Where Coffee Community Meets Sneaker Culture: Deadstock Coffee
Ian Williams will be the first to tell you he doesn’t like coffee that much; but he does love shoes—specifically, sneakers.
Townsquared recently caught up with Williams about his unique, only-in-Portland venture: the only sneaker-culture-inspired coffee shop in town, maybe in the world, a place Williams opened because he “just wanted a place where I could hang with my sneaker friends.”
Born in Virginia and raised in Hillsboro, Oregon—not far from Nike’s global headquarters—the 29-year-old Williams absolutely loves the community, and brand loyalty that sneakers and coffee, both craft-friendly commodities, drum up. Think of all the fans of Stumptown Coffee and Nike, both of which, coincidentally, have their origins in Oregon. Entire cultures revolve around these bean and sneaker scenes.
That’s the reason he left a job at Nike over two years ago to venture out on his own and open up Deadstock Coffee, a coffee shop inspired by the world of sneakers, in Portland’s Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood.
As the “Bawse” or “Chief HypeBarista” at Deadstock, Williams may not be a coffee fiend himself, but he does see a significant connection between java fiends and sneaker fans: community.
“Coffee shops [have] a pulse on the community,” says Williams. “You can sit alone, go on a first date, meet with your whole team, whatever.” And, of course, now, at least one coffee shop is also a place to hang with your sneaker friends.
Prior to Deadstock, Williams didn’t see coffee and sneaker cultures mixing much, but “at the end of the day, we’re all just people who like really nice things. We’re serious about crafted things.”
In an homage to sneaker culture, Williams named his shop Deadstock, an old merchandising term for “the end of stock,” meaning an item is no longer in production. To sneaker collectors, however, it usually means “new in box, never tried on.”
Before Deadstock, Williams worked at Nike’s world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, for nine years. He started out as a janitor, “doing all the crappy stuff that janitors have to do,” but eventually “weaseled [his] way into a Shoe Developer job.” Developers work with the factories to create the shoes that the designers draw.
Clearly, it was a good fit for Williams, who’s always had a passion for his sneakers. Asked if he remembers his first pair of sneakers, he offers an emphatic “Ooh, yeah.” Williams talks about sneakers the way outsiders to the culture talk about dating. “The first pair that I got really serious about,” he reminisces, “was the Reebok Question, Allen Iverson’s first shoe. I’ve been a big Iverson fan since 1994.”
Though he does have a favorite pair of sneakers—all-black Jordan XIIs made for some wear-testing—Williams doesn’t get too carried away when it comes to collecting. “I pretty much wear everything,” said Williams. “Why pay all that money to just stare at it?”
(That said, he does keep a pair of unworn Zoom Vick 5’s in a box. Nike suspended the sneaker’s release after Falcons’ quarterback Michael Vick was indicted on federal dogfighting charges.)
Williams acknowledges that lots of people collect Air Jordans—“anything from AJ I-XIII you’ll see a lot”—and adidas UltraBoosts and NMDs and [Kanye West’s] Yeezy line are currently popular. But, he thinks “people should just collect whatever they like, to be honest. Who cares what other people think? Just wear what you like!” Williams often finds himself wear in a pair of Nike Air Monarch IVs.
As for the future of sneaker culture, Williams says he hopes it “goes back to being low-key.”
“It’s awesome to see kids involved and to have people recognize that we are real collectors. But I’m sick of all the fake ‘collectors’ and culture-vultures, people who just want to be social-media famous. They’re messing up my resale prices, man!”
For the time being, the only sneaker-related product Deadstock sells is shoe cleaner. You can, however, appreciate a rotating selection of sneakers on display in Deadstock’s gallery.
Though he doesn’t drink much coffee, he does agree that Portland the best city in the U.S. for coffee lovers. “There are soooooo many coffee shops in the PDX metro [area], and many of them are globally-known brands. That’s crazy! Many people come through our shop in town on coffee tours. It’s pretty cool to be part of that.”
He traces his distinctly un-Portland lack of enthusiasm for coffee to his childhood. “My mom had this French vanilla creamer, and I assumed it tasted good,” he remembers. “I begged for a cup of coffee with some creamer in it. It was a 12-ounce cup of Folgers Crystals and creamer, and I was about 7 years old. I hated it so much, I didn’t have coffee again for about 12 years.”
When he does drink java, Williams always gets an 8-ounce mocha or a coffee soda. Behind the bar, he loves to make mochas—“12-ounce mochas though, working on this latte art!”
Williams believes coffee is a good product for people looking to get into small business. “It’s all a formula, really. Thebusiness of coffee is very simple to understand. It’s just milk, beans, and water in a paper or glass cup.” The complexity comes in “the variations in drinks, and the food and pastries that you choose to carry. And people,” he adds. “Gotta have great people.”
Opening a coffee shop as a first business is still a good idea because, says Williams, “you can start with a stand or something with a pretty small footprint.” He “absolutely” envisions opening another Deadstock.
Williams loves being in Old Town/Chinatown because not only is it near other sneaker-obsessed shops like Index and Compound Gallery but because it’s downtown, grimy and the rent is cheap. “In all honesty,” said Williams. “it’s the last real place in the city.” For him it’s where the neighborhood gets together. “Come hang out in here,” said Williams. “And see how many people know each other just from coming by to grab a cup.”
Deadstock Coffee and Gallery, 408 NW Couch St., (971) 220-8727
Thanks to our Portland Community Manager, Stephen Green, for all images.