Mike Gatopoulos Behind the Scenes Q&A

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I’m married with three kids, plus two step kids, which keeps my life pretty loud and hectic. I’m big into food, despite being a vegetarian! I haven’t cut my hair in two years just so I can say I haven’t cut my hair since before my daughter was born 18 months ago.

 

What led you to begin this company?

Ever since trying specialty coffee for the first time, I knew I wanted to be in the industry. Just as the pandemic hit, I was burnt out after spending 15 years in the consumer electronics industry. I needed a change and decided what better time than the present to get into the coffee world.

 

What motivates you to get up and come to work?

I love my job. I love knowing that people drink my coffee as they’re getting ready for the day and love what’s in their cup. And I’m always dreaming up ways to make it even better.

 

Aside from running your business, what are some personal hobbies or local activities you enjoy?

Between my wife and I, we have 5 kids, so that doesn’t leave a ton of time for hobbies! I love running on the trails in Mount Pleasant. I’m big into cooking, and home-brewing beer as well.

 

What do you like most about your job?

Creating something people love, and the opportunity for creativity that comes along with it.

 

What is the most exciting challenge?

Getting a new bean and figuring out how to get the best taste out of it.

 

What is your favourite brewing method?

I’m mostly a Chemex guy. I love the natural taste you get from a Chemex pour over.

 

Why do you offer different grind levels?

For me, my whole job revolves around giving people a great cup of coffee, even a slight change in grind can be the drastic difference between a great cup, or just a so-so cup of coffee. We felt we owed it to our customers to do everything in our power to give them all of the tools at our disposal to set them up for success in their brewing at home.

 

What are your favorite coffees?

My favourite coffees change fairly regularly. I’d say overall I’m most likely to be swayed towards African coffee’s that are naturally processed. I love having those fruit notes and complex acidity that they give. But I also love trying new things all the time.

 

How did you get your start in coffee and specifically when did you get your start in coffee?

Personally, it started with me at a food and wine show over a decade ago. I tried specialty coffee for the first time and was just blown away. I’m actually still in touch with that roaster regularly! When I decided I was finished with the consumer electronics world, it was a natural progression to get into something I absolutely love, coffee.

 

How would you say Seventh Coffee is different from other roasteries?

Our roasting style is a bit different from most. We do a couple of things that give us a pretty unique taste. We tend to focus more on flavour than getting bogged down in roast levels. We made the conscious decision to not put a roast level on our bags because we know there is so much more that goes into the flavour of coffee. It’s like IBU’s in craft beer; it only tells you a tiny story about the beer you’re about to drink. Same goes for coffee.

 

Do you have a favourite blend or origin?

HiJack’d will always have a special place in my heart, being named after my son, Jack. But I’m constantly trying new things. We’re tinkering with a Burundi right now that I’m really liking.

 

What is your most popular product?

The blend “A Little Stitious” has been our best seller from day one. It has a fun name that draws people in, but the taste is what brings people back.

 

How do you think popular coffee brands (Tim Hortons, Starbucks, etc.) have affected the coffee industry?

It may be an unpopular opinion, but they have been amazing for the industry. There have been three “waves” of coffee. First wave was cheap commodity coffee being consumed at home. This got people drinking a lot of cheap, dark roasted coffee. The second wave was really pioneered by companies like Starbucks. There was a focus on flavour and a sense that coffee could taste significantly better than the cheap, over-roasted, Robusta blends that were in cans on the grocery store shelves. Tim Hortons is a Canadian institution… they created this unprecedented accessibility to coffee. If it wasn’t for that huge shift in the second wave, the third wave, the specialty wave that roasters like Seventh are a part of, wouldn’t exist.

 

There are a few small roasteries around the area. What do you feel sets you apart from the others?

In terms of who we are as a business, the fact that we operate transparently as a social enterprise, and really do a ton of work in the community really differentiates us from a lot of other businesses in general. In terms of coffee, it’s consistency and quality that sets us apart. A bag of HiJack’d this week is going to taste the same as three months from now, and that’s actually a relatively difficult feat in coffee roasting.

 

If you were a customer visiting your roastery, what would you purchase?

I would be all over our Ethiopia as a start, and then I’d be asking what the roasters favourite coffee is and go from there!

 

How do you manage quality?

We have a bunch of mechanisms in place. First, we are constantly cupping/tasting our production roasts to make sure the taste is the same. We take notes on every single roast we do, and compare timing, roast level, and weight to make sure we have absolute consistency. We also expect a lot of our importing partners to make sure we are getting the best quality beans from the start.

 

What advice would you give someone who is dreaming of opening their own small business?

I love the quote, “If you don’t build your own dreams, someone will hire you to build theirs.” My advice is jump in. But do the research first. Look at the associations, find business owners in the industry you want to get into and talk to them. You would be surprised at how many are willing to help and give amazing advice.

 

What trends have you noticed in the Craft Coffee industry?

It sounds weird to say, but understanding is the latest trend. For the longest time Coffee was a kind left behind in the beverage industry in terms of the science behind it. There’s a lot that goes on during a roast, but the “what” and the “how” is not really all that understood. That’s begun to change over the past decade or so, which is allowing incremental gains to happen. We’re also seeing some really awesome things happen on the farm level to really increase the flavour experience. Things like carbonic maceration and anaerobic fermentation and the increase in popularity of Gesha beans are really pushing the envelope on what coffee can be.


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