Joel and Leticia Pollock founded Panther Coffee in 2010 to bring specialty coffee to Miami, Florida. With a third location now open, and a residency at La Marzocco’s showroom in Seattle, we discussed their history, their future, and how they work together.
Ray: I’m Ray.
Kandace: I’m Kandace.
Ray: Welcome to Unpacking Coffee this week.
Kandace: Panther, out of Miami.
Ray: Let’s actually back track a little bit.
Ray: It was founded by Joel and Letitia Pollack in 2011, so they’ve been around for five years. They just opened their third café. I know Joel from way back actually which is kind of funny.
Kandace: How way back Ray?
Ray: Joel and I used to work together at Stumptown and actually I have been to La Marzocco with Joel before (15 years ago) for an espresso machine repair training.
Kandace: And he still agreed to meet with us?
Leticia: Leticia Pollack, co-founder of Panther Coffee Miami. Originally from Brazil.
Joel: Joel Pollack, co-founder of Panther Coffee.
Ray: We met up at the KEXP space where La Marzocco home is based, where the showroom is based in Seattle.
Joel: We have the luxury of a one month residency at La Marzocco at KEXP and we’re going to be serving our coffee with the talented team here. Just sort of a collaboration with La Marzocco, incidentally our favorite espresso machine manufacturer in the world.
COFFEE & MIAMI
Kandace: They told us a really interesting story about one of the coffees that they’re serving this month.
Ray: That’s right.
Joel: Many of our relationships did start in the shop. The Finca Himalaya that we have here this month, this is a guy that was in the shop for a whole week with his wife, was wearing a polo shirt, Miami Dolphins, full turquoise. Never thought too much, but I noticed like I’d never seen that guy before. The Friday of the week that he was there, he came up and introduced himself as a producer of coffee.
Joel: Yeah, and he introduced himself and we were actually planning a trip to El Salvador the following month, so he’s from-
Joel: He’s from Ataco, which is in Ahuachapán and we visited him. Coffee was fantastic and we bought like 80 bags from him, which is a nice place to start with a new relationship and I can’t imagine another place where that would happen, you know.
A joke in the roasting department is hey I just found a guy that’s willing to sell his Colombian coffee, but it’s a good problem to have.
Leticia: A lot of people from South and Central America love taking vacations in Miami, like it’s the entry door to the US and there’s Disney World which, myself, always wanted to go growing up. You have a lot of producers that come on vacation and stumbling on our … just researched, and they go visit us so we end up meeting a lot of producers, it’s very nice.
Kandace: It is interesting because they met at SCAA, Joel and Leticia, and they traveled a bit in Brazil, worked a bit, and then both worked in Portland and coffee for a while and then moved to Miami and they chose Miami for some pretty interesting reasons.
Leticia: Finished our business plan, we decided what we wanted to do and we had to chose a city, then we chose Miami after drinking a lot of wine, looking at a map on the wall by our tiny little table, the apartment in Portland, and Miami, who’s in Miami? No one’s in Miami. It’s impossible that no one’s in Miami. No one’s in Miami, let’s go to Miami. It’s impossible that no one’s in Miami. It’s a big city. Everyone loves coffee there. Why is no one in Miami? Went to Miami, there was no one in Miami. I mean there was a lot of coffee, a lot of coffee in Miami. People love coffee, but it’s Cuban coffee and a little bit of big chain presence, but no specialty coffee. Coffee carefully sourced, carefully roasted, carefully prepared, and specialty style right?
We moved to Miami, we just flew back to Portland, packed everything and drove down from Portland to Miami. It was a scary drive because it was all snowy and weird.
Ray: They know what they’re doing. They-
Kandace: Well I mean Joel has been a roaster for years.
Ray: Yes, a long time.
Kandace: Yes, and so he is the founding roaster at Panther.
Ray: He knows his shit. Can I say that?
Kandace: You know, after last episode you can say whatever you want…
Ray: Right in the gutter.
TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
Kandace: We asked them a bit about running a successful business as a married couple.
Leticia: I much prefer working together than working apart. For the very short amount of time we worked apart in the beginning of our relationship was hard to like coordinate schedules and at least now we’re like okay, this week we’re taking a family vacation, so that’s it, we’ll all just agree on that, but one thing that really helps is having separate tasks, or separate responsibilities. That way Joel is head of wholesale, I’m the head of retail, and that keeps it simple and on the day to day. We don’t have to just … we don’t overlap that much, but we make decisions together when needs to be.
Joel: I believe it’s more of a gift than it is a burden.
Ray: Panther Coffee of Miami, Florida.