At this exact moment, there’s a farmer somewhere in the world growing coffee beans in order to meet the demands of people hooked on the aromatic, often energy-enducing substance. It is up to those like Valley entrepreneur Jason Silberschlag to head out to exotic locales and find these farmers in order to obtain nothing short of the perfect coffee bean.
Silberschlag is the owner of Cartel Coffee Lab, which opened its first location in Tempe in January 2008.
Because of that initial site’s success, Silberschlag has since opened spots in downtown Phoenix, Scottsdale Tucson, and even Sky Harbor International Airport — as part of the terminal four dining renaissance at one of the 10 busiest airports in the United States.
Situated on University Drive and Ash Avenue, the initial location can easily go unnoticed if not for a small sign above the door. It might not look like too much from the outside, but inside the story changes instantly.
The sounds and smell from the coffee beans roasting in the middle of the shop and a space littered with artistic expression — decorations are made with the parts of bicycles — lets customers know that this is hardly some mass-produced global coffee chain.
The mixed clientele often consists in part of nearby Arizona State University students typing away at their laptops, while music echoes throughout.
The vision of opening a place where people could come in and relax, work on projects and meet new people in a unique atmosphere was on Silberschlag’s mind when he was working odd jobs like delivering sandwiches and working construction.
“My wife and I were interested in making a business for the community to come and hang out,” he said. “(The) coffee theme was a obvious choice.”
The couple started doing research on the coffee business trying to figure out how to start.
It took a trip to Guatemala a year before the opening of his first shop to have a better sense of what he wanted to do, however.
Silberschlag traveled with his long-time friend Paul Haworth — now the coffee roastmaster of Cartel — and met many people in the industry who gave him advice that would eventually help shape Cartel into what it is today.
“When you get into the coffee industry you start finding info on locations and origins to get coffee beans and how the process works in order to get them,” Silberschlag said.
Silberschlag has traveled to Guatemala, El Salvador, Columbia and Brazil in search of coffee beans to use and sell in his store. On packages and displays, he puts the information of where the beans are from — including the country, region or city — as well as the name of the farm and farmers and the processing methods. With the information of where the beans come from and showing the public how the beans are roasted and processed, Silberschlag hopes not only to “wow” customers but also to educate them on the topic of coffee.
The shop, from time to time, also offers courses to people who want to learn more about the roasting and brewing process. Silberberg aims to train both his customers and employees on the ins and outs of coffee trade, and the industry.
Maya Tissot and Brady Hall, two regular customers to the Tempe location, come to shop not only for their coffee but also tea.
“We come here because it’s close and convenient; lots of friends come in,” Tissot said.
First-time customer Renee Lydiard found about the shop by searching “best coffee shop to study at” online. She said she enjoyed visiting Cartel because of the coffee itself, but also since it reminded her of a local coffee shop in Tucson, where she’s from.
Silberschlag said he plans to add a bar area to the Tempe, Scottsdale and Tucson locations in the following weeks.
“We are already a beverage company and I like beer, so we wanted to be part of that industry,” Silberschlag said.
For this new expansion of his business Silberschlag did a lot of research like when he was starting out with Cartel. He is brewing his own beer and hopes to start in the following months.
The bar area will be a casual setting, he said, offering a relaxing seating area for customers to mingle amongst each other.
Abel, a senior studying journalism at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.