Shawn Clark is a coffee industry veteran and founder of Cacti Coffee Roasters in Santa Margarita. We sat down with Shawn at the new Tribe Coffee House (which brews Cacti's beans) and talked about how he got started in the industry and what's next for Cacti.
Eat05: So how did you get started in the coffee industry?
SC: I think I was like 21 or 22. My dad and my grandfather did construction work and so I started working in the world of construction. I can do it really well but I didn't like it. I just wasn't into it.
I still do construction stuff now. I love it when it's on my terms. But back then I got out of it and made a goal to find another industry that I loved and to be around. I loved artists entrepreneurs and originally I wanted to start a coffee shop. So I figured the best way to do it is to go work at these places rather than think that I know everything and just do it and fail at it.
I said to myself I'm going to go find out what works. So I started working at coffee shops and the first one I worked at was this one in downtown Fort Worth, Texas. Tt was called the Houston Streetcar. I started at the bottom and worked all the way up to being a manager.
Eat05: Did it ever happen? Did you ever open a coffee shop?
SC: No, it didn't. First, you need a lot of capital to do that. And, after working at these places I didn't really feel it was the right thing for me.
But there's always something there that attracted me to the industry and so I stayed in it for a long time. I was moving around a lot. I lived in Nashville, Austin, and Chicago.
Its really easy to get a job at a coffee shop when you have some experience. And then once you get the job you get integrated in the community really fast. Everybody knows you and its like a networking hub.
I love being able to bring people together in a community in coffee shops. And so I always kind of hung on to that idea and the industry.
Eat05: When did you get to the Central Coast and into roasting?
SC: I moved out here from Fort Worth six years ago and I got interested in coffee roasting because I thought maybe that's where I need to fall because I love coffee.
I had come back to Fort Worth to help my mom fix up my grandfather's house. We fixed up the house and I felt like I just needed to move out here. No family or anybody out here. Just sold everything and moved out here.
Eat05: That's wild; and you started roasting when you got out here?
SC: Yeah, it just felt like this was the right place for me. And when I moved out I started figuring out ways to build my own coffee roasters rather than buying one.
Eat05: Wait, you built your own roasters???
SC: Yeah I did. I have my construction backgr and I kind of like engineering. I had a friend who was an engineer help me out. And then I started selling that coffee.
SC: I was also working at coffee shops. First at Brew in Atascadero. Then I got connected with Bella Mundo in SLO (now Ascendo). So I was working at Bella Mundo but I was still roasting my own coffee and figuring out how to build a better roaster. Finally I got myself up to like a four pound roaster. So I was like roasting four pounds at a time but that's small for what I'm doing now.
I took a trip to Portland just to ask questions of every roaster I could find. I would ask to talk to the roaster and say "I want start doing this? What do I do? What are the main things that I need to know?"
Eat05: So you did a research trip to Portland. What happened after that?
SC: I was in SLO and Kreuzberg started going up. I was driving by and I saw a roaster out front and I thought "What the heck is going on?" So I just went in there.
And I brought some coffee that roasted and I said "I'm a coffee roaster." Two weeks later they called me in for an interview. I told them what I would do. So I got the job and I built their whole coffee roasting program and classes form the ground up.
Eat05: That's amazing. So when did Cacti start officially?
SC: I was at Kreuzberg for four or five years. This past April I had saved up enough money to buy my first big shipment of green coffee beans. So I had everything going and I basically went around with my beans I had roasted.
Sally Loo's was the first account I got here locally. Then it's just grown from there. I just announced today that I'm doing the Yelp corporate office in San Francisco. That'll be one of the biggest accounts I have.
Eat05: Alright, give our readers a tip to make their home coffee better. What can we do?
SC: The best thing you can do is don't pre-grind. Grind your beans within 15 minutes of brewing. And use a burr grinder. I think you can find one online for thirty or forty bucks. It's worth it.