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  • ERNESTINE SIU

"Life is Delicious" - A Conversation with Phil Jaber

I was sitting in Philz Coffee, sipping my usual, Iced Cinnamon Toast Crunch coffee, sweet and creamy of course, when I glanced over and saw the one and only Phil Jaber, founder of Philz Coffee. After minutes of anxious internal deliberation, I approached the man nervously but was instantly hit with genuine kindness and gratitude. After just chatting with him for minutes and thanking him for what he has created, he told me “I love you, you are my crown jewel, God bless you!” Now as you can imagine, I was slightly thrown off to say the least because here I am, a little college student awkwardly approaching this incredible man who has created such a powerful legacy. Although, I could tell that it came from such a genuine place. He spoke to me as if I were his granddaughter, relaying to me his life stories and business advice.


“On November 16 (2018), I caught a stroke. That’s why I’m not so well but I love what I do. That’s why I’m strong and when I come here, it enhances my life. I will overcome it but it takes time.”

For a man who had just encountered a stroke, whose face is slightly drooping on one side, he seemed suspiciously strong and lively. When speaking to him, there would be moments of silence, where he looked like he was in pain. I stopped to ask if he was okay and he told me that he was having pain in his face. Although, he was clearly suffering from pain due to his stroke, he still carried this air of confidence in the way he spoke. He told me that the doctor said if the stroke had hit his brain the diameter of a hair higher or lower, then he would not have been there speaking to me. There had to be something deep inside him that allowed him to defeat all of the odds set against him. So, what is his secret?


“Get up with a good mind, good smile, love going to work!”


It was Jaber’s mindset that brought him to get out of bed, overcome his pain, and visit his shop to engage with his community that morning and something tells me that this is the same mindset that has allowed him to create the powerhouse that is Philz Coffee.

“Get up like a dog, go to work like a donkey, and come home like a cow.”

Another quality he possessed that allowed him to turn a neighborhood coffee located in the Mission District of San Francisco into a renowned national coffee chain, is his attitude towards work.


“I open five shops less than 6 months… I used to go to the city, get the permits in one day!”

Like most successful entrepreneurs, Jaber worked quickly. He understood the value and finitity of his time on this planet so he would use his time efficiently. He was daring with his actions because he truly believes in his own concept and potential.


“People climb ladders, they go step by step. I own the ladder.”


He is unafraid to think outside of the box and is unaffected by the opinion of others. He is driven by his own beliefs, values, and passion.


“I don't need money, I don't like money, never did, never will...I’m loyal, I’m dedicated, my clothes may be dirty, but inside, very clean”


Jaber’s clothes didn’t actually look dirty, but it was a great metaphor nonetheless. Rather than being driven by fortune or superficiality, he places his values on the individual - on being a good person. He is dedicated to his business and loyal to the community that has sprouted from his business.


“You call them baristas?” They’re artists. They’re my bosses.”


He works for his artists just as they work for him. It is through enforcing this environment that places value on the individual employee and by training them to create an environment that fosters a sense of community, that has helped to separate Philz Coffee from other coffee shops.


“You know what they tell you when they are your clientele? They’re with you in the clouds.”


Simply by showing up to his shops to engage with his community, Jaber proves his loyalty to his community. It is through acts like these, driven by the genuine desire to create a great experience for the people, that has allowed him to transform his clients into his clientele. This took years to build.

“I took the breakfast table from my house to put in my coffee shop, 1978. I provide community table, sofa, chairs, like family room, living room.”


The impact that Phil Jaber has created through the way that he has designed his shops is revolutionary. Philz Coffee is not only a business, but it is a culture. When building his first shop, he took the breakfast table out of his house to put into his coffee shop.


-Take one second to picture this-


Now, that is tangible evidence of his dedication to the people. Not only has Jaber created a great brand and great coffee, but more importantly, he has created a great impact. By choosing to design his shops in this way, he has given people an environment that feels like home. This is particularly impactful in a place like San Francisco where the housing prices are absurd, you never know who is walking into a Philz coffee. That person could be homeless, and this cozy, home-like environment can be that person’s saving grace for the day.


“Lots of them (people in the technology field) conquer their business in my coffee shop. Like Jack Dorsey, Twitter guy, he owns Square, he accomplished his business in my coffee shop.”


Not only can this environment be a home away from home for some, but it can also be a place of inspiration for others. It is lively, energetic, and focused -- a perfectly suited environment to do work. The environment changes depending on the location. For example, the Costa Mesa location is very bright and open while the location on College Avenue is more cozy and familiar feeling, but a common theme is that all of the locations that I have been to feels like a mixture of both. Therefore, it attracts a diversity of individuals ranging from college students to entrepreneurs. The physical environment that has been fostered in Philz Coffee has even provided the environment for entrepreneurs to found their world changing businesses.


“I enhance all the businesses around me. You want pizza, you go across the street. I desire people to come here. I put the building on the map because of our name. I raise the property value.”


The impact of Philz Coffee extends past its doors. One way it is doing so is by tangibly helping the businesses surrounding the shop by bringing more foot traffic to the area. Jaber does not view other businesses as competition. He even relayed to me experiences in the past where owners of other coffee shops would try to bring down the value of his life’s work by spreading false messages about Philz Coffee. In response, he prayed for them.


“Forgive, forget, but never forget to give. That is my mission.”


Along with these “accidental” positive impacts of Philz Coffee, Jaber also deliberately goes out of his way to positively impact the world. For example, when the wildfires broke out in Northern and Southern California in 2018, he decided to donate 10 cents from each cup of coffee that was sold over a designated weekend to the fire victims. Jaber was deeply moved by the tragic stories of the fire victims, especially after hearing that one of his good friends had lost his home in Malibu after a wildfire hit the area, so almost instinctively, he gathered his team in the “Tesora Room” at their headquarters to create a plan to help alleviate some of the loss experienced by the California Wildfire victims.


“My emblem is love, faith and truth, if you open a business, use it.” (business aspect)


In summarizing Jaber’s business advice, you can not go wrong with applying this emblem to your business plan. Moreover, creating a successful business in which, similar to Philz Coffee, the impact extends past the immediate community of employees and clients - a business that leaves a lasting impact on the world - requires a strong foundation and a strong leadership that consistently keeps the company from going awry from its foundational values. Phil Jaber did an exceptional job at this and this very element of his business is owed to who he is as a person and how he conducts himself in everyday life. Philz Coffee is molded after Phil Jaber himself and it continues to remain that way.


“Life is delicious!”


Let me leave you with this. Phil Jaber loves life and it really shows. Through my occasional conversations with him at the Costa Mesa location of Philz Coffee, I often leave feeling energized and inspired. Although his health may be facing some hurdles at the moment, it is this element of his existence - his awareness of the finity of life, his conscious decision to never take life for granted, and his pure and unrelenting love for life - that gives me peace in knowing that everything will be okay with Phil Jaber. So, march on folks and let the words of a wise man live on for generations to come. Life is delicious!

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