BABE #222: SARAH WEAVER - Co-Owner, Bandit Coffee Co.
Sarah is a creative entrepreneur, graphic designer and coffee shop queen with an inspiring story to tell. As co-owner of Bandit Coffee Co. — St. Pete, FL’s first specialty coffee bar — she’s making major strides in the craft coffee scene in her local community and beyond, and she’s doing it with integrity, a collaborative spirit, and a whole lot of TLC. Together with her husband, Joshua, and with core values rooted in quality goods, genuine hospitality and intentional design, she juggles all of the shop’s various roles and responsibilities to make her dreams a reality each and every day.
Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida
Current city: St. Petersburg, Florida
Alma mater: Flagler College
Degree: B.A., Fine Arts
Very first job: Grocery store cashier
Hustle: Co-owner, Bandit Coffee Co.
Babe you admire and why?
Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. I adore her perspective, passion and guts. Whenever I need a serious motivational boost, I’ll re-listen to her episode of NPR’s How I Built This—my favorite podcast, to boot. Her company proudly does things the “hard” way. Earlier this year, Jeni herself came down to Bandit for a pop-up ice cream event. It was a literal dream come true. Espresso over ice cream, yes, but Jeni is the absolute coolest. They (whoever they are?!) say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but I’m so glad I met one of mine. We had a great chat about makers becoming entrepreneurs, the future of America and how women will absolutely lead the way.
How do you spend your free time?
Finding balance is one of the trickiest parts of the hustle for me. My partner (in life and business), Joshua, and I reclaimed weekends for ourselves only recently. For the very first time in our marriage, actually. I treasure it. We find ourselves driving around town or out to the beach, talking about the future, exploring local restaurants (especially delicious dives), cooking at home and hanging with our beloved rescue mutt, Mason.
Go-to coffee order and/or adult beverage?
Espresso and a hot drip coffee. That’s all I really want as a customer. I prefer a small portion of coffee to sip and savor, around 6 to 7 oz. Great coffee should bring out even more great flavors as it cools. We’re going to be revamping our menu in the near future, and I’m stoked to bring on this combo as a menu option. On the flip side: natural wine. It parallels specialty coffee in many ways. It’s accessible and affordable for a newbie, but it’s still a very high quality product that’s created with intention, without pretension (ideally).
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Bring on the cheese board, bread and butter, fettuccine alfredo… and cheesecake. Also, wine. Is my Italian showing?
Favorite coffee shop (outside of Bandit, of course)?
This is hard! Here are my favorites I’ve visited within the last year: Sey Coffee (Brooklyn, NY); Elm Coffee Roasters (Seattle) and Nemesis Coffee (Vancouver, BC). On the top of my wish list: G&B/Go Get Em Tiger, Los Angeles.
What’s something most don’t know about you?
I was fired from my job as a graphic designer at a full-service ad agency, my first “professional” job after college. The whole thing just wasn’t for me, but I’m unsure if I would’ve been able to quit when I really needed to most. I was let go on the first Monday of 2015 with no notice and no reason, after almost two years (plus an unpaid internship). Overall, I reflect on that experience as the antithesis of how I wish to lead a team or treat others. Respect is the very least of which you should give, but it’s the most important. Holding experience, whether in industry or life, doesn’t mean you’re better than anyone younger or less experienced than you. Our team knows so much more about specialty coffee than me, but we all respect each other equally. I love learning from them, and I utilize my strengths to help the business grow, while they use their own, empowering each other along the way. The coffee industry as a whole is full of community-oriented folks happily sharing their knowledge and passion. Modern advertising doesn’t typically function in this manner. Getting spit out by that industry made me want to immediately get back into service, which is exactly what I did, and got a barista job.
What does your typical workday look like?
Oh gosh, I’m always bouncing around many roles, which means every day is wildly different. I’m getting better at establishing a routine and learning how to delegate, but I usually gotta go with the flow. At the very least, I try to always start my morning with breakfast while listening to news podcasts like the New York Times’ The Daily. It’s by no means a light start to the day, especially in this frustrating political climate, but I flip the energy into motivation to stay strong, stick to my ideals and do what I can to spread goodness. I’ve never rattled off a list my roles before, but let’s see: wholesale account manager, social media management (photos, editing and writing), PR/community outreach, web store customer service, inventory control, bookkeeper, event planner, retail buyer (merch/non-coffee), graphic designer, errand-runner—and sometimes barista.
What inspired Bandit Coffee?
Bandit was born from the idea that we believed my hometown of St. Petersburg deserved to have its own specialty coffee bar. At the time, there were a handful of independent coffee shops in the downtown area, but no one was serving specialty coffee (based on a quantified score, allowing only the highest quality product—at least 80 on a 100-point scale). It’s very tricky to be the among the first to introduce a new concept to a market. We tread lightly and listened carefully. Initially, we received such positive reception, but keeping our guests coming back regularly proved to be the real challenge. After one month of business, we lowered half of our menu prices by one dollar. We’d rather make specialty coffee as accessible as possible to keep people coming back day after day, instead of making it potentially feel just out of reach. Initially, Bandit itself was built out to be a split-concept space: multi-roaster coffee bar and coworking offices. This was set to include studio space for Josh and I to work on our own freelance design projects. In retrospect, we laugh at our naivety. For the first year, we worked on the bar six to seven days a week, open to close, commuting from Tampa to St. Pete and back. When you barely have the energy to cook or clean (read: a lot of takeout that we could barely afford), adding on a freelance design business and managing a coworking space doesn’t quite fit into a 24-hour day. Our coffee is now available online while also in coffee bars, cafés, restaurants and offices across Florida and the United States. The act of sharing coffee is all about community, and it’s been the biggest honor for Bandit to be a presence in the local community, serving my hometown of St. Pete and its plentiful visitors. Even further, growing the roasting venture allows us to get more coffee into other shops, and this feels like an extension of this honor. Coffee shops are centered around the human experience. To have a part in giving a small bit of joy in someone’s day—that makes it all worth it.
What makes Bandit stand out from other coffee shops and roasteries?
On the shop side, I believe what sets us apart is that we actively work to hit three marks—quality goods, genuine hospitality and intentional design. You can have great coffee and a killer buildout, but if the service isn't there, the visit can feel like a huge bummer. Aiming for this trifecta is always the goal, but taking care of people (our team and our guests) is our absolute mission. Without happy people on either side of the bar, the business is a failure, as far as I’m concerned. I’m impressed by companies who put out goodness in all ways. It’s palpable as a customer and inspiring as a fellow business owner. There are so many amazing coffee roasters out there. While that can feel intimidating, our industry is also full of people and places who actively seek out new roasters and exciting coffees, just as we did at first as a multi-roaster shop. Our philosophy for our roasting program is to source great coffee (which comes at a higher cost, but supports the producers who work incredibly hard to make these strides for quality and sustainability) and roast it with care. That’s not unique or proprietary by any means. We keep things simple and people-focused, and let the product speak for itself.
When and how did your love of coffee originate?
The first time I ever drank black coffee was with my grandma. It was December in Ohio, so it was intended as consumption merely for warmth until I realized I actually liked it better without the cream and sugar. When I got back home, I bought myself a Chemex and started playing around with brewing. I was by no means making myself a great cup of coffee at the time, but had fun tinkering with it. Josh fell in in love with coffee around this same time while traveling out West, learning about specialty coffee out there. He came home and we started brewing together. I brought an Aeropress to the office to save myself from Folgers. My coworkers started requesting cups of coffee to see what the fuss was all about, and they were surprised and impressed. In that moment, sharing my coffee in the office kitchen, I had a daydream that I was a barista, all while lamenting that I never got the chance to do so. (Quite funny, how things can change.)
Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
My father is a small business owner, and he always instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in me. We teamed up and went hardcore on Girl Scout cookies and yearbook ad sales. I made a few bucks designing graphics for bands’ Myspace pages in high school. Any time I came up with an idea or held a passion, he would encourage me to go for it. When I used to love making cupcakes, he said, “Open a bakery!” No idea was too small or experience too little for big dreams.My advice is the same: If you have a passion for it, go for it. Google has all the answers. Dive in and push yourself to where you want to be. It might take a while, but the hardest part is always getting started. You’ll figure the rest out along the way.
Tell us about Bandit’s collaborations.
That’s one of my favorite things—collaborations! We work with incredible businesses, most of which are local- and women-owned. Our dairy milk is sourced from a multigenerational family-owned dairy farm called Dakin Dairy, located just 40 miles to our south. They utilize environmentally sustainable practices and state-of-the-art methods, all of which are open to the public for tours (lots of free cheese samples!) Our baked goods are made by Mana Bakery Co., a one-woman show who works closely with us to create seasonally inspired flavors. Katie’s Goods is also a local powerhouse. She cranks out delicious gourmet cookies for breweries, gyms, cafés like us and pop-up markets. Our seasonal and staple handmade syrups are developed in collaboration with The Urban Canning Co. Some of our most popular non-coffee drinks are kombucha and switchel by Mother Kombucha. We’re looking forward to collaborating with them in the near future as well. O’Berry’s Succulents is our go-to plant guru, treating us to greenery between her frequent pop-ups and markets. Posies Flower Truck pops up in our parking lot at least once a week, and their branding was done by Bridge and Bloom, who currently occupies Bandit’s back studio. Anna Núñez is one of our go-to illustrator pals, who happily turns our wild thoughts into beautiful work, including branded merch.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
Seeing photos of our coffee in shops we’ve never been to—that still feels surreal. Even more fun, I love when folks I’ve met in various walks of life, like old classmates or coworkers, send photos of our coffee bags on the shelves in their local shops.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry?
As with most other facets of the food and beverage industries, there’s a gender gap in management and other specialty- and skill-driven roles. The competition level in specialty coffee is greatly male-dominated, often with only one or two women in each championship. Tech, training and roasting tend to be male-dominated as well. Still, there are great shifts occurring. I believe social media and blogs are an asset to the industry in allowing women who are doing great work the opportunity to connect and feel less alone. There’s an organization called She’s the Roaster that promotes and encourages self-identifying women in the coffee industry to become professional coffee roasters. I feel somewhat isolated being a young woman running a business in a niche category in a very large, strange state (I love you, Florida, but you know it’s true). I’ve unfortunately been hit with sexism and ageism, especially when handling behind-the-scene business matters. It feels empowering to know I can and will continue to carve out my own place here, while using my platform to speak out about my experiences and hopefully encourage others women to follow their own paths.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
Anything can happen in the 10 hours we’re open, seven days a week. Expecting the unexpected is the name of the game. Lots of small problems iron themselves out in the first couple of years, but I recall one Friday the 13th where literally everything stopped working. It only takes one machine to fail to completely disrupt more than half of our business. Staying solution-oriented is how I keep my focus. It’s all too easy to let your emotions get the better of you in tense moments. Overall, in time you get better at putting the small fires out, while showing others how to utilize your solutions—or even better, empowering them to find new ones.
Who are some women in your field that you look to for inspiration?
Trish Rothgeb, Joanna Alm, Mandy Spirito, Rachel Eubanks, Becky Reeves, Umeko Motoyoshi, Tymika Lawrence, Michelle Johnson, Jenn Chen, Erika Vonie, Liz Dean, Angie Thompson, Amélie Haakonsen, Jade Yelvington, Erica Escalante, Jenny Bonchak.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
No one really knows what they’re doing or where they can go when they get started in any industry, but it’s much easier if you feel empowered to do so and see more individuals like you in those roles. More women in coffee = even more women in coffee. This goes for all industries. The more we lift each other up, the better off we’ll all be.
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