Whether or not one embraces comparisons of the culture of appreciation for fine wine to that of craft coffee, there’s nevertheless plenty of crossover among the consumers that support these parallel industries.
It’s therefore somewhat surprising that the increasingly popular California wine destination of Paso Robles has remained as relatively undeveloped as it has in the quality-forward, origin-focused coffee department. That landscape shifted earlier this year, however, when an enterprising team of worldly and experienced coffee entrepreneurs began craft roasting and brewing in the valley with Spearhead Coffee.
The name plays more on their enthusiastic approaching to their business than to anything particularly tribal, as the ownership triad of Jeremy Sizemore, Matt Klomp, and Joseph Gerardis are spearheading the opportunity for progress in Paso Robles. Yet a quality coffee product and an inviting atmosphere are only the tip of the spear.
Sizemore, born and raised in Paso, has followed his passion for humanitarian causes around the world, including tsunami relief work as well as assistance to communities living in the “garbage villages” near Cairo, Egypt. He also spent a significant stretch working with struggling farmers in northern Thailand, after which he’d hoped to start an import business to bring Doi Chaang coffee to the US and provide an uplifting livelihood to the impoverished rural communities there.
“I was looking for a way to help people that would be more of a hand up rather than a hand out,” said Sizemore, who upon accepting that that business wasn’t going to work out, wound up working and managing a coffee bar in San Luis Obispo. Eventually Sizemore made the acquaintance of Joseph Gerardis, the head roaster and proprietor of Joebella Coffee Roasters, a company based out of Atascadero, a town situated about halfway between Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo. Gerardis offered Sizemore a roasting position at Joebella, where he learned to roast on Joebella’s 25-pound capacity Ambex.
Klomp, meanwhile, who grew up outside of Fresno, cut his teeth in the coffee business working as a barista and manager in shops in Hawaii, including seed-to-cup operations linked to local Kona farms. “That was a great opportunity for learning the whole process. I tried to visit a farm every week that I was out there,” said Klomp who received training directly under Hawaii State latte art champion Ben Fillekes, who in turn studied under World USBC Champ Pete Licata.
Gerardis continues to serve as a sort of mentor to Klomp and Sizemore. A co-owner of Spearhead with a financial stake in the company, Gerardis has run Joebella for about 15 years and continues to do so, leaving all matters of day-to-day operations and management to Klomp and Sizemore while coaching them on their Ambex and pitching in with maintenance, repairs and improvements around the café. Joebella focuses on the wholesale market for organic-certified coffees, though as it’s based in another town and roasting in a different style, the two businesses aren’t concerned at all about overlapping clientele. “He’s been around for a long time and he has a contracting background so he helped us a lot with the buildout as well,” said Sizemore.
The buildout for the shop was a slow and careful process, undertaken mostly in-house with only a few jobs hired out. “We did about 90 percent of the buildout ourselves,” said Klomp of the project that included the reclaimed redwood surfaces and tabletops made from wood they stripped from the space’s own interior as it was gutted. “It was definitely worth it, it was a labor of love.”
Spearhead’s Ambex is installed in a corner of the café in full view of patrons, but shielded by a wall of glass that reduces the noise of the machine as it operates. “I’m kind of in a mini aquarium,” said Sizemore. “We’re hoping — we’re actually needing to upgrade here pretty quickly.” They aim to step roasting production up to something with a batch capacity in the range of 25 pounds. Said Sizemore, “My dream machine would be a San Franciscan, though I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a Probat.”
Behind the bar is a straightforward Linea classic and Hario V60 for pourovers, backed up by a Fetco tower for quick grab-and-go drip. Green coffee comes from a variety of sources, while the Spearhead crew hopes to focus more heavily into direct trade as time goes by. So far they’ve established a relationship with one El Salvadoran farmer, Chase Williams, of Finca La Familia.
Other valued sources include Jason Estopinal’s import company Trezò d’Haïti, which focuses on supporting the poorest population of Haiti, as well as Kao Jai Coffee, which imports Doi Chaang coffee from the same province Sizemore had his experience with farmers. Spearhead hopes to eventually be able to buy directly from both of these origins and more.
The original business plan for Spearhead was to settle into the café and get their footing there for at least six months before wading into wholesale, “But wholesale started finding us,” said Sizemore. “Right now, it’s funny, a lot of the wineries in the area are really paying attention to us, really wanting to have coffee for their workers and also for their tasting rooms and for retail.”