With a new in–house roastery and an ever–expanding social impact program, things at Saxbys are moving faster than ever. This Philadelphia institution continues to stay true to their mission to “Make Life Better” with the launching of their new coffee program, and Street sat down with CEO and founder Nick Bayer as well as Head of Coffee David Amos to explore exactly what drives their endless pursuit for progress.
Walking into the Saxbys HQ was exciting and, somehow, instantly familiar. While their HQ isn’t one of their regular cafes, I still got treated to some cappuccinos while alternative music soundtracked the scene. Everyone was kind and friendly, with genuine interest about my presence in the office flowing out of them. Our conversation ranged from jokes about David’s sport coat to how the modern workplace is more diverse than ever. The casual and open atmosphere contextualized Saxbys as a company based on relationships and hospitality rather than corporate rigidity.
This company–wide mindset starts with Saxbys' Philadelphia roots. On the choice of Philadelphia as the company’s home base, Nick emphasized that while Philadelphia is a city of great history and stature with a fast–growing local economy, it’s also plagued with immense generational poverty and a failing school system, among other things. For him, these issues feed into Saxbys' mission, as a company looking to promote social change.
The brand's social impact falls into two main categories: their experiential learning program and their inclusive employment. Nick explained that with their experiential learning program, Saxbys partners with colleges across the area like La Salle University, Temple University, and Drexel University to enable students to design and run their very own Saxbys cafe on campus. They’re in charge of fully managing the cafe with Saxbys’ support. This partnership is unique in its execution, with Nick mentioning that “there’s really never been a private business partnering with universities to provide this level of experience.”
Saxbys also carries out social impact in their day–to–day operations with inclusive and upwardly mobile job opportunities. “There’s a lot of young people in the city who don’t get the opportunity to go to college," Nick said. So what can we do as a company to give them something positive and productive in their lives that can be more than just a job, but can turn into a career?”
By working at Saxbys, employees are taught not just how to make the perfect latte or a cappuccino, but also valuable life skills that they can bring to any career. Dubbed “power skills,” learnings like emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and cultural agility can turn many baristas into businesspeople over time.
With the gargantuan, 7,000 square foot Saxbys roastery that just opened in South Philadelphia, their social impact has expanded, with a focus on how to take their ethical approach to coffee global. With an in–house roastery, Saxbys now has more control over how they source their coffees, the importance of which was underscored in David’s words as he spoke about his position and the coffee program.
David elaborated on what exactly being the Head of Coffee means, saying, “I have relationships all over the world from before Saxbys…and some new relationships over the course of the last year and a half, and so I pick out coffees from families that we want to work with and meet the flavor profile that we want for our guests.” In other words, he’s in charge of all things coffee—from sourcing and roasting to surveying how customers like the roasts.
Now, how does the coffee contribute to Saxbys mission to "Make Life Better?" To Nick and David, it stems from a positive cafe experience for a customer with a delicious cup of coffee and good service, making their commitment to a sustainable supply chain worth it.
Given the company’s emphasis on relationships as the core of its success, Nick saw no other way to further that than by appointing David to “take what Saxbys believes in and inject that into what [their] coffee program was going to look like.” This meant transitioning Saxbys from buying pre–roasted coffee to roasting their own, which depended on a lot of different aspects of David’s expertise, with the most important being interpersonal connections.
"The biggest mistake you can make in sourcing coffee is to try and do it completely alone and without relationships," David said. "You have people all along the supply chain that you depend on to help you make things happen.”
This method of sourcing and roasting was enabled by the development of the roastery, which was a year and over a million dollars in the making. Led by Lead Roaster Gregg Roberson, the roastery boasts a 728–ton yearly roast capacity and state of the art Loring Smart Roasters, which use 80% less fuel than conventional roasters, helping Saxbys further its commitment to sustainability.
As for the future of Saxbys now that they’ve taken on an entire in–house coffee program, they’re looking to education, with Nick saying, “the big, critical thing for us right now is to get the level of education of coffee out to our people [employees]…there’s no magic wand you can wave to make 900 people the next David Amos…that’s the next big step, to get the knowledge and passion of coffee out to everyone.”
We ended our conversation with some words of advice for college students. David talked about the importance of putting in the work to get to the dream job, saying, "I get a lot of people asking me, because I travel and that's kind of the fun side of my job, 'How can I do that?' And what they're really asking me is how can I do that tomorrow. And the answer is you can't. I've done every job in coffee that there could be...and it gives you the full perspective." Nick echoed this message, "you have a lot of success in front of you, don't make decisions on what someone's gonna pay [you] today...only go work for companies that matter, that mean something."