How Philz Coffee founder is brewing a strong, unique blend of coffee and community

We recently had the opportunity to hear founder Phil Jaber’s inspirational story on how he started Philz Coffee at WeWork Golden Gate.

Phil Jaber loves good coffee. Even more than good coffee, he loves people and fostering a community in his specialty coffee shops. His blends incite an ardent following that’s likened to rockstar fandom. In fact, he’s even had couples marry in his shops.

When he talks about a tasty brew, he doesn’t mean the kind you pick up at your neighborhood deli; he means a smooth-tasting, handcrafted drip coffee made from a custom blend of more than 30 types of beans sourced from around the globe.

So it’s not surprising that in 2002, he converted a corner grocery store in San Francisco’s Mission District into his first Philz Coffee. The growing coffee chain now has 14 locations around the Bay Area — including one at Facebook’s headquarters. “I’m like a German Shepherd,” says Jaber, describing that he has an acute sense of smell and instinct when it comes to discovering new locations for his business.

Jaber, who emigrated from Palestine as a young boy, has always been passionate about coffee. As a rather entrepreneurial 8-year-old, he turned that passion into selling coffee to passersbys from his family’s front yard. As a teenager, Jaber helped his father run a market that sold everything from everyday household essentials like milk and eggs to liquor and cigarettes.

“The reason I wanted to get into business was because I wanted people to like me, not to get their money,” says Jaber. “I wanted to help the community with the little I had, and I feel like that’s how you should live your life.”

But he always had the desire to run a coffee business. In his spare time, he conducted market research, experimented with different coffee blends, and developed recipes to make individualized specialty blends that he individually named.

“I visited over 1,100 coffee shops and five-star restaurants to figure out why people went there, what they were looking for, how the employees interacted with the patrons — it wasn’t to see how they made coffee,” says Jaber. “I wanted to know how they were building a culture around it.”

And after conducting his own research and creating a concept for 25 years, he converted his market to the first Philz location on 24th and Folsom Street in 2002.


Every Philz Coffee shop feels like a neighborhood joint, which is surprising because Jaber is building a coffee empire that manages to avoid the massive chain experience.

Jaber still runs his business with his son and CEO of Philz Coffee, 27-year-old Jacob Jaber. Each of their locations is full of life and camaraderie, their ultimate goal being to open coffee shops where people will sit, meet, do their business, and socialize.

“It gets easier to open more and more shops because I’ve been building a culture and community around my coffee,” says Jaber. “Plus, we hire quality people; we look for people who have the same values, taste, and who want to take our company to the next level.”

Jaber stresses that he gives his “artists” (not baristas) enough freedom to do what they want as long as they treat people with respect. “I don’t mind spending three to four weeks to train new hires as long as they share the same values as me. We’re not control freaks, but once I trust you, I’ll give you the key to my heart,” he says.

However, he credits the steady growth of Philz Coffee to his team’s personalized customer service and the freshness of their coffee. “No coffee beans stay in my warehouse or my shops for more than seven days,” says Jaber, who sources beans from Yemen, Timor, Ethiopia, Peru, Indonesia, Kenya, Sumatra, and other nations. Their handcrafted drip coffee method attracts coffee connoisseurs by the droves. Philz also supplies coffee to more than 100 corporate and retail customers, including Whole Foods, Twitter, Google, Virgin America, LinkedIn, and Yelp.

And while Philz raised an eight-figure round from Summit Angels in May 2013, the team is far more focused on the business of people than the number of cups they’re selling.

“When people try your coffee, it’s important to make them happy, and make it a better day for them,” says Jaber.“That’s the kind of experience I want to offer to our society — the people who will walk to, drive to, and even fly to for quality.”

Photographs from Philz Coffee

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