Get to Know Jon Dempsey

Get to Know Jon Dempsey

We wanted our customers and coffee community to have the chance to get to know some of the team here at Eight Ounce! We wanted to start with our Wholesale Relationship team as they are some of the faces you might see out and about at cafés or at events. Our Wholesale Relationship team are also the folks usually behind blog posts you see here on our website as well! We started by interviewing Jon Dempsey, who has been a Wholesale Relationship Manager with us for the longest amount of time! Please enjoy getting to know Jon’s coffee journey as well as his favourite childhood snack! 

-Katie Taylor

Hi Jon! Who are you and what do you do at Eight Ounce?

My name is Jon Dempsey and I am an account manager at Eight Ounce. I work remotely in Montréal as our company is based in Calgary and I am responsible for Quebec and the Maritime Provinces. I started part-time at Eight Ounce in 2017 and full-time in 2018 and it’s been going really well… up until now *Jon proceeds to laugh and make fun of my interviewing skills*.

Before Eight Ounce, tell us about your roots in coffee, when and how did you get into the industry?

Let’s go back to university! I didn’t drink coffee in high school, so when I first went to university I was living with my parents and my mother would make coffee in the mornings and give me a travel mug of coffee and a lunch and about 1 in 5 times I would actually drink the coffee, I usually left it in my car. I eventually got into the rhythm of having to get ready for an exam or just getting ready in the morning and getting into the habit of having that coffee to drink. Fast forward to after university, one of my friends, who was big into coffee, moved to New York City. I would go visit him and we would go to these cool New York cafés. Shortly after that I started working at ScotiaBank and I got a really crappy espresso machine as a Christmas gift, and I would just make pre-ground Illy coffee with that machine. By then it was the beginning of third wave coffee, and a few years later, in 2009, a hyper progressive café owner, originally from Edmonton, opened a café in my city. He brought in all sorts of cool roasters from the west coast that were light roasts and he brewed them on the Clever–he’s the one who got me into pour-overs and tasting coffee without milk and sugar. That was revolutionary for me! He would make a batch brew with Heart from Portland, which is still one of my favourite roasters to this day. Then I remember going to San Francisco with a friend in 2010, and La Marzocco had an event called Out of Box. They were debuting a lot of new technologies in the espresso world which opened up the whole tech side of coffee for me. I slowly got into espresso and back then it was cool to order a ristretto shot which is a really tight, under-extracted, sour shot–but everyone thought it was good. At one of the talks at that event, VST was launched which is a company that makes coffee tools and they launched their refractometer. The owner of the company (Vince Fedele) was there and gave a talk (at Berkeley) and that opened up a whole other dimension of coffee and that was really the beginning for me.

I became obsessed with brewing coffee, mostly at home. I bought a Chemex and a Beehouse Dripper, which is a random Japanese dripper. I had V60s and a Clever. At the time I had an office job and I bought a Hario Skerton grinder and I would grind my coffee in the morning and make a Clever pour-over at work and everyone would walk by the kitchen with their Double Double Tim Hortons and they thought I was insane. I then got laid off from that job and I was at a crossroads in my life. I had a lot of friends in Calgary and I didn’t know what to do, and so my best friend from high school who was living in Calgary at the time told me to come stay with him to get out of Halifax and change it up. So I came to Calgary! At the time I was following Phil & Sebastian on Twitter and I saw while I was in town that they were looking for people, so I tweeted at them and sent a resume. I went to Vancouver to visit some friends for a few days and while I was there I went to Revolver and had a transcendent experience. This would have been 2013, and Revolver was the best café in the country. I had this amazing experience there and then a couple hours later I got back to my friend’s house and I had an email from Sebastian and he said he wanted to meet with me, so I flew back to Calgary and I met with him and he hired me on the spot! I flew back to Halifax to get my things and then two weeks later I was living in Calgary and working as a barista at Phil & Sebastian right as they were opening their Mission location. And there you have it, that’s how I got started my journey in coffee!

You know, one thing I think that’s important in life is following your passion. When you get laid off it’s like the rug is pulled out from under you and it’s really jarring. I had some mental health issues but what literally got me out of bed in the morning at that time and got me excited to start my day was opening a new bag of coffee and brewing it, and making coffee for my roommate at the time. That really motivated me and is how I ended up here, following my passion at that time. 

I’m so glad that you decided to follow your passion because I think a lot of people have something they’re passionate about but something holds them back from following that, so I think it’s really special that you were able to do that.

For sure! I think that’s why Sebastian hired me on the spot, he knew.

Absolutely, you can tell when people are passionate about what they do! Wow, what a winding road… from falling in love with coffee, getting into it deep end with the tech and equipment to finally getting behind the bar! How has the journey been from being a barista behind the bar to being in the role you are now?

When I worked in the cafés in Calgary, which were three different locations within my three years working for Phil & Sebastian, I did a lot of things. I became a quality control person for dialling in the brew-to-order coffees which reinforced the geeky side of things for me, using refractometers. From seeing the technology to using it myself, it really came full circle for me. At that time the Calgary scene was changing, people were starting to compete a lot more and the competition side became an interesting preoccupation. I competed in a few regional AeroPress competitions and a national one that was hosted in Calgary. After a while, in 2017, I had a pull to move back east, I wanted to be closer to family and I thought about going back to school in Montréal, so I moved back to Montréal. Literally the last place of business I visited before leaving Calgary for good was Eight Ounce. I talked to the co-owner, Wes Farnell, and I just told him, “hey look, I love what you do and if you ever need someone in Montréal, let me know” and we kept in touch when I moved to Montréal. When I got there I thought I would go back to school but I started managing a café in downtown Montréal, but at that point I was getting tired of the day-to-day life of a barista and wanted a change so Wes and I talked about a transition to me working for Eight Ounce full time, so I started working less at the café and more for Eight Ounce and eventually became the full time Montréal rep!

Thank you so much for sharing, it really seems like it all happened in a really nice way. As you’re going through transitions like that you can be so in your head about it and caught up in it, but as you look back it seems like it was all very serendipitous and that it all worked out!

It definitely all worked out very organically!

You and I get to experience a lot of other people’s cafés being remote employees, and we don’t really have a home base. Are there parts of working in a café and being attached to one café that you miss?

For sure! It’s a lot of fun when you’re working behind bar with a good team, when you feel that machine-like rhythm and you’re having fun at the same time. That is something that I do miss on occasion. There’s a camaraderie there when you work behind bar together. Making drinks, creating recipes, steaming milk, it’s all fun! I did some latte art competitions as well, and although I would never claim to be a David Kim level artist, I do miss it. It's nice to be in my current role because I have a lot of empathy for baristas when I talk to them and I know what their daily life is like and I can relate to them which is nice. 

You mentioned you competed a few times now, can you tell us about your experience with the competition side of the coffee industry?

Yeah! I have done a few city wide latte art competitions, I came second once at one in Montréal which felt great! I did very poorly at one in Toronto years ago, but I really like latte art competitions because they’re really inclusive and don’t require a lot of financial backing and they’re fun community events. AeroPress was a big one for me, it’s still one of my favourite competitions to this day. Again, I find it very inclusive and it doesn’t require thousands of dollars worth of gear or access to the most expensive and exotic coffees and you don’t need a lot of training. In the 2015 National AeroPress competition that Eight Ounce hosted, I had a revelation because the people who placed first and second were not baristas, they did not work in coffee. The person who placed first was a handyman and the person who placed second was a retired engineer in his 60s, and his daughter pushed him to compete! We all assume going in that the person who would dominate would likely be a person who has made hundreds if not thousands of AeroPresses professionally. But that wasn’t the case, which made me realize it’s a very inclusive event and that anyone can do well. With a bit of skill, luck, and the right recipe, you can go far! It’s such a fun event, such a good vibe! I do also have a soft spot for those more serious competitions as well. I have competed in Brewers Cup twice now, in 2019 and this past year. Those competitions are amazing as well. I did it to challenge myself, if you don’t challenge yourself in your day-to-day life in any capacity, you don’t grow as a person. I did it to push myself and I think it was amazing and I think it was good for my coffee career. It kind of put me on the map. The best thing about it, beyond any sort of acclaim, was the community aspect. Because of that event I became friends with people from all over the country, there was a camaraderie behind the scenes because we’re all very awkward and shy people who were all struggling to just get through the weekend but we all bonded over that! That was the best part for sure. I’d rather have those friends than come first.

That all sounds so cool, the community is definitely my favourite part about the industry as well, it’s so different than anything I’ve been a part of before! Okay…are you ready for some hard-hitting questions? This is the part where we get to know the REAL Jon Dempsey…

Uh oh…

What was your favourite after-school snack as a child? Grade 3, you come home from school, you head straight for the snack cupboard, whether you were allowed to or not…what would you reach for?

Oh that’s a great question! You know what…this is going to sound so lame, but probably a granola bar! A solid chocolate chip granola bar.

But wait, were you a dipped boy? As a kid I bet you went for those dipped granola bars.

I did like a dipped granola bar, but I think just the original, OG granola bar. It’s chewy, it’s that chew that I like!

And you’re still an oatmeal guy! Team oats!

Team oats!

Okay, and just because I have to ask since we work for Eight Ounce now…if you could only use one piece of equipment that we sell here at Eight Ounce forever, you can’t touch anything else…What piece of equipment is your ride or die?

V60.

Ouuuu…Plastic? Ceramic? Metal?

Right now my colleague, AJ, got me into the metal V60s, but going back to making coffee in my office kitchen in 2008 and 2009, I used a ceramic V60. I bought it online from a company in Vancouver and I still have it to this day. It has a chip in it, but it has always moved with me, my original V60.

White?

White. At the time it was the only colour. *laughs*

Yeah, probably! Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us, Jon. It has been a pleasure getting to know you better. We’re happy to have you here at Eight Ounce!

The pleasure is all mine!

Photography by Chris Tellez