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Coffee City

Melissa Allison follows the world's biggest coffee-shop chain and other Seattle caffeine purveyors.

April 29, 2010 at 12:09 PM

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Victrola, Whidbey Coffee poised for growth after hiring controller with deep roots in Seattle coffee

Posted by Melissa Allison

Thumbnail image for Jerry_Kaloper_web.jpgDan Ollis, owner of Victrola Coffee Roasters and Whidbey Coffee Co., has hired Jerry Kaloper as the company's first controller to get the books humming in preparation for future growth. A Huskies quarterback in the '60s, Kaloper (photo courtesy of Victrola) worked for Stewart Brothers Coffee -- now Seattle's Best Coffee, or SBC -- for eight years, first in sales and operations and later as general manager of the company under Jim Stewart, one of the best-known names in Seattle coffee.

In 1992, Kaloper left SBC and became an owner of Mukilteo Coffee, a wholesale business where he was involved in all aspects of operations including purchasing, roasting, packaging, finance and sales. Mukilteo Coffee founder Gary Smith and his wife, Beth, bought out Kaloper's interest in 2006, when he started a residential real estate firm with his son just before the real estate bubble burst. This month, Kaloper's non-compete contract with Mukilteo expired and he's back in the coffee business.

"Victrola reminds me of when I was starting in the old days with Jim Stewart, who was all about the coffee, really high-grade coffees, brewing them Melitta-style and individually for customers," Kaloper said. "That's what Victrola is doing right now, really cutting-edge with single-origin coffees and French press presentation and single-origin through espresso machines, which was unheard of back then."

Single-origin coffees are like varietal wines -- they come from one area and have flavors unique to their regions, or even the estate they were grown on.

The business side reminds Kaloper of his early days at SBC and Mukilteo, too.

Victrola 005.jpg"The position Dan is in now is similar to where we were at Seattle's Best way back when, and when I went to Mukilteo, where we were starting from scratch and grew that company. I've been through the growth process twice, and now Dan wants go to next level," he said.

Whidbey Coffee Co., which Ollis started as a cart in 1989, now has 10 cafes and drive-throughs. A couple years ago, Ollis bought Victrola Coffee, which has a Seattle roasting facility, three coffeehouses and a reputation for high-quality beans and baristas (like Stephen Robinson, pictured practicing pours with the help of Stumptown barista Liz Phung for a latte art smackdown last summer). Together the chains have 120 employees, and Ollis decided it was time for someone to focus exclusively on the financial side of the business.

"When you're trying to build an organization, you need an operations guy, and with his wealth of knowledge in the coffee world and knowing the numbers, he was an absolute perfect fit," Ollis said. They met when Kaloper worked at SBC, and Ollis later bought beans from him at Mukilteo Coffee.

After remodeling the Oak Harbor location of Whidbey Coffee this year, Ollis hopes to open another cafe. Next up: Outsource the marketing function, or hire someone to do it in-house.

For those who love tasting coffee, Victrola head roaster Perry Hook holds a free public cupping at 11 a.m. every Wednesday at the Roastery location, 310 E. Pike St.

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