Jake Miller was looking for a day job. After 15 years in the restaurant industry, including a decade bartending most days till 3 or 4 a.m., it was time for less night, more light.
Instead of updating his resume, Jake did what Jake does: He created his own day job.
“Basically, I quit my own business to start this business,” he said of Sams and Coffee, the Spokane Valley sandwich and coffee shop located in the Pinecroft Business Park on Mirabeau Parkway.
Jake still owns Crave, a downtown Spokane sports bar, but his daily presence is now focused on a dream he’s held half his life.
As a teenager, he and a friend were already brainstorming possible business concepts after his buddy’s dad told them he would invest in a great entrepreneurial idea. They landed on a coffee shop, but as high school students, there were too many hurdles, so Jake was forced to file the idea away.
“This was before all of the coffee shops opened,” Jake recalled. “Since I was 15, 16 years old, I’ve been trying to figure out how to start a coffee shop.”
A year and a half ago, the dream became reality. Sams and Coffee opened with a focus on breakfast and lunch sandwiches — “sammies” — and coffee.
Jake refers to selections featured on the flavor-packed, fresh-made menu like he’s referring to old friends: the flavor combination he first experienced while backpacking through Europe; his homemade recipe that regularly converts skeptics into tuna fish disciples; the sandwich he discovered during his self-described “bachelor gourmet” days, when he turned whatever happened to be in the fridge and cupboards into a masterpiece fit for guests.
This has given the menu a flair that is atypical of chain sandwich establishments. Sure, you can order turkey, but there’s also options like BBQ brisket, chorizo or fresh avocado sliced in front of you.
A similar approach is taken to coffee selections, where Jake and his baristas experiment with flavors that rotate through the daily specials. A final element of the Sams and Coffee business model is catering. Located as they are in a business district, Jake’s team is adept at supplying spreads of sandwiches — as well as a slew of additional options — for meetings and events.
Jacob Samuel Miller thought about naming the business “Jake’s,” but he’s reserving that name for a future dream (think even more food options and space enough for a 9-hole mini golf course).
For this establishment, “Sams” doubles as his middle name, but there is no apostrophe because it is also a plural form of sandwiches — sammies … sams … get it?
Whether it’s a sports bar or a coffee shop, Jake emphasizes a clean, consistent and friendly environment. With ample tables, the space revolves around the kitchen, and customers can sit at a bar and watch their breakfast or lunch be prepared from scratch.
“Honestly, if I could have everyone sit up there while they are waiting for their sandwich and get to talk and hear their story … I just want people to feel like they’re part of the community,” Jake said.
Taking advantage of the daytime environment, Sams and Coffee is blessed with a flood of natural light through huge windows as well as a patio for outdoor seating. When the weather is right, customers can play cornhole outside. Inside, a pinball machine lights up a corner of the room.
THE TOP PICK
The Sun Burst, a Red Bull infusion featuring raspberry, peach and orange juice, has become a best seller.
The daily special is also a common order, typically featuring a specialty drink from the espresso menu with options as varied as the Payday (caramel sauce, salted caramel, peanut butter) and the White Angel (white chocolate, white coffee, vanilla, coconut).
On the sandwich front, the Smashed BBQ and Old Fashioned Tuna both have regular followings.
THE CULT FAVORITE
Big Jake’s Avocado Sam features smoked turkey, avocado, tomato, Caesar dressing and Jake’s special seasoning on honey wheat bread.
“Most people can eat it for lunch and dinner,” Jake joked of the impressive portion offered for $10.50.
THE TIME WHEN …
The first time I (Josh) walked into Sams and Coffee, the person in line in front of me had an epic beard. Jake was taking orders, sporting the trademark beard that also features prominently on the Sams and Coffee logo and signage.
Interviewing him these months later, I confessed feeling a little self-conscious in my close-trimmed goatee. I mean, was having a phenomenal beard game required if I wanted to, say, add an extra shot to my mocha? Could I even order a mocha? I was suddenly feeling more Pollyanna than Paul Bunyan.
Jake laughed. He gets that a lot.
“I tell people it’s not a requirement to have a great beard — a recommendation, but not a requirement.”
The Sams and Coffee branding makes for a great conversation starter as people walk in the door and see the guy on the sign is also the guy at the counter. He likes how it immediately connects people to his identity as a hands-on, local small business owner.
“They say, ‘You’re actually that guy, aren’t you?’” Jake said.
Always the joker, he often likes to play with people: “Nah, the owner just likes to hire guys with beards.”
It’s not a requirement to have a great beard — a recommendation, but not a requirement.Jake Miller, Sams and Coffee
A vital part of the success of Sams and Coffee is Jake’s girlfriend, Molly Rainer, a mortgage loan officer who is a steady presence amidst other friends, family members and employees who make the business happen.
Jake credits Cravens Coffee for not only producing a loyal stream of coffee-loving customers but for assisting with his training when he transitioned from bartender to coffee bar-tender.
Not that coffee wasn’t already running through his veins. His father always kept an espresso machine around the house, and he likes to stop by and pull a couple shots in the morning on the way to a work site for his landscaping company. Add in Jake’s mom, who spent nearly four decades as a midwife delivering babies at Deaconess, and the family’s deep community ties add to the support of his business.
12709b E. Mirabeau Parkway #50, Spokane Valley
@samsandcoffee on Facebook and Instagram
What would Jake select off his own menu?
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