Coyote & Oak
Photos by Emily Reiter

Sara Peterson, much like her business, Scout Coffee, commands attention. Even sitting in the farthest corner of the shop, Sara was the heart of the room. The energy within the cafe was bright and airy—the Instagram-worthy design surrounded eager customers bustling to order some of the city's best coffee. However, Scout might have always remained a just-out-of-grasp dream for Sara and her husband and co-owner, Jon, had it not been for a fateful push in the right direction: the birth of their first daughter.

Since Sara was thirteen, she knew she wanted to open her own independent cafe, and in 2000, she got a taste of what it would be like at her first coffee position as a Starbucks barista. After some minor job and location changes, she became the manager of a church coffee shop, which would be a stepping stone toward both her and Jon's path to long-running careers at Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz. Even though they loved working at Verve, the dream of opening their own coffee shop lingered. But as Sara confided, "We just didn't have that push to do it. It seemed crazy to go out on a limb, but once Lily was born, we said to each other, 'It's probably now or never.'"

They spent a year scouting locations. Sara and Jon had some specific requirements, mainly that the city would welcome a specialty coffee experience and would be a good place to raise a family. Thanks to their individual personalities and styles—Jon's trademark logistical know-how and Sara's creative spirit—they found their shop’s home on Garden Street in San Luis Obispo.

It was a dream—historic, near other independent businesses, and nestled in the cutest downtown area—and Sara instinctively felt it was the perfect fit. She knew she could make something special out of the forgotten little building, but fate dealt them some serious setbacks. Despite Sara and Jon's combined coffee experience, their loan applications were rejected by ten banks; no one believed in their vision, and the last thing SLO needed, in anyone else's opinion, was another coffee shop.

Undeterred by the nay-sayers, Jon continued to seek out those who would believe in them and their dream. That tenacity would pay off when a connection garnered them an approving audience with someone willing to consider their loan. Sara recalled a moment from that crucial meeting. Sitting in a loan office with Jon and one-year-old Lily, they were pressed, "What are you going to do when this doesn't work?"

Sara replied, confidently, "It's going to work. There isn't any other option." They had funneled their entire life savings into the business and maxed out a credit card—they almost went out of business before they began. They were all in, so there wasn’t room for anything other than success.

By the time Scout's doors finally opened to the public, Sara was pregnant with their second daughter, Evie.

"Whenever I'm having conversations with mothers over the counter, especially when I was pregnant or just had my second, women were always asking me, 'How do you do it all?' And I adamantly admit, 'I don't.' At some point, something else gives: it's either my relationship with Jon, or I have to slack on something at work, or the house is a wreck, or I haven't spent enough time with Lily and Evie. It's not like it goes together perfectly all the time."

Sara and Jon found a rhythm for juggling work and family. Though they’re both fiercely independent, she believes their strengths and weaknesses are complementary, which allows them to understand how the other works best. Sara candidly spoke of both her and Jon’s methods, but she softened when she affectionately said, “I feel really lucky that he has an understanding of what it's like being home with the kids.”

She laughed, “Though, we both joke that being at work is a vacation.”

Long days and a growing family consumed Sara and Jon’s attention. The birth of both their daughter Evie and their second business—a roastery called HoneyCo–were reason enough for them to initially dismiss the idea of opening another Scout location. Unlike their first businesses, though, this opportunity chased them. The landlord returned to them with sweetened offers after every rejection until they were finally convinced to consider the possibility and look at the building.

Standing in the middle of that room—huge windows framed the rolling hills and happy mooing cows—with her youngest, Evie, snuggled next to her chest, Sara felt peaceful. It began to rain, and while water was dripping through holes in the roof, Sara intuitively knew two things: the ceiling was begging for a skylight and risking it all to open a second Scout location was the right decision.

Every choice made and milestone reached is centered around their daughters, making Scout a very personal project for the Petersons, and it’s that closeness that pushes them to bring their best every day. Over the last three years, Sara and Jon have established a local paradise for coffee connoisseurs and dilettantes alike, inspired imitation and competition, and welcomed a new helm of approachability and friendliness that was missing from the coffee scene. As Sara said, “We wanted to make a place where everyone—coffee geek or not—could feel inspired and excited.”

Find Scout Coffee online at scoutcoffeeco.com