Jack hails from Lower Merion, Pennsylvania and has been with Old City Coffee since 1988 where he started out baking, cleaning, and helping out with the Sivitz coffee roaster. Currently Jack is the vice president of the company.
Many of OCC employees work part time—what was your first part time job?
My first part time job was working for my father and grandfather at the family wholesale hosiery business. I also was a pizza delivery boy.
Jack, we see you working in the Church Street kitchen quite often. What is your favorite dish to prepare?
Traditional holiday food and home style baking are favorites. I grew up with T.V. dinners and canned vegetables. Discovering real food was a watershed. I love flavor, ingredients, farms, ethnicity, and preparation. In other words, I love to cook! I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work at art deco Linton’s Restaurants, at the White Dog Cafe, and at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. Spending time in the OCC kitchen is therapeutic.
Jack we know you wear many “hats” at OCC, which one is your favorite?
That is a hard one! I love meeting customers and enjoy spreading coffee knowledge in brewed, bean or informational form. For “solace” It’s coffee roasting or cooking/baking. For a challenge it is setting up OCC satellite locations at the Philadelphia Flower Show or bringing an espresso bar to an exotic off site location for a special event. I thrive on being able to answer just about any question.
We know you have tried lots of coffee, which brew is your favorite and why?
India Plantation is a fav. Traditionally grown in the evergreen forests at the foot of the Arabian Sea, India Plantation Coffee is from the southern state Karnataka, ironically also home of the “high tech” city of Bangalore! India Plantation has just about perfect balance of aroma, deep flavor notes, verve and buttery body with a “spicy” finish! India as a democratic country has its act together as a place to work, features a unique two-tier shade canopy in fantastic conditions (coffee grows along side spices!), and an emergent coffee environmental movement. (See www.ceeindia.org/) This is some of the best mild shade grown coffee in the world-and a key part of OCC’s best seller: Old City Blend!
We know you have been in Philadelphia for a while which part of the city do you think has undergone the greatest transformation?
Everywhere!—Compared to what it was like when I went to college here. We only had The Khyber, McGlichy’s, Gerts, The Hot Club and Eugene Ormandy! The Culinary renaissance began with the first class of the Restaurant School in ’73 and David O’Neill’s hiring as market manager at RTM in ’80. Since then it’ been all uphill. Particularly striking is the transformation of what is now called “Old City”. I’ve visited north 3rd Street over my entire life. My Grandfather and Father had a hosiery jobbing shop at 17 north 3rd. I witnessed the entire transformation of gritty industrial buildings restored back to artful architecture. I kind of miss Third Street Jazz and the old bustle of 3rd Street though. It is thrilling to see the residential boom of center city-as people say no to more suburban development and yes to culturally rich cohabitation and diversity. I can’t wait till I can ride my bike to Bartram’s Garden when Schuylkill Park is extended there!
What do you think the secret to OCC’s success is?
By staying small with a mission of roasting only tiny batches of quality Arabican coffee everyday with appreciation to our customers for their continued support from an committed Staff.
How has specialty coffee changed since OCC opened in 1985?
In 1985 there was no Specialty Coffee Association. OCC had to figure everything out on it’s own! Ruth Isaac Treatman and I attended the very fist SCAA conference in 1988. One of the most significant changes was the 1989 collapse of The International Coffee Organization agreement negotiated through the United Nations to protect coffee farmers. By the early/mid 1990’s many coffee farmers were facing a difficult business climate to sell their wonderful Arabican coffee. Quality declined when traditional coffee cultivars grown on high altitude fertile “Shade Canopies” began to disappear. Newer high tech full sun growing processes aided with pesticides and fertilizers to lower production cost began to appear. In 1994, Old City Coffee began sourcing out designated “Shade Grown”, hand picked when ripe Arabican heirloom coffee. (And one of the first small roasters in the US to do so!) Shade trees protect coffee plants, help maintain soil quality, reduce the need for fertilizers, and contribute important nutrients to the soil. Traditional shade coffee plantations have also served as sanctuaries for migratory birds whose habitats have been diminished by shrinking tropical forests. We have continued to this day our constant hunt for the best “cuppers” that support environmentally sensitive coffee farmers.
More people are drinking high quality Arabican coffee in the US that at any time since the coffee drinking peak in 1962! The Dynamics have changed though. Americans have begun buying more coffee already brewed, instead of preparing at home. This is understandable with time constraints and the advent of so many brewed coffee emporiums that cater to America’s discovery of espresso-based drinks, and the next generation’s preference for cold-sweet shake type concoctions. I sometimes think that people are missing out on the simple pleasure of selecting a specific blend or varietals and appreciating its distinct virtues. Home brewing is a constant challenge for many to get a good brew. That is frustrating for me, because it really is quite simple! Our web site www.oldcitycoffee.com has brewing instructions! If you’re a machine person buy a Technibrew brewer while you can still get one! -Highly recommended machine. E-mail me any time if you have any questions! firstname.lastname@example.org
As always Jack thanks for your time and for keeping us coffee lovers well educated.