Update Nov. 2017: Greg has left Ozo to pursue other ventures.
Greg Lefcourt, 38, came into work on Monday and faced another retail blur.
The co-owner of the decade-old, four-location Boulder coffee company Ozo Coffee learned its Pearl store — where he had just showed up — would run out of 12-ounce cups soon, so he jumped on the phone to get backups, and sleeves, dropped on the truck with the coffee bean delivery expected later that day.
When the dishwasher started spewing water on the floor, he began teaching the new busser how to fix it. At the same time, he was training up the new Pearl manager while steeped in calibrating the day’s espresso as both baristas slung coffee on the bar.
Coffee calibration is its own landmine. When the weather’s damper, the effort to pull great espresso smooths. When it’s dry, successful calibration is a more jittery affair.
Lefcourt dances to this perennial retail tune most days as director of retail and co-owner of one of Boulder’s most high-profile third wave coffee shops and one of its most well-regarded. Along with being a perennial winner of Boulder Weekly’s coffee-related “best-of” awards, Men’s Journal named Ozo one of America’s 25 best coffee roasters in May.
Despite this daily, coffee-slinging slog, Lefcourt is something of a java celebrity. A past gold medal winner of a regional barista competition, he nabbed the cover story for the June/July 2017 issue of Barista Magazine, a monthly industry trade pub with over 100,000 readers in 87 countries.
Lefcourt is also among those local business owners and residents striving to maintain Boulder’s friendly soul amid the city’s changing dynamic.
Keeping the Boulder Bus running
Lefcourt’s family moved to Boulder in 1985 and he spent the bulk of his childhood here. After a stint away after high school, he returned in 2005.
One moment sticks out from his childhood: the period in the early nineties when Boulder received an influx of refugees from the 1993 Malibu, California, wildfire, which destroyed 359 homes and charred 18,000 acres. He says that episode feels familiar to the periodic waves of change Boulder experiences that have steadily added a tony, startup buzz to the town’s hippie, adventurer base.
Ozo’s fighting to feed Boulder’s down-home, community vibe amid continued change, and rising costs. With the opening of Pearl West across the street from its Pearl street location, Ozo’s rent at its Pearl location jumped significantly, Lefcourt says, as landlords saw their new neighbor’s higher square-foot lease prices and reconsidered their own.
“Landlords play a huge role in keeping the community alive,” Lefcourt says.
So do retailers. Ozo and many other local retailers strive to serve goods at prices that all locals can afford and employee the artists, friendly folks and others with side hustles that sustain Boulder’s local flavor. Ozo has 73 employees who support the company’s four locations (three in Boulder, one in Longmont) and roastery.
While enjoying quality employees and great retention, Lefcourt (as other local retail owners must) says Ozo’s grappling with accommodating the state’s minimum wage increase, which 55 percent of Colorado voters approved at the polls last November.
With Amendment 70 to the Colorado Constitution, the Centennial State’s hourly minimum wage jumped from $8.31 to $9.30 on Jan. 1, 2017. It will jump $0.90 each Jan. 1 until 2020, when it will settle at $12.00 per hour.
This will inevitably push Ozo prices up, Lefcourt says. It will also further challenge the company’s commitment to sustainability, which includes use of compostable products, investing in employees with seminars and management training and supporting its coffee suppliers.
In March, it launched the Peru Aprocassi Project, for which portions of sales from its Peru Aprocassi beans go to build solar dryers for a coffee-growing collective of 425 small-scale farms in Peru that will lead to higher quality coffee and more efficient production. As of early August, the firm had raised just under $11,000 toward its $15,000 goal.
Ozo pays close attention to the sources of its beans. The project is one way to help one of them.
Boulder third wave coffee
Lefcourt was Ozo’s first hire in November 2006 when founder Justin Hartman stuck a broom in his hand and told him to help prep Ozo’s east Arapahoe Avenue flagship store for its February 2007 opening.
A decade later, Ozo is among the local coffee purveyors washing Boulder in craft coffee (the rise of craft coffee purveyors, who pay close attention to sourcing and careful roasting, brewing and espresso is known as coffee’s third wave). Downtown’s west end, you could say, is flooding in espresso. The Pearl West building — which opened for business in mid-2016 across the street from Ozo’s Pearl location — brought local cafe and retailer Alpine Modern and Gather Cafe in Galvanize. Amante Coffee is just a few doors down from Gather.
Boulder staple Trident Booksellers and Cafe and upscale juicery Wonder Press, also across the street from Ozo, serve espresso drinks, as does Spruce Confections, a few blocks down Pearl toward the mountains.
When it began roasting its own beans in 2009, Ozo joined a rich Boulder roasting legacy. Allegro Coffee Roasters, which Whole Foods acquired in 1996, was born in Boulder in 1977 and still roasts here. Boulder’s Brewing Market Coffee, which also started up in 1977, is another local coffee roaster.
The Unseen Bean, founded by blind coffee master Gerry Leary in 2003, also roasts its own beans. Conscious Coffees, founded in 1996 and named micro roaster of the year by Roast Magazine in 2011, is yet another.
Boulder’s Boxcar Coffee Roasters — which local coffee snobs might say makes the town’s best espresso — began cooking beans in 2010.