful drink. It feels good, and it really feels welcoming to a lot of different types of people.
What makes your coffee unique from other coffee shops?
Our menu board consists of many different blends from around the world that my dad has spent many years working on and are available nowhere else. The way we make our coffee is one way, which is hand-crafted. Every cup is handmade, one at a time. We grind the beans on the spot, we pour water over the beans into the cup, and we customize it anyway the customer wants it. So, when the cup is done, we hand it over to the customer and we make sure they are happy with it.
What’s unique about your bean to cup process, whether it be sourcing, roasting, or brewing?
I think the actually blends, the combination of the single-origin beans, that is secret and proprietary to us. That’s one. I think the process in how we brew the cup is somewhat comparable to pour-over but it’s not exactly that. All of that really makes for a different tasting cup; the difference is pretty stark when you try it.
You’re following in your dad’s footsteps and keeping the business in the family. How are your styles of running the business different or similar?
We’re different in that I probably embrace technology a little bit more, but for the sake of keeping it about the people. The same in that we really believe in the same values and that’s the most important thing: customer service, quality, treating people with respect, those things.
For people who have never been into or heard of Philz, how would you suggest they choose a brew when they come in?
You don’t even need to choose one; you can just go in and ask the barista. There are over 4 million ways to enjoy Philz…because of all the variations, so it’s kind of overwhelming. But that’s fantastic because you can find stuff that you love. Tesora is probably the best blend to start with because it is medium roast…and it’s the first one my dad perfected. If you like something a little bit more exotic and sweet, the Mint Mojito iced coffee is the most popular iced coffee. We really can do anything. We personalize the cup to your taste.
What’s your favorite drink on the menu?
Tesora with honey and cream.
Some of the drink names seem to have a connection to you and your family. Are there any stories behind the blends on the menu?
‘Sooo Good’ is one. My dad was up late one day working at it and he woke my mom. He had her try it and they were both like, “Wow, this is sooo good!” So he just decided to name it “Sooo good”. It’s kind of quirky, but it’s a fun story.
Photo courtesy of Philz Coffee