Ben Cordova doesn’t have time to talk between lattes. This interview is going to happen during lattes. ("That is going to be tasty,” he tells a customer. “I left a little room at the top for ratio purposes. So it's not too milky.") At I.M. Coffee, Ben has created his third coffee bar on Market Street, working east after opening LoMa Coffee eight years ago, and Coffee Mode more recently. The new place will feel instantly familiar to fans of Ben’s work – intensely precise coffee, tasty sandwiches and very personable service – and smoothies, which three young women at the bar spend about 10 minutes creating with him from scratch on Monday afternoon before heading back to their offices. So Ben, tell us about the new place!:
“We’re I.M. Coffee, owned by the Buccini/Pollin Group. They own this building, the I.M. Pei Building. You know who he is? I studied up a little bit when Chris asked me if I wanted to do this, and he’s fascinating.”
“I guess Chris has some good friends in the building – and Senator Coons is in the building, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester is in the building, Secret Services is in the building – and they all probably wanted a coffee bar. This was a dead space, so now, yeah, this is my third coffee bar on Market Street.”
Your smoothies sure seem popular.
“Because I'm using organic, high-end ingredients. Organic peanut butter powder. Hey, smell this. That's unsweetened, straight cacao. Incredible with a banana. And by the way, it’s a superfood! The woman you saw who walked away doing a little dance, she had a little bit of strawberry, half a banana, a LÄRABAR with dates, pecans and almonds and nothing else in there, with a little bit of oat milk and a little bit of yogurt, and some spinach in it also.”
“If I see people looking at the smoothie menu, I ask, do you like fruity smoothies? Do you like milk-based smoothies? Do you like it with banana peanut butter things, like that? Once they tell me what they like and don’t like, you can you walk them through it and then all of a sudden they go, wow, that was good. So it is a little bit tricky that you have to be graciously with them in the process of ordering. If you're just an order taker, you're not going to get that smoothie business.”
So what else is new in this new place?
“I’d have to think about that. I mean, at LoMa Coffee, Coffee Mode, I.M. Coffee, I'm still the same person at all three places. For some reason, God's given me a passion to try to make people's day a little bit better for having come into my business. I don't care about the money. I really don't. Do I need it? Yes. Do I need to pay bills? Yes. Does my wife call me and say, hey, we’ve got two bills due? Yes, I understand money. But that’s no motivation for me. “
“I love to elevate employees by showing them how to create great products that are going to blow people away, because really I think that's why we're all here on this planet. Some guy comes in here and I wow him with an incredible egg sandwich with Sriracha aioli and pepper jack cheese and great bacon and he's like, wow, this is great. So his day’s a little bit better... to me, that's our purpose on the planet. We take the gifts we have that God's given us and we use them to bless. What else is there in life? Everything else is just junk, comes and goes, right? All the woes and troubles and all that stuff. That part's the same.”