This week I had the pleasure of speaking with George Giannakos, co-founder of Revolver Coffee. Revolver is one of the most truly unique coffee experiences you’ll encounter in Vancouver, Canada. If you ever happen to be in town, you owe it to yourself to stop by. You can also follow Revolver on Twitter @Revolver_Coffee.
Alex Knight: Tell me a little about yourself. Who are you, what do you do, and how did Revolver Coffee come to be?
George Giannakos: My name is George and I am the store manager for Revolver. Revolver is the product of 5 years of working in the coffee industry and visiting some of the world’s most acclaimed cafes. It is operated and owned by my family and its purpose is to put coffee on a pedestal as the primary focus.
Alex: Revolver is well known to a lot of people as one of the premier and most unique coffee shops in Vancouver. One of the first things that immediately becomes apparent when you walk into the store is the design and layout. I want to talk more about this. It’s evident that you guys care about design and attention to detail. From the typography of your logo and business cards, to the careful selection of furnishings, how important is this to you in how people perceive the business? Also, is the process of layout and design collaborative, or is there any one champion who pushes the direction taken?
George: I’m glad that that process is apparent to you from the other side of the counter, because that is exactly one of the things we wanted to have come across. For us, design and layout are as much a part of the experience as the coffee and customer service. I look at the design and layout as inanimate bodies that silently speak of what we are always trying to do – that is to connect all the dots and provide a whole and complete experience. Something doesn’t quite sit right if you are saying that what you are offering is the highest quality coffee possible, all made with precision and care, with “Thank Yous” and “You’re Welcomes” but yet aren’t showing that throughout your shop with the furnishings. For the interior design we hired Craig Stanghetta, and for the graphics Alex Nelson of Post Projects. Both the graphic and interior design were done with a purpose – sometimes that was to compliment each other, and at other times it was to provide a contrast – but always with purpose. We also were weary of creating something too common or cliche. It’s easy to go overboard with certain themes, so we really worked hard with Craig to not do anything cliche or typical and then become dated in a year or two. The same goes with the graphic design – it’s classic without knowing it.
The actual process of layout and design was, at the time, a seemingly un-ending collective process. There were of course some area where one person may have had more say because they knew more about the subject, but because there are technically 6 owners of Revolver and a designer, everyone had a legitimate opinion that mattered. So even though at the time it can be very tiresome and strenuous talking about a simple thing multiple times, it pays off in the end because you know everything was thought out with multiple minds in multiple scenarios, as opposed to just one.
Alex: What was the impetus behind the decision to offer practically every coffee brewing method known to the world? Perhaps that’s a bit of a hyperbole, but it definitely feels that way. From what I’ve observed, you offer a choice of Chemex, Aeropress, Espresso, French Press, Siphon, and regular pour over. Am I missing anything?
It seems to me like offering a vast array of options could potentially complicate and confuse people. Was this something that was a point of contention between yourself and your other co-founders? Or perhaps did you have clarity in your mind as to the exact kind of coffee lovers that you would be able to bring in the door?
George: Basically we just wanted to offer people who knew little or nothing about the different types of coffee brewing methods to have a place where they could explore and try them all at their own pace, while at the same time providing the “coffee geeks” with a place where they can do just that: geek out. In addition to the brew methods you mentioned, we also offer the “Clever”, and within those mentioned methods, we have both metal and paper filters. By offering such a wide spectrum of brew methods we are able to offer coffee in many different lights, which is something that a lot of people have never had the opportunity to try. A lot of places may offer one or two alternates (like a French press or pour over) but rarely will you see more than that, and even more rarer still is having them side-by-side, which is something we offer in the form of a “Brew Flight.”
I think if you are someone who considers themselves a coffee drinker (i.e., you drink a cup or two a day) it’s worthwhile to invest a few bucks and see which method you prefer, because the actual brew method you are using makes a relatively big impact on your drink. You won’t get different flavours between one to another per say, but what you will get is either more flavour clarity, or more mouthfeel. If you think of it in terms of music, it’s like the difference between bass and tone – some people prefer a higher bass (mouthfeel) while others like to get all the high notes and clarity (flavour clarity). In general, a metal filter will provide more mouthfeel and body while paper will have a higher clarity of flavour. There is no right or wrong, it’s just a preference. At Revolver, we allow you to figure that out at your own pace.
Alex: I totally agree with you on the idea of investing in different equipment if you’re a serious coffee drinker. One of my own personal goals was to try and experience every brewing method possible – solely for the journey of finding that perfect cup of coffee for me. Along the way, I can personally attest to how much I’ve learned, both from experimentation (which is part of the fun), but also from conversing with your extremely knowledgeable staff.
Let’s continue on the topic of the business itself. Clearly what Revolver is doing right now seems to be working exceptionally well, for both your patrons and as well as yourselves. Tell me about the journey since your doors first opened: what have you learned along the way, and how do you see Revolver growing over the next few years? Let’s segue into the discussion of the coffee industry as well. How has the industry changed – if any – and how does one adapt to changing and trying times?
George: I’m glad you find what we’re doing to be working exceptionally well for the patrons. Since even before we opened the doors there was a lot of buzz, primarily on twitter, whi
ch was great because it really set the hype for what we were planning on doing and it seems like, if I may say so humbly, that we are delivering on that hype. We’ve learned a whole heap of things along the way, but one thing we were really happy to learn is that people really enjoy watching and learning about making coffee. We’ve had plenty of emails and calls about specific questions regarding their home brewing and it’s always fun to help out where we can. Because we make the coffee on an open bar, it really opens up the chance for dialogue. Of course, some people are just happy getting a cup of coffee and don’t care to know the process behind it, and that’s totally fine too.
In terms of Revolver’s future growth, we’ll just have to wait and see. We want to be coffee focused of course, but there is always potential to add things like brew classes, coffee pairings, and fun collaborations with other businesses in the city.
As far as the coffee industry is concerned, it has changed a lot. What I would say is one of the biggest changes is that if you were to walk into a coffee shop a few years ago, the main choice a customer would make is what they want added to other coffee – flavours, milks, sizes, roasts, etc. – but if you walk into somewhere like Revolver (or other coffee focused shops) the choice you are making is the coffee itself. In order to adapt to the changing and trying times I once heard from a friend that you should treat business decisions and changes like you would if you were reopening the next day, otherwise you’ll go stale. People like consistency and you can’t just change everything all at once but it is important for a business to always be progressing, just as person should progress and evolve. In terms of what that will be in the coffee industry is tough to say, but I promise you if we think it’s worth doing, we will.
Alex: George, thanks for chatting with me. I look forward to many more years of adventurous coffee experiences at Revolver.