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Sisters Coffee Company

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Sibling owners build on parents’ legacy

November 17, 2019

When the three sibling co-owners of Sisters Coffee Company met with a business consultant to develop their mission, vision and values in 2017, the second generation had been running the family specialty coffee business for several years.

Justin Durham, CEO, Jesse Durham, Director of Operations, and Jared Durham, Director of Retail, all agreed that it was important to honor their parents for the business they built 30 years ago. It was also important to establish what they believe in to ensure the business remains vital for generations to come.

Together, they picked the words integrity, excellence, kindness, servant-leadership, perseverance, responsibility, dignity and soul to represent their core values. Next, they identified their mission by answering, “Why does Sisters Coffee Company exist?”

Everyone independently prioritized the wellbeing of employees and the chain of people the company does business with, from growers to vendors and customers.

Finally, they set a vision for the future and established a shared leadership structure that has led to even greater success.

“Once we identified what we believed in, it’s been an amazing compass for our company,” Justin says.

A lot of companies go through the motions without digging down to expose what they truly believe because they’re afraid of what they might find. To find answers requires vulnerability, like the trust and respect that’s shared between the Durham siblings.

That’s one of the reasons Sisters Coffee Company was selected as the 2019 winner for Business Renewal.

“Our company is deeply committed to passing on the business to the next generation,” Justin says. “We’re working to build something special.”

Justin, Jared and Jesse are gracious about sharing ownership and responsibilities. When Sisters Coffee was transferred to the second generation in 2012, the siblings set processes and procedures to manage and protect the business.

In addition to working with a business consultant, they meet regularly with an executive coach, both as a group and as individuals.

“As co-owners, we are inherently passionate about the business,” Jesse says.

Having clearly established roles gives clarity and structure.

“It’s absolutely essential,” she says.

Jared serves as chairman of the company’s board of advisors, which meets quarterly to review performance and discuss projects. The outside perspective helps to guide the business in a safe direction.

“We’re always learning and growing,” Jared says.

Sisters Coffee was founded by Winfield and Joy Durham in 1989. The couple had dreamed of starting a coffee business and moving to Central Oregon to raise their family. During a trip to Sisters in 1988, Joy spotted a vacant cabin on the west end of town. They decided to make their move.

Winfield replaced the woodstove with a coffee roaster and they opened for business. Back then, the specialty coffee industry was just starting to take off.

“People weren’t used to paying $2 for coffee,” Justin says. “They were used to paying a dime at the local diner.”

“This business isn’t going to last the winter,” some people scoffed.

But they were wrong. Sisters Coffee was on the edge of a great wave and turned into a prosperous family business.

Early on, Winfield was the master multitasker, roasting coffee in five-kilo batches, working the espresso machine and operating the cash register simultaneously. Bags of coffee were piled to the ceiling of the 600-square-foot cabin, which remained the base of operations for nearly 20 years until the business expanded to its present location.

“We made it work,” Winfield recalls. “We had a lot of fun.”

When they were children, Justin, Jared and Jesse, would walk from school to the cabin to pack coffee for wholesale customers or help with the afternoon shift or closing. If they weren’t needed, they could visit friends who lived nearby or play at Whychus Creek.

“It was a really special time,” Jared recalls.

Those fond feelings still resonate. As do Joy’s hospitality and Winfield’s roasting precision, which are carried forward in the company mission: “To create an authentic coffee experience built on a deep love for our craft and heartfelt kindness for the people we serve.”

“Those values have been instilled in us,” Jesse says.

These days, Sisters Coffee roasts 270,000 pounds of coffee a year, and operates a 6,000-square-foot flagship café and roastery in Sisters, along with a café in Portland’s Pearl District.

The Durham siblings recognize the opportunity they’ve been given. Working alongside family members who are naturally as driven and committed to the business as they are is challenging, but also rewarding.

“We’re thankful for it,” Jared says. “We’re doing everything we can to protect our legacy and the business.”

Some Facts

Year Started    1989
Number of generations working in the business    2
Number of family members working in the business    3
Age of youngest family member working in the business    34
Age of oldest family member working in the business    38
Last family vacation destination    Kauai

Favorite restaurant for family dinner    The Open Door, Sisters
Name and firm of most helpful family business professional that you would recommend to other family businesses    Ann Golden Eglé, Golden Visions & Associates test
Best business decision    Assembling an Advisory Board

About the Awards

Every year since 1988, the Center for Family Enterprise (formerly the Austin Family Business Program) recognizes family businesses who exemplify the values we hope to foster in the work we do in the College of Business: harmony, generational development, leadership and growth.

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