Tom Weborg '64 (Business Administration)
Java City owner brews up success
Tom Weborg always knew he’d end up in the coffee business. But it’s safe to say he didn’t expect to lead a java juggernaut.
The Java City co-founder got into the bean-roasting sector of the coffee market in the early days of the coffee craze and helped build a $45 million empire that ships beans all over the country, has hundreds of licensees and operates retail outlets and cafes in locations all over California.
After he graduated from Sac State, Weborg joined his parents in selling packaged national-brand coffee to restaurants and businesses.
“Going into business with my parents was a sort of a dream of mine. Of course,” Weborg says with a laugh, “it was my dad who told me, ‘You never want to be in restaurant business—only sell to them.’
“Not only did we get into it, but we got into it in a big way.”
The idea for what became Java City came from his now wife Sandra Singer.
“She said, ‘You’re in the coffee business. How about roasting your own coffee?’”
After some research they, along with another co-founder, opened the first Java City in 1985, at the corner of 18th Street and Capitol Avenue in Sacramento, where it is still in operation. Later they expanded their offerings to include other items to go with the coffee, and an institution was born.
“We happened to hit this whole coffee craze inadvertently,” Weborg says.
Within four years they had added four cafes and six stores in Sacramento.
Looking to go public, Java City grew to 73 stores in the West with 800 employees and more than $35 million in sales. But by 2000, the plan to go public had been scrapped because of the s-word: Starbucks.
“It had such a control of the market,” Weborg says. “Even today, there’s not a clear second in the industry.”
Instead Java City changed its focus away from retailer to wholesaler, and began licensing locations rather than owning and operating. There are now more than 560 licensed locations in the United States.
“We changed our whole business model to something that no one else was doing as well as we were,” he says.
In 2001, with revenues reaching $45 million the partners decided to sell the company to Campbell Bewley Group out of Dublin, Ireland. Once the sale went through Weborg essentially retired, though he remained a consultant as well as the company’s spokesperson in Sacramento.
He is also president of the Crocker Art Museum and serves on Sac State President Alexander Gonzalez’ Executive Committee, helping to guide development of the University’s Spanos Sports Complex.
Today Java City provides coffee to everything from cafés to fine restaurants to Raley’s, Bel Air and Nob Hill Foods grocery stores, as well as to their own franchisees. And it is the official coffee supplier to Delta Airlines.
The company also still maintains 12 retail sites as a way to keep in close contact with the wants and needs of their customers and franchises.
“The hub of cafes is great for marketing research and checking brand awareness,” Weborg says.
Java City also offers varieties of coffee that benefit others. It recently launched “EcoGrounds,” an umbrella program that incorporates all the practices that promote sustainability—shade-grown, organic, rainforest, fair trade, bird-friendly—and have the added benefit of being the growing conditions that lead to the best-tasting coffee.
Weborg is also particularly proud of Java City’s Art for Kids’ Sake program, which shares the proceeds of that line of coffee between the Crocker Art Museum and the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.
Weborg believes his success came from always keeping the customers’ interests paramount.
“I don’t think I ever did anything specifically for enhancement of the bottom-line. But I think I did things to make the customer experience better and that always fed back to profitability.”
Of course, he doesn’t count out a few other factors.
“Luck is important. I think work ethic is important,” he says. “It’s also important to enjoy what you do. I always enjoyed what I did and I always looked forward to going to work. And to end up being fairly successful is a bonus.”
This article was originally published in the Spring 2007 edition of Sac State Magazine.