We had the good fortune of connecting with Jay Ruskey and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jay, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
When I was a teenager I worked a lot of jobs, one of which was as a laborer in a Carpinteria greenhouse 6 days a week. It was impactful enough to make me want to start my own business. Not just for money, but to build a healthier work environment for products that I can care about. I worked all the way through school and formed my sole proprietorship when I was 25 years old. The next big step was to form FRINJ Coffee. It was a big leap to become a Co-Founder and CEO and to position myself to lead this industry. At the time, it seemed like the obvious next step as I realized that California Coffee was bigger than I could tackle alone. That was a good decision, as today we have helped over 70 farms in Southern California, arming them with a dream team of people to guide them through the entire process. It is a great culture to be a part of.
What should our readers know about your business?
I am the founder of FRINJ Coffee, headquartered in Santa Barbara, California. We are the first commercial coffee farm in the continental US and provide a whole system solution for farmers. Our goal is to transform the way we grow and experience coffee. FRINJ came from an evolution of exotic fruit farming, which I oversaw from my farm, Good Land Organics. Our mission is to awaken care through the transformative nature of our coffee experiences. The challenges of starting a new industry are numerous, and in the coffee supply chain they are complicated. I rely on a lot of people and expertise to understand the problem and find practical solutions. Before forming FRINJ, I tried to apply key resources available for plant development and marketing, which were really the basis for having quality coffee and getting the return we needed to sustain growth. Ultimately, I can only do what we are doing because we are in California, where we have very modernized agricultural systems with plenty of university support and a robust culinary culture that loves to support locals. Now, after farming organically for 15 years and building a layered agricultural system on my farm, that story and our ability to replicate some of those farming systems seems to be what people want to see more of in their local farming practices. I think FRINJ coffee will be able to offer a scalable multi-crop system that is profitable for the farm and provides a quality coffee experience that the coffee fanatic can support.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Because I live in Santa Barbara that is actually a real request I get often. I like to show them a balance of ocean and land in this unique part of the world.
Day 1. Downtown SB to get an understanding of city culture. Start off with breakfast at Chad’s, then walk or ride the waterfront all the way to Butterfly Beach. Grab a quick lunch a Brophies, then head up to the mission and Natural History Museum because I’m a nerd. Midafternoon, head back to the funk zone for wine tasting at the numerous tasting rooms there. Then, end up at the Palace Restaurant to enjoy the atmosphere and great food.
Day 2. Stop at FRINJ coffee to beg the crew for a cup of California-grown coffee and a farm tour. Then, head out to Santa Ynez Valley where we’d stop at Industrial Eats for lunch. After, we’d proceed to Los Olivos for wine tasting at the numerous tasting rooms in town. Drive up to Lake Cachuma and Paradis Road for a short hike before we head to our next meal. Dinner will be at Cold Springs Tavern, which is a 100-year-old bar and restaurant, built into the side of a mountain. This old stagecoach stop has everything one needs for a country meal.
Day 3. I’d ask my friends to head home because I have a farm to run!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Well, there are many people who have influenced me over the years, especially in the last four years since I formed FRINJ.
First and foremost, my family, Kristen (my wife), Kasurina (14), Sean (11), and Aiden (11) (our children), as well as Jack and Nickie Ruskey (my parents). To build a company and new industry takes full family support and that is what I’ve received through the ups and downs of early-stage business development.
Andy Mullins my Co-Founder and FRINJ Director has been instrumental. I have not met a more experienced business person and to be able to work with him is better than any MBA program I could have attended. Every day I appreciate his involvement and teachings in FRINJ and in my life.
One shout-out that is deserving, but rarely gets mentioned is to Panama Farmer, Price Peterson. I see Price as a godfather to this premium coffee industry. He came to my farm 20 years ago, saw the potential, then gave me my first geisha seeds to explore. He has always been a true visionary and has trusted me to do the right thing for the coffee industry. Ultimately, it is my duty to support a community of responsible farmers and make a long-term positive impact on the entire coffee industry; that’s what I can give back to Price.
All of the FRINJ farmers in Southern California share this vision.