Through the Lebanese culture runs a thick ribbon of honor and pride of legacy, father to son, mother to daughter. Hrag Kalebjian grew up dreading Saturday mornings, when his father Henry would drag him out of bed and into the specialty foods store where he roasted coffee. "I just wanted to watch cartoons," Hrag says, and eventually he left the family business altogether to work in corporate finance.
For a Kalebjian, it's not so easy. Last year Hrag left the corporate life behind him to join his father in running the San Francisco-based coffee roastery and cafe Henry's House of Coffee. "I couldn't kill the lineage," he says. This lineage began in the old country with Henry's father, who owned a bakery and started the 12-year-old Henry roasting coffee to serve with his baked goods. In 1965 Henry immigrated to San Francisco, where he worked at his uncles specialty foods market selling meats, cheeses, olives, and... house-roasted coffee.
Henry bought the business and over the years transitioned it to its current form, which is focused on coffee. At some point--Hrag remembers being in 3rd grade when he walked with his father into the CoffeePER warehouse in Fallon, Nevada--the Kalebjians bought a green SF25, about which Hrag says, "It's the focal point of our shop. We get so many compliments--people think it's form the 1800's because of its classic steam engine look."
Henry's House of Coffee is situated in a neighborhood which has seen an influx of Taiwanese and Chinese residents, and when that demographic started to change his business took a hit. Concerned with dishonoring an unfamiliar business-owner, Asian residents were walking past. Henry, always pragmatic, hired an Asian employee to stand in front and hand out samples of coffee. Now, says Hrag, the cafe is very popular in the neighborhood.
"We're in this business because it is our lineage. We have a lot of pride and honor in our coffee because years ago my grandfather started it." Hrag says that instead of asking about penetration rate and sales numbers, they ask questions like, "What's your nationality, and how does that affect your coffee experience?"
"Business isn't about making money. We are honored to help you and coffee is a medium to express these relationships." When someone from Lebanon offers you coffee, he is offering you his heart and an offer of friendship. For 60 years now, the Kalebjian family have been doing just that in beautiful San Francisco.