Portland’s reputation for quality coffee practically goes without saying at this point, while in other circles, given the world headquarters of sportswear brand Nike in neighboring Beaverton, Ore., Portland is also considered a mecca of sneaker culture. Sneaker aficionados are people with creative and discerning tastes, and in the venn diagram of coffee love and sneaker love, the new downtown Portland shop Deadstock Coffee sits squarely in the sweet spot.
The sneakerhead at the center of it all is Ian Williams, who spent nine years working his way up through various positions at Nike before deciding to switch gears into something more community-oriented.
“I knew the power that coffee shops have in a community, and really what I wanted to do was foster this sneaker community,” Williams recently told Daily Coffee News. “Instead of kids shooting each other over Jordans, why can’t we just come together? That’s kind of the way that sneakers used to be.”
Williams sought to provide an atmosphere of appreciation for sneakers and the accompanying aesthetic, athletic and technological culture, but specifically one that was removed from the price tags and status-related antagonism.
Coffee seemed like the perfect route to this end, although the shoe-developer-turned-entrepreneur is frank about the fact that he knew nothing about coffee prior to entering the business. Fortunately, a close friend and former high school mentor of Williams happened to be a devotee of, and the realtor for, the relatively new Portland-area roastery Dapper and Wise Roasters. Said Williams, “When I told him I was doing this coffee shop thing, he was like, ‘you need to talk to these guys.'”
In the run-up to starting the business Williams took some coffee classes and discovered the beauty of the craft that he now realizes also taps into his passion for product design. Whereas at Nike he helped create individual products for mass production to appeal to wide audiences all at once, in coffee he makes individual products to appeal to individuals one at a time, and enjoys fulfilling that creative impulse again and again over the course of the shift.
“The cool part is being to make a custom item for every person,” said Williams, adding, “On the flip side of that, I’m kind of a perfectionist, and once I took that one coffee class, I was like ‘yeah, I gotta be the best at this now.'”
The first iteration of Deadstock featured a Pasquini Livia single-group espresso machine and a Baratza grinder on a cart on the upstairs level of a downtown sneaker shop. Williams later relocated the cart to the lobby of an office building, which was a busier and more visible environment. Earlier this month, Deadstock made the ultimate upgrade into a proper brick-and-mortar shop with a commercially spec’ed two-group Promac espresso machine and Mazzer Super Jolly grinder, located just a stone’s throw from the original store as well as other sneaker and urban apparel boutiques.
Dapper and Wise, for their part, were very supportive of Williams’ ambition, with no reservations due to his lack of prior experience. “They really had my back. It wasn’t just like, ‘hey, buy my coffee,'” Williams said of the roasting team whose wholesale program only started about nine months ago.
The Beaverton-based roaster, owned by business partners Evan Aldrete and Tyler Geel, roasts on a Diedrich IR-12 in a production space with an Insomnia Coffee shop on one side and a D&W-branded tasting room on the other. While this can be confusing to some customers, it makes sense to those that know that it’s all actually the same company.
Aldrete and Geel opened Insomnia Coffee Company about nine years ago using beans roasted by Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters out of Cannon Beach, Ore. Six years later the company had grown to include three retail locations, at which point they acquired the Diedrich and brought roasting in-house. As roasters they didn’t want to mimic the style of their friends at Sleepy Monk, and so they took the craft in their own creative direction and spun it into its own brand, although it wasn’t worth the trouble of rebranding all their previous cafes.
Dapper and Wise now has two retail locations of its own — the tasting room by the Beaverton roastery, and a Southeast Portland location with a custom green La Marzocco Linea PB backed by three Mahlkonig K30 grinders. “At Insomnia we try to do like a living room feel for Hillsboro, Beaverton and Cannon Beach,” Geel told Daily Coffee News. “Dapper and Wise is a little bit elevated in terms of the feel, so it’s more like the study, if that makes sense.”
Geel said that while the name was originally just an fun play on old-timey business naming, it has taken on greater significance since its inception. “We do want to be trendy and fun and dapper,” said Geel, noting that real quality and substance are also essential. “That’s where the wisdom comes in. The knowledge is deep, and it’s not just being on trend for trends’ sake. It’s exploring the exciting things, and figuring out which things are the long-lasting.”
With their wholesale business developing rapidly, D&W take pride in their ability to help new companies get on their feet, the way Sleepy Monk once helped Insomnia. “It’s fun to help with their foundation and let them soar,” said Geel. “Ian is just such a good example of that. His concept is so different, and kind of revolutionary, and it’s fun seeing him with all the publicity that’s going on right now. He has the personality to do what he’s doing. He’s such a blast, we really like him a lot.”
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.