John Dustman Pours His Heart into Red Rock

Local man finds meaning in one not-for-profit coffee shop's values of community, culture and caffeine.

Originally from a small town in Indiana, John Dustman came out to California to attend Stanford University and receive his degree in chemistry, but soon realized that the coffee shop community was where he wanted to be.

Now as director of coffee at Company, Dustman says it's the "not-for-profit" part of the business that brought his family on board with his career choice.

At Red Rock, he aims to reveal to customers an exciting side to coffee in developing their tastes for new and bold flavors.

Mountain View Patch: How long have lived in Mountain View?

John Dustman: I have lived in Mountain View for about three years now.

Patch: Where did you grow up?

Dustman: In Bluffton, IN, a small town in northeast Indiana.

Patch: What brought you to California?

Dustman: I got here about five years ago for grad school in chemistry.

Patch: Could you explain what you do at Red Rock?

Dustman: My role here at Red Rock is the director of coffee. In that role, I am overall responsible for developing coffee culture at the Red Rock, which in its simplest form is ordering all the coffees, maintaining proper stocking of all of the coffees, hiring and training our baristas and writing descriptions of all the coffees.

At a deeper level of coffee culture is just trying to get our staff and our customers excited about what they’re drinking, exposing them to new coffees they might not have tried before, helping them to think about how the coffee might taste differently than other coffees they’ve had and hopefully better, and also how their buying decisions at Red Rock can be more impactful to the farmers that our roaster works with than buying fair trade can be.

Patch: What initially sparked your interest in coffee, and how did you come to learn so much? 

Dustman: Initially the interest in coffee was purely mercenary. I needed the part-time income. At that point, it was just I needed a job. Red Rock was hiring, and I got a job. Over time, working more here and going through transitions and being involved in the decision making to bring on two different roasters here at Red Rock have really evolved how much I know about coffee and how I think about the way that coffee can taste.

Patch: How long have you been an assistant manager at Red Rock?

Dustman: I took on that role about three years ago. I worked for about a year part-time … and after a little over one year, I took on the assistant manager role.

Patch: What makes Red Rock different from other coffee shops?

Dustman: One of the biggest differences you can see as you walk in the front door is it is bigger, and then if you go check at the second floor of Red Rock, it is just a much bigger space.

The management team has really embraced that—to make Red Rock a space where people can make it that third space when they are not at work or home. They can come to the Red Rock and hang out or get work done or take in a show.

On the coffee side, Red Rock has significantly better coffee than anywhere else on the Peninsula.

Patch: What makes Red Rock’s coffee better than others?

Dustman: The development of flavor in the beans is quantifiably higher. They are more sugars, more acids, more body, much higher balance of flavors in a way that a lot of people may not appreciate at first, because coffee is an acquired taste from the beginning. Then from there, people will build their perceptions of what a cup of coffee is supposed to taste like, so they may not necessarily be used to what Red Rock is doing with the coffee we buy. But I firmly believe that it is some of the best coffee coming into the states with an exciting and always-changing menu.

Patch: How long has Red Rock been open?

Dustman: Red Rock has been here as a café for over 10 years. It’s been under the same management for almost six years now. Under Jean (the current manager), she has been here for the same four years that I have. She started about a month after I did.

Patch: Who owns Red Rock?

Dustman: Red Rock is actually owned and operated as a nonprofit by the . It’s a non-denominational church that has its offices upstairs. They run Red Rock just as a way to be out in the community and to be a place for people.

Red Rock functions as a separate not-for-profit. The coffee shop isn’t funneling money back into the church; sometimes the church has funneled money to the coffee shop, but any of the profits that we are making now are actually going either back directly into the local community through the support of elementary schools, Little League baseball, various community events around here or, more broadly, the global coffee community, as we have a chance from time to time to make donations to some of the coffee farmers from whom we’re buying.

Patch: What brought you to Red Rock? Was it its connection to the community?

Dustman: Initially, the connection was actually through the church. I was going to the Highway, and shortly after Highway bought the Red Rock, almost two years after, I started working here. I only had a vague sense of what the mission was at that point. And more than anything else, what has made it a lot easier for my friends and family to swallow—me having a master’s in chemistry but working at a coffee shop—is the whole nonprofit side of it. In some way, it legitimizes it to other people. If it wasn’t enough for me to just love it for what it is, other people have a different perspective when you say you are working at a nonprofit coffee shop.

Patch: How did your family react when you initially told them you were going to work for Red Rock?

Dustman: My mom kind of freaked out. My dad took it more in stride. They understood, because they heard the frustration over the first couple years while I was there (at Stanford). I think it took through about two years ago for them to see that I was stabilizing into this and was actively choosing to do something, rather then just choosing not to do something else. So at first it was probably harder for them, because I said, "I don’t know what I want to do; I just know I don’t want to do this," and then, when I finally found something else that I could stabilize and get into and ultimately be happy with, they were more at ease.

Patch: What influence has art had at Red Rock?

Dustman: The arts alongside the community here and the coffee here are one of the other core values of Red Rock—caffeine, culture and community. Arts falls under the culture value as another way to reach out to the community. ... From the beginning we have tried to get fresh art on the walls, keep a steady rotation of bands, introduce new bands here, and continue to support an open mic that has been here as long as the coffee shop has been here.

When the Highway bought Red Rock a few years ago, they actually talked to the guy who was running the open mic and told him yes, please stay, keep having the open mic here, because it was a way to provide community to those people.

There are live shows here Friday and Saturday night on the second floor. We have a guy who books those shows and is always trying to get new artists and trying to span a wide range of genres.

Most of the art is now collected by one of our baristas and our bar manager, Brendon, who actually helped draw the graffiti mural that is on the second floor now. He reaches out to various local artists that he finds online or artists he interacts with directly in the shop.


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