Every once in a while, we feature coffee from guest roasters at our coffee shops. This month, we’re proud to be featuring Fresh Prince coffee from local Portland roaster & sneaker-themed coffee shop Deadstock Coffee. Deadstock is owned by Ian Williams, who has a unique story coming into the coffee industry after working as a Nike shoe developer. We wanted to share more of this story with you.
Currently featuring on drip coffee at the Nossa Familia Pearl District Espresso Bar: Deadstock Coffee’s Fresh Prince - a medium-roast, single-origin Ethiopian coffee. Notes of fruity pebbles with northwest berries.
Ian Williams’s Story: NIKE Days
Ian Williams lived in Newport News, Virginia until he was 10 years old, when he moved to Hillsboro, Oregon. He lived in the Portland suburb with his family, where he says he was the only Black kid in his school. Ian grew up loving sports and basketball, and also found a love for sneakers. By 19, he had already amassed a collection of over 100 pairs of sneakers.
Ian knew that he wanted to do something related to shoes, and started working various jobs to get there. He worked in retail at the NIKE employee store, and down the road at a manufacturer making air bags for NIKE. Eventually he figured out that if he wanted to be "discovered" on the inside at Nike, the best place to do that was where he'd be seen every single day. So he took a job as a janitor on campus, and says he "weaseled" his way into footwear development after three years. One of the best “fake it til you make it” stories he tells is about setting up his own desk in the office while still as a janitor, so he looked like a regular desk employee. His own NIKE SB Wet Floor Dunks were released in 2009. He spent 9 years at the company, and then realized that the corporate world wasn’t for him anymore.
Starting Deadstock Coffee
Ian opened Deadstock Coffee in 2016. "I created Deadstock Coffee as a place where I could hang out with all my sneaker homies," he said. He started with a small coffee stand on the second level of Compound, later moving to his own space down the block in Portland’s Chinatown neighborhood. The idea for Deadstock came from Ian’s desire to do something to help keep the sneaker culture community alive. "I just wanted people back," he says of this time, when it seemed like sneaker culture was just becoming about money—with a constant churn of online drops, flipping and reselling. He wanted to rekindle the human connection of sneaker culture he saw dying around him, by creating a space for the community with a barber shop kind of feel.
For Ian, the community idea came first—and coffee was more a means to that end. "I knew nothing about coffee. As a matter of fact, I didn't even drink coffee," he said. Ian even admits he thought coffee tasted like, “hot mud." But coffee was also a family-friendly product, and having a place where kids could hang out was also important to him, rather than opening a bar. And even though he hadn’t developed a love for coffee, he had a love for people. He knew that people gravitate to coffee for the ritual and the feeling, and a coffee shop has the ability to create a community and also to brighten someone's day.
"I've always been about being who you are, being comfortable, and just understanding who you are, what you're about, what you like - and that's OK."
Growing in Coffee, in Community
Going from someone who didn’t even drink coffee, to opening his own world-renowned coffee shop, to being on the cover of Barista Magazine over the course of five years, is an incredible feat. The specialty coffee industry is notoriously insular and lacking in diversity, full of dogmatic ideas about how coffee should be sourced, roasted, and prepared. Ian has told stories of how he was looked on with skepticism when he first started in the coffee industry, and how people didn't treat him like a business owner when he was working in his own shop or talking to vendors. He tells stories of showing up at barista latte art throwdowns just to be seen and start to get to know the coffee community, and to become respected in it. "Over time, coffee just started to respect and understand me—once I was trying to understand it, it started to understand me,” Ian recently told Barista Magazine.
In the early days of owning his own shop, Ian admits he didn’t know much about coffee or quality. He says sometimes he would apologize to customers if he thought their drink might not taste very good, and tell them that he’d remake it for them. From his NIKE days, Ian has always been someone to learn and work toward something, and coffee knowledge has been one of those things. After working with Dapper & Wise for a few years to source their coffee and get training, he says he was forced into roasting his own beans out of necessity. Buying coffee from a roaster was getting expensive and he wasn't making enough money, so he decided to start from scratch learning how to roast on his own. Today, Ian roasts Deadstock’s coffee himself every Tuesday at Buckman Coffee Factory, a community roasting space in Portland's Eastside neighborhood.
Ian describes his company as purveyors of “snob-free coffee.” We love his take on tasting notes, which he says are a bit of a “farce”: “They are definitely something you can use to identify what's going on in the coffee, but most of the time people are kinda telling you what you're supposed to taste, and it doesn't really matter. So for us, I put some notes, but I mainly put feelings. I put how I feel when I roast it or how I feel when I drink the coffee. So, 'it feel likes I'm on an island,' or it's the coffee that you wanna add cream to but then you don't. I put that kind of stuff."
Deadstock Coffee is located at 408 NW Couch Street in Portland, Oregon. www.deadstockcoffee.com
Visit the sneaker-themed coffee shop in Portland’s Chinatown neighborhood: 408 NW Couch Street
Shop Coffee & Merchandise on their website: www.deadstockcoffee.com
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