ELO Group Meets John Neate, Founder of JJ Bean Coffee Roasters

One of our ELO Peer Advisory Groups recently had a site at JJ Bean's, one of Vancouver’s most popular coffee chains with 24 locations spread across the city.

As part of the site visit, members partook in coffee cupping and tasting and had an insightful meeting and Q&A with Founder, John Neate, and Coffee Quality Leader, Rev Grady Buhler

John Neate has supported ELO over the years. Way back we highlighted him in a “10in2 interview” (10 questions in 2 minutes). More recently, he was a speaker at our ELO Forum Vancouver 2019.

There is a lot of great information on the JJ Bean website regarding the company, its approach to business and its charitable activities. A succinct summary of JJ Bean’s story can be found on its website:

We believe people have intrinsic value and seek to honour our coffee producers, our staff, and our customers by only serving the freshest, best tasting coffee possible. To this end, we source the highest quality green coffee and roast it in small batches daily, guided by one principle: the best taste wins. The Neate family has been roasting coffee in Vancouver for four generations. In 1996, John Neate Jr. (JJ) established JJ Bean Coffee Roasters to honour people through great coffee, food, spaces, and service.” JJ Bean supports an Over & Above initiative that seeks to positively impact people in coffee growing regions in ways that go beyond their operating responsibilities as a roaster."

We received great feedback from Peer Advisory Group members regarding the JJ Bean site visit:  

  • “Excellent session as always. Even though I don’t drink coffee usually, the discussion with JJ Bean and their Christian business perspective was exceptional.“
  • “Thanks for putting together the meeting yesterday at JJ Bean, that is, of course, one of my favourite spots that I visit religiously anytime I come to the GVA! I always enjoy our conversation at the Peer Advisory Group meetings, but yesterday seemed quite extraordinary; it was both playful/jovial with a healthy dose of ribbing, and very intense with some of the theological and ideological debates!”
  • “It truly was an amazing great outing. Well done. So much to think about and reflect upon.

Here are some takeaways from the conversation with John:

  1. The key to success is team, team, team. Other factors, such as coffee and location, are obviously important but the cornerstone is the team. A big part of the team approach is a 5 person "Senior Leadership Team" that meets twice a month and unanimously makes all decisions for the company.
  2. Mission, vision, and values are at the core of the company: there is a monthly assessment of core metrics and then the entire store is evaluated on performance and key people are rewarded in terms of meaningful quarterly financial incentives.
  3. Growth strategy: generally opportunistic, depending upon the right circumstances, but doesn't want to grow for its own sake.
  4. Not everything works: be humble and realize that not everything works. Despite a great network in Greater Vancouver, JJ Bean tried to expand to Toronto a few years back which didn't work out as hoped.
  5. They try to maintain a very good feedback loop and culture of communication among all their diverse teams team with regular meetings.
  6. John believes one of his strengths is his “Emotional Quotient” (EQ). He is a social worker by training—he cares for people. At JJ Bean, they want to care about people —inside and outside the company.
  7. He has about 350 staff, most of whom are on the Retail Team and in their 20s, so it takes a lot of skill to create and maintain a good team with a regular amount of turnover. His son, Jesse, leads the younger retail group and John focuses on Food, Coffee and Wholesale.
  8. He needs to keep innovating. For example, at the Main Street location they are building out a donut bar so there will be fresh donuts in addition to their pastries.
  9. Lead by example: John is hands-on, doing everything from renovating spaces to confronting difficult customers and living life with his team.

Lastly, for great coffee and baked goods we recommend that you visit a JJ Bean location! ELO's favourite location is 3010 Main St, Vancouver, BC.

Categories: Peer Advisory Groups