We sat down with Justin Frey, Creative Director of Merit Coffee Co. in preparation for our Merit Dripkit launch. Get to know more about the Texas roaster and the team we've loved working with!
You started with Merit Coffee nearly 8 years ago as a barista and now you're the Creative Director. What got you interested in coffee in the first place and did you always have your sights on leading the creative direction of the company?
I fell in love with coffee when I lived in Sydney, Australia. It was the first time I had been exposed to specialty coffee. I got a job as a barista, but it took me a lot longer to land the job as their standards are WAY higher than ours in the US. They approached coffee the way a sommelier approaches wine - everything matters; elevation, terroir, cultivars, process, roasting, brewing/extracting. I was blown away by the process and care that went into producing one cup of coffee. As far as Creative Directing, my story here at Merit actually started as me being a barista. It was the best coffee I had tasted since leaving Australia and I loved the company’s ethos and warmth balanced with the same kind of professionalism I saw in overseas. I naturally grew into the role of Creative Director, to be honest. When I started at Merit, we were a really small company and most of us wore a lot of hats. I loved branding/design, especially pertaining to lifestyle products/goods; things that were timeless - not trendy. I really wanted to take things off of the owners plate and help whenever I could. I quickly became responsible for creating merchandise, managing our Social Media, creating content, and helping with cafe design.
I love hopping on calls with you and your team. It's one of my favorite parts of my job. How do you think Merit has fostered such a fun and hardworking environment?
Haha, we love hopping on calls with Y’ALL! It goes back to our culture and our main mission here at Merit - to be the bright spot in your day. That applies to everyone in our company – whether you’re pulling a shot, roasting coffee, or if you’re on a call with a vendor… we all approach you with that posture - to be a bright spot in your day. You never know what someone is going through and life is tough enough as it is. When we hire, it’s for sure something we look for in potential candidates to join our team. Also, it’s something modeled by our executive staff - having fun and working hard.
As a previous Austinite myself, I have to know, what's something that Texas locals may not know about Merit?
A lot of people I run into in Austin actually don’t know that we started/are based in San Antonio! I have heard some Austinite’s who do know where we hail from say “Born in San Antonio, raised in Austin” – which is actually humbling; having a community adopt you like that! Another thing some locals might not know is that we’re not a franchise or a chain. We’ve been around for 15 years (next October) and have been growing ever since!
I don't know many Texans that don't have a Merit beanie, or sticker, or tee, or mug.. the list goes on and on.. Where do you draw inspiration for all of the Merit merch?
That’s a great question. I’ve always been inspired by timeless design. I love clean, minimal, intentional design. Hand-drawn ads or CPG labels from the 40s & 50s are amazing. I cherish the idea that my daughter could one day find an old dusty box in the attic 15 years from now with a Merit sweater or mug in it and that they would be just as relevant that far down the road as they are now – that’s a north star I use on most everything I create. Design that lasts. Almost like a denim shirt. Sometimes they’re at the forefront of fashion, other times the background. Either way though, they’ve always had some sort of relevancy in culture. I also really enjoy easter eggs. If there’s an opportunity to hide something within a design or shout out 90’s/80’s nostalgia - I do. For instance, our new Holiday Gift boxes will contain custom tissue paper. The design is littered with Christmas-themed items, and it’s really busy (contrasting the very minimal, clean and simple box). I added a single Waldo to the design. The fun thing is, too, I don’t tell anyone about it really. It’s there to be discovered. To make someone’s day - make someone smile.
Merit is celebrating their 15th birthday next year, do you and the team have any exciting plans you can share with us for the future?
We are going to make a really big deal of this milestone for us and will for sure celebrate – our staff and our customers! I can’t reveal any of the bigs plans, but one thing we’re really looking forward to is opening our first cafe in Houston next year - which will be our 15th cafe!
And maybe the most important question of them all, what's your current Merit order?
Batch coffee. I love a classic cup of black coffee.