Philz Coffee, the San Francisco-based coffee company that has emerged as the favorite of Silicon Valley workers and executives, will be opening its first East Coast location this weekend in Adams Morgan.
With the slogan of “One Cup at a Time,” Philz prides itself on its mission to craft a cup of coffee specific to an individual customer’s taste. As part of the so-called “third wave” of coffee shops, this means rejecting the methods used by Starbucks and other “second wave” chains, of pre-brewing coffee. Every cup is made to order.
This departure from the second wave model also means no espresso, no frappuccinos, nothing with whipped cream or caramel and no pumpkin spiced lattes. If that’s your thing, there’s a Starbucks across the street from the new Adams Morgan location.
Phil Jaber pulls a small, laminated piece of paper from his wallet. The affable founder of the company that bears his name is seated at a sun-drenched table in his new Adams Morgan shop, the coffee chain’s 30th location. The scrap, he says, contains a life lesson written down for him decades ago by his father.
“Let the life I live speak for me.”
In the 1970s, Jaber operated a corner store in the Mission District of San Francisco, selling everything from cartons of cigarettes to milk. But his real passion was coffee. His passion grew into an obsession, and he spent seven years tinkering and tweaking the first of his many signature blends: Tesora. As he turned his corner store business into a full-time coffee shop, he developed a loyal following. And he did so just as his company’s motto suggests: one cup at a time.
Philz opened a second shop in the nearby Castro district, and others soon followed as the community of fans expanded throughout San Francisco.
Today, with stores across San Fransisco and Los Angeles, Philz popularity has become almost cult-like. The brand is particularly popular among the tech community. Forbes reports that Phil and his son, Philz CEO Jacob Jaber, personally served their caffeinated drinks at Mark Zuckerberg’s surprise wedding, and that Jacob will direct message with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey from time to time.
When asked why he chose D.C. as the first market for expansion outside of California, Jaber’s immediate answer comes down to pure geographic likeness: “D.C. is five miles by five miles. San Francisco is seven miles by seven miles.”
Pressed further, he emphasizes his company’s focus on community. “Adams Morgan reminds me of San Francisco, of Valencia Street,” says Jaber. “Young, smart, young families, mom and dad pushing a stroller. It reminds me of the heart of Valencia [in the Mission District] and the heart of the Castro.” He points to Adams Morgan’s vibrant and artistic community as a shared commonality with the Mission.
To find the space, Jacob Jaber says that he and his father walked and drove around the city for weeks in search of a neighborhood they thought would be a good fit for a new location. “We really tried to ingrain ourselves to understand the different communities,” the younger Jaber says. “We really loved Adams Morgan for the energy that it has, a very creative, positive vibe.”
Philz is also opening a location in the Navy Yard, which is scheduled to open in May. Jacob Jaber compares the D.C. neighborhood to San Francisco’s Mission Bay, which is adjacent to AT&T Park and has rapidly developed in the last decade. “[Navy Yard] is a growing neighborhood with a mix of retail and residential, and we think we’ll do well there too.”
Community is at the core of Philz mission. It’s essential to where they open stores, who they hire and how the operate on a daily basis. Jaber says that he often sees coffee shop customers who are distracted by their phones or “sitting like plants” at a table not talking to anyone. In his very first shop, he took his own table from his house and put it in the store as a community table. And he’ll often approach clients at stores to engage and encourage conversation. He even still makes coffee for customers.
The community table approach is one continued at its newest location. A large wooden table is prominently placed, and outfitted with outlets to encourage people to stay, work and relax. The soundtrack is at the discretion of the store team, but Jacob Jaber points out they will be happy to accommodate song requests. And the personalized attention to both coffee and surroundings, as well as community focus is essential in finding a team.
“We think service comes from the heart, it’s not just about training,” says Jacob Jaber of the Philz staff. To find a team for the D.C. shop, Philz conducted an exhaustive search to find the ones who would best fit the bill. “We interviewed over 350 people to find 20.” He emphasizes that he wants the staff to be figures in the neighborhood, and to get to know the regulars. Jaber hopes the team will be able to spot repeat customers across the street out the store’s front window and start preparing their usual beverage before they even walk in the door.
Philz offers 23 different blends of coffee, categorized by roast (dark, medium, light and decaf). With catchy names like Philtered Soul, Silken Splendor and Canopy of Heaven, each one is defined by three descriptors on the menu, and the baristas will happily offer advice based on your usual coffee preferences. Some drinks are garnished with mint leaves, a Philz signature, and there are a number specialty coffee drinks. The Mint Mojito Iced Coffee is a crowd favorite, and one sip of the cold creamy beverage quickly affirms why.
As with most things hand-crafted and individually tailored, you pay for what you get. A small coffee runs $3.50, a large $4.50.
True to their mission, each cup is made to order, but for regulars who know what they want, Philz will offer an app ordering system and a pickup counter where customers can walk in to find their beverage waiting with their name on it.
In addition to their beverage offerings, Philz is partnering with several local bakeries to provide food options. The shop is working with Bullfrog Bagels, Rise Bakery, Bakehouse, Bluebird and Lyon Bakery to offer an array of pastries and baked goods.
Philz has a soft opening Saturday, March 26th, and fully opens for business the next day, Sunday, March 27th.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the source of the report on Philz catering Mark Zuckerberg’s wedding. It was reported by Forbes, not Fortune.