MORE THAN JUST COFFEE.
Captain + Stoker is a coffee shop + roastery in Monterey, California. We opened in 2018 with the goal of creating and maintaining a happy and fulfilled community. We focus on direct trade specialty coffee by prioritizing our relationships with great farmers around the world. We care about quality, freshness, small batches - you get it - we know you’ve heard that all before, but really, it’s important. What makes us extra special is that it’s not just about coffee, it’s about the people: the people we collab with, the people we work for, and each and every one of us who has poured our heart into creating something special for all of you to enjoy while supporting local artists, bakers, and more. We’re all working in tandem to create something a lil' better every day, whether in our small community, or making the Earth healthier, one compostable cup at a time.
Every time you shop with C+S, know that your moolah is going towards something that matters. Sometimes it will be obvious, other times it won’t. Buying that bag of beans might go toward a specific charity we’re supporting, or it could contribute to one of our employees’ dreams of traveling the world. Maybe you ordered a shirt, which helps our team visit an origin country to learn about coffee straight from the farmers. These trips allow us to learn about each step of the process, and in turn create better coffee for you, while financially supporting the farmers and their families. If you ask us, it’s pretty cool knowing that your money is helping people all over the world. We like to acknowledge the significance of the butterfly effect around here, because every little detail matters, including the fact that we wouldn’t be here with you, and for that, we’re eternally appreciative.
Enough with the gushy stuff…that started to feel like a love letter. We can't wait to grow Captain + Stoker into who-knows-what as we make our way down the road; We have so many ideas! So, we're going to keep kickin’ + pushin’ no matter what pandemic or natural disaster comes our way, and we hope you’re strapped into our lil' imaginary sidecar for the ride.
In reality, the Captain + Stoker you see today came about by total accident. In October of 2017, Tyler Ellis + Kelsea Richmond moved to Monterey, California after traveling the country with their dog, Kona, and cat, Taco, in a 1987 Mallard Sprinter RV. After about a year, they literally ran out of money to afford the RV’s gas and had to find a good home base. Monterey seemed to be the place with the most job opportunities on the coast, and some rad mountain biking close by - a huge plus for Tyler. After living on the side of the road in Pacific Grove for a few weeks, they both found jobs: Tyler as a welder, and Kelsea as a dental receptionist.
They started the RV life to get away from their repetitive lives, only to realize they were doing it all over again in a new town. While searching for something more fitting, Tyler got a call from a stranger looking for a bike dude who would manage his soon-to-be coffee shop. He wanted someone with a great personality who knew bikes since the name was going to be Tandem Coffee (the name ultimately didn’t work out since it already existed). Anyone who knows Tyler knows that he checks those boxes! After some sweet talking and the promise of owning the shop one day, Tyler quit his job on Sunday and started construction of Captain + Stoker on Monday. Seemed sketchy, but hey, why not!? Kelsea eventually came on board as well, and after almost two months of learning the ins-and-outs of the coffee biz, and running errands for the owners, C+S opened in mid-March of 2018.
Tyler + Kelsea worked their asses off with the promise that their (free) sweat equity outside of working hours would pay off. After just three months, the original owners claimed they were losing too much money, and they decided it was best to sell to Cat & Cloud in Santa Cruz. Tyler + Kelsea were back to square one as a cashier and barista with nothing to show for the months of hard work. They did their best to stay positive, but it was tough. Everyone at Cat & Cloud was so kind, so they figured it could be a really great opportunity, and a fresh start. Things seemed official, and on that Saturday in June, C+S opened as Cat & Cloud. The shop was closed on Sunday, and at 10am on Monday the previous owner, who was supposed to be on vacation with his family, walked through the door, telling everyone to leave. He brought Tyler + Kelsea upstairs to break the news that the deal fell through, and C+S was now closed permanently. They found themselves jobless, and suddenly that was the end.
Tyler + Kelsea spent a week in Tahoe trying to figure out what the hell they were going to do next. They couldn’t just let this thing go. They put their hearts and souls into those few months because they saw how much it meant to the community. Monterey is a tourist destination with a hometown feel that reminded them of their hometown in Michigan, and the locals needed that sense of community. Figuring out a way to keep Captain + Stoker alive was the only option, so they made a million phone calls and decided to take the scary route. Long story short, they struck a deal with the previous owner to buy Captain + Stoker that same week. With an impossible feeling ten day time limit, they figured, “hey, why not give it a shot?”. All they had to do was learn how to legally register and run a business, roast coffee, hire employees, find suppliers, manage payroll, and maybe a few more tasks… Luckily, they had the internet and some tips from the dudes at Cat & Cloud, so they figured it all out and re-opened on July 19th, 2018.
They worked every single day for a year and a half before finally being able to breathe and take a break. C+S turned into what it was always meant to be: a place to meet new people and appreciate the simple things like a hot cup of coffee, good conversation, and some sunshine. Community was built quickly and naturally, and it was beautiful. Captain + Stoker started doing a ton of after hours events, held artist pop ups on weekends, and only supported local bakers on our menu. Everything was falling into place in order to grow and create for the community. Then came 2020.
C+S was on a steady uphill ride of success, like a lil’ rocket shooting right out of the atmosphere - and let me tell ya! The support from the community alone was so motivating. A second location was in the works, wholesale accounts started coming in - everything just felt so right. Being a new business is tough in general, so adding in a worldwide pandemic put the business’ resilience to the test.
Captain + Stoker had to decide for themselves how they were going to deal with something so important and confusing, because you can't just google this shit! The label of “essential business” just didn’t sit right. It felt more important to support the shelter-in-place order and keep all employees safe. One night at a team meeting, the question was brought up to the whole crew: “do you feel comfortable working?”. Right then and there it was decided as a team to close, allowing everyone the opportunity to stay safe and hop on unemployment with the promise of returning to their jobs. Tyler + Kelsea spent their time doing local, no-contact deliveries. Will, the head roaster at the time (now Head of Sales), was working part time to roast and fulfill online orders. This became a time of focusing on community support at such a critical time in history, both in and outside of the C+S walls. About two months later, C+S re-opened for the public with a new walk-up only ordering system using the garage door. It felt so good to finally see the community again.
After dealing with consistent challenges as best as possible over the following months, the C+S crew felt so proud and lucky to have endured as a business while so many others did not. Then, in July 2021, the first Captain + Stoker birthday block party for the community took place. Over 50 local art and food vendors attended, there was live music from a fav local band, The BASSment, and an affogato bar sponsored by Oatly. It was the first normal-feeling-day in such a long time. This was the gas that was needed to keep the fire going, because everyone was so. damn. tired.
Things finally began to move forward again. Our second location officially opened 04/15/2022 in Pacific Grove. It's tiny and absolutely perfect! We've begun ramping up our after hours event at our Monterey location, and moving forward we hope to expand our sourcing trips, which started in 2023.
No matter the state of the world, we will continue to have hope for the future. No matter how bleak things may seem, we will continue taking care of our Earth, loving + supporting our crew, and making sure our community is part of something bigger. We’re so proud to have created a welcoming and exciting space for everyone to enjoy, and we intend to keep it that way with every step we take moving forward.
If you’re still reading, you a real one - love you lots.
Captain + Stoker :)