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COMMERCE STREET: Gold Coffee Company

KENS 5 Eyewitness News talks with Gold Coffee Company about building business around not just a product- but an atmosphere.
Credit: KENS 5

SAN ANTONIO — In some ways, technology helps communities connect; in others, it can do the opposite. A recent report by the Pew Research Center raised concerns about social isolation as a lot of people spend more time online. Brick and mortar businesses could play a role in stemming that tide.

KENS 5 Eyewitness News sat down with Gold Coffee Company owner Jason Tantaros to discuss his ethos for starting a shop- with fostering community in mind.

Tell me how Gold Coffee Company started. 

The caveat of this entire statement is- I’m not trying to sound like I’m jaded or the coffee industry is going somewhere I don’t approve of. I’m just trying to say- I’ve been part of the coffee community for such a long time, that I’ve seen it evolve and I’ve seen it change to the point where I’m like, do I really fit in this anymore? And I think- we can boil that down to just insecurity, if you want to call it what it is. But yeah, I just figured…this is a young man’s game, no 40 year old needs to be opening a coffee shop.

And then, we had gone on a vacation and we kept going to coffee shops and I did some consulting between some of this and I would always try to be benevolent but when we went into coffee shops she would see me noticing things that didn’t add up. And it was on that vacation after we had gone to a couple shops that she was like, you should open a shop. I was adamantly against it and I think maybe it was a month later someone called me up and was like, hey, I have this opportunity, I think you and I should do this.

And I said, you’re crazy, the only way I can do this is if it’s supremely community oriented, I don’t want this to be, like obviously I want people to think it’s cool but I don’t want people to think it’s cool because they’re told it’s cool. I want them to find something they think is cool about it. This was in September of 2018. And between that and January 12 of 2019, that individual completely left the picture. Went into business with my father, we opened the shop together, and that’s literally how it happened. I fought it tooth and nail and it was one of those things where every time we would take a step forward we would encounter these obstacles of, throw the towel in, we’re not gonna get past this. And then the next day the obstacle would get removed.

It’s really liberating to be like okay, I want to put tattoo flash on the wall. I don’t [have to] ask for permission, I can just do this. So this is the first location and it was definitely a point of- I was concerned. I didn’t want to be part of a tattooed white guy moving into the South part of town opening a hipster coffee shop… that’s, hopefully people, the negative aspects of that are things I’m not being associated with. Even the property owner- we want to contribute and add. We don’t want to take away.

What do you mean when you say "coffee community"? 

You go into a coffee shop and ask someone about coffee, they should be able to answer you. They should be able to say, this is a Colombian coffee, it washed – so to me coffee community is people within it, within specialty, people who are honing a craft. And I’ve watched that community grow. At one point you had maybe 2 or 3 specialty shops in the city and I’ve had people tell me now they get into town, they get on Reddit, they get a list of shop and its in the twenties of shops to go to and I think, this is crazy. I remember thinking, I’m downtown, I want coffee, this shop closes at 6, I gotta go now or drive around there- now you can pretty much be in any part of town and find a solid cup of coffee….Or at least something that will make you happy when you go in there. It’s beautiful.

You mentioned, if you were going to start a coffee shop you wanted it to be something community-centric and really rooted, and created- fostered community. What did you mean by that?

There are multiple platforms for that and the glaringly obvious would be financial. It’s not something my wife and I- we…it’s never been part of… we don’t… if I can use this as an analogy there’s a verse in the Bible where Christ is talking to the Pharisees and he’s like hey man listen, when you go pray, go in your closet and pray. Don’t go in the street and yell it out. And for me, being raised in an environment that was very Bible-centric, regardless of what you believe, I take a lot of truth out of that statement. We do things on the back end we don’t feel the need to send press releases out about, and look at all those things we’re doing.

I knew that that was a thing. That’s always been the cool take about making coffee, is you meet new people and sometimes you meet people you never thought you’d meet, I don’t know a lot of journalists but- you’ve gotta work harder to get to this coffee shop. It’s not like, oh I’m on the way, I’ll stop by. For some people, that might be the case. But you kind of have to be like I’m gonna go a couple blocks in the wrong direction to get a cup of coffee and you meet people from all walks of life. And you have to pull the layers back a little bit. And I think I’m generally, I’m not forward but I’ll ask big questions right away- oh I’m on a lunch break. Well what do you do? You can kind of feel people out, sometimes it makes people uncomfortable and you can be like oh here’s your drink and it’s there in a second but with some people- it’s all over the map, people who come in here, I think.

The most beautiful thing I have found about coffee, for me coffee, or service, is people… it’s real common to think the world’s going to Hell in a handbasket. You watch news or read this or talk to these people and it’s always just like, yeah man, here’s all this terrible stuff happening, and people this and people that, and what I’m finding is people really, there’s always an exception- but when people come in here, and I’ve experienced it other places I work- they really want to talk.

It’s a real easy statement for someone to come in and you be like, hey how’s your day going and they’re like great, I’ll have a latte. But I feel that the more consistent you are and the more maybe, genuine is such a… like a relative term I guess, it’s more subjective, but the more you let people know you really do care, I feel the more people open up. So really to me, the heart of being community oriented, is letting someone know hey when you come in here we don’t take it lightly. We obviously provide a service, we need to make money, but I want this to be a place that you come in, you feel good and you feel welcome. Community doesn’t have to mean, we’re downtown and we’re southtown and that’s our community, to me the community is whoever comes in here. I wanna say- I try hard. It’s genuine. I don’t have to remind myself, there are days when you’re on all day and I have to be like hey guy remember to smile, maybe my baby had a tough time and I’m not feeling so great…

I used to think coffee… I’ve said this before, I used to think coffee was what drove me to do this, but it’s not. It’s talking to people, it’s the fact that someone could come in here and order a late and be like, I’m having a bad day.

And does anybody do that? Even if you’ve only met them once or twice?

It’s not uncommon. It’s not uncommon for me to, I’ve made a lot of friends being here and it sounds tacky but I really, like you for example, you came in from the moment you were bright and joyful and fun but we didn’t have that big of a conversation, it was I’ll have a cold brew, have a great day, bye- but I would consider you, I would be like hey what’s up!

There’s a line, obviously you don’t want to be appropriate but there’s a line I like to blur.

I’m a proprieter of a business. I want to be professional. But I want to be the same person when I’m making you a drink, as when you see me at the bar or at a Spurs game, or-

We live in a world now where I think a lot of people want a voice and want to be heard, and we’re tied up in isolation or on technology. Do you ever find when you ask people to open up, they’re closed off at first, but really want to talk?

Absolutely. 

Even shy people.

I’m not surprised, because that was the intention I think. I feel like… I think it’s easy to be anonymous in this day and age. And it’s easy to find comfort in anonymity, which, I think all of us deal with- sometimes it’s nice to be anonymous and not have to be on but I think a lot of time people’s apprehension to conversation is because seldom is conversation engaging. A lot of time people just want to talk at you and even media-wise sometimes it’s, let me inundate you with all this stuff. 

Like a firehouse, lots of information

But it’s seldom- if I asked you how your day was and you said it was great…. People want, they want, I think…

At the heart of it, a lot of us just want to belong. We want people to take interest in us but not in a prideful, let me feel good about me- but-

Connection.

Absolutely. If Gold can be a vehicle for that it’s definitely by design. We never will be a laptop that discourages people from bringing laptops and…

The coolest thing about this shop is when I watch people come in to do work, a large amount of time that happens it gets so loud and noisy, they inevitably get pulled into a conversation. And to me that’s beautiful. It’s beautiful that doesn’t happen at other shops to so people have a place to do that too but it’s my design.

It can be taken as being new age, hippie-dippie, and that’s not the intention. The intention is really – come in. Be social. But the majority of the time that’s going to be the environment that’s thriving here.

If you're looking for a way to meet new people, this is a place to do that?

I think people hunger for that but don’t know how to do it and it’s always been around but it’s, sometimes a really scary thing to be that vulnerable. I try hard- there’s three seats up here and sometimes I get strangers and then it’s my responsibility, I’ll be like hey, you need to meet my friend. This is so and so, and I’ll see friendships start. Even if that friendship exists only within these four walls, I know when these people come in, they have a point of reference.

I think people are better together. I’m not a fan of isolation. And I think isolation is a negative thing. I don’t thing being alone is a bad thing, but isolation- it’s always good for people to have a conversation even if it’s superficial at best. Even if it’s like hey, did you see that movie? That’s good- you’re away from a screen at that moment, it’s a beautiful thing.

How would you want people to describe Gold?

I want people to feel welcome, above all else. I would take a review that says man I felt so welcomed in there over best cup of coffee in the city, those things are arbitrary, if someone had the best cup of coffee in the city there’d be no other coffee shops, hopefully at the end of the day people buy a product they love but as far as, why do you like Gold? I want people to say, I feel great going in there.

Not at all do I aspire to be the only place people get that from but I think it would be beautiful if it was something you could shape your day around.

When I asked about the role of coffee shops in community, what else came to mind?

When I think community, I think bigger. Obviously we’re in a certain area, and we have a closer reach. I do hope- and I have- I have people who come in and know this is a possibility but I would love it to be something that’s like… I have a friend who, a tragedy has happened to their family and I love that they know if you need us to mow our lawn you’ll do it and when I say community that’s what I mean. It might be emotional, it might be tangible, it sounds lofty- but- I do it for my family and friends, why can’t I do it for people I see on a daily basis? The role I want to play is being consistent. It’s not like I want to be revolutionary or offer something that hasn’t been offered before. But I think… a rising tide raises all ships and if you can get people on board with just being consistent and welcoming- that’s what excites me. I talked about that with my dad before we opened. But I was also like the days I come home and are the happiness are not, I helped someone, it’s that something changed for someone- and if that happens over a cup of coffee, that’s beautiful.

Are there any moments you’ve seen in Gold you’ve been excited about or surprised by?

I see people come in and not know each other and literally leave and go have lunch together. I’ve had a… romantic connection happen in here…It’s not like I’ve seen anything happen here before that I haven’t seen happen somewhere else. 

But you’re excited about it. I think that, God, it gets real deep- you said something earlier about are people hungry for connection and thriving on interaction and I think…even the people that, I don’t love social situations, I don’t like large groups, house parties, yeah someone’s having a party until 2 in the morning with people I don’t know, that’s never been my bag but sometimes that gets misconstrued for I don’t like interaction but I think most people need it.

You touched on the environment we’re in right now and one contributor we notice and it’s been well-documented is it’s very easy to stay in our silos. You go to work all day, your community that you participate in every day and it can be hard to meet people outside of your interest zone or experience zone, do you envision this as a neutral place? Everybody needs coffee, right?

I think your statement- I would take that a step further where I think people think they’re not supposed to go out of their – oh, you don’t believe what I believe? I’ll stay over here. Why? I hope this will be a place where people will not be burdened by some type of…burdened is a strong word. Maybe, held back… by, I don’t want to say a belief, but an ideology. A.) We’re just having coffee. I’m not asking anyone to sign up for anything or ask about certain things- sometimes I’m like maybe I shouldn’t have this conversation behind the bar of a business I own but…I’m not defined, I as a person am not defined by the things you don’t agree with. So maybe the burden is on us to be more accepting of people and say- why are you saying that? Let’s talk about it.

Someone asked how you’d get into coffee and we talked about these romantic ideas of coffee and there was this place Rock N Java over on Embassy and I remember getting dropped off there in high school and there was not one single person on the computer there- it was loud, it was social, and there’s a social element that doesn’t have to be offensive.

Why Gold?

No reason. One syllable, a color, I can have fun with it, the cart, it was much…in hindsight I think of gold and I think it’s precious metal but not the most precious… and gold’s really soft and pliable and you can do things with it- and I’m justifying the name by saying that cause it was not my intention at all but if I was able to say it that would be a more true definition for me but I just thought, this will be easy to say. No mysterious meaning or anything of this.

When ya’ll say bring a record, do you mean it?

Yes absolutely, I wish people brought records…I have a large collection at home but after being open just seven months when I bring 15 a day we’re moving through… it’s just nice also, that’s a really cool way to connect to because music to me is personal, people would come in and be like will you play my Fleetwood Mac record? As long as it’s not inappropriate or offensive or alienating, I love it, bring em in, two things on Instagram a lot. Let’s party and bring a record- and I mean it. Come in, play music, I mean it and we’ll do it.

What else do you want people to know?

What makes Gold Gold is the people who inhabit it. It’s not me and it’s not my wife, we might be here doing it and it is an extension of what we do but it’s not fun if people aren’t enjoying it. I have fun either way because I get to make coffee but I think for some people initially it’s outside of their comfort zone but I see people who want to be a part of it that and..come in and hang out. When my wife and I ask you how your day is, we literally want to know how your day is- not looking for a canned, it’s great. If you’re comfortable saying we had a bad day, I want to know. Maybe you just need someone to talk to- if you can get 10 seconds of peace or uplifting, that’s it, man.

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