Phin Bar - An Urban Brew Bar

Q&A with Co-founder Paula Cruz-Cao '15, Sonoma Executive MBA


What is Phin Bar's differentiator?
Phin Bar is designed as an Urban Brew Bar that offers Vietnamese-style steeped coffee combined with house made, locally sourced ingredients.  From conception, to production, all the way to the final cup, Phin Bar's goal has always been to emphasize its true dedication to quality, consistency and respect for coffee. Every cup is a representation of what a complete labor of love looks like.
We make all of the components that make our coffee drinks such a unique experience.  Our creamy, condensed milk is 100% organic, as well as the coffee beans that make our base-- sourced from our friends at Taylor Maid Farms Coffee in Sebastopol, CA.
The brand's mission is to use only the highest quality ingredients with no added preservatives. Though the entire process is painstakingly labor intensive, short cuts are simply unacceptable. Hospitality is also something very important to the business. Each customer will walk away enjoying their drink, knowing that they've received amazing customer service. This, we believe, is what makes us even more memorable to people. The company takes pride in being the first to introduce Vietnamese Coffee in this fashion--but it is not enough. Phin Bar wants to be known as the best Vietnamese Coffee in the industry, prepared in the most unique and inspiring way.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?
The freedom be as creative and as risky---well calculated risk, of course--as we can be.    I get so inspired whenever we're out at events, at the biggest companies in Silicon Valley, and I get people coming up to us telling us that this is the best thing/coffee they've ever had.  There are so many innovative minds and unique products coming out of the Bay Area, so to get people talking and appreciating what we work so hard for is just the best feeling in the world.  
My husband and I always joke around, saying Phin Bar is our first born child.  To actually be able to do this with my husband who has been nothing but supportive and also with my family, is such a blessing.   I'm doing something I thoroughly enjoy with the people I care about the most. How many people can say that?
What have been some of your biggest challenges?
When I started the Executive MBA program at SSU, I had no intention of starting a business.  I had this plan of working my way up the corporate ladder while my husband takes his turn of earning his Master's and becoming a Nurse Practitioner.  But this, Phin Bar, took a life of its own!  We definitely had our hands full, never having done this, starting and operating a business before.  Since our business model is quite unique, we can't really compare it to anything else that's out there so it's a challenge ensuring that we are on the right path to success.  Spreading the word about what exactly it is that we do, with the least amount of resources, was quite ambitious.  It was all guerrilla marketing and word of mouth, which actually proved to be more fruitful than any of the paid ads we considered in the beginning.
We've also faced a number of growing pains, particularly with expanding our team and scaling our operations since we do and make everything ourselves.   It's definitely tempting to find ways to make the process "faster" but with every change that we try to implement within the business, we try to always go back to the question: are we at all sacrificing quality and identity? If the answer is yes, then we move on and find a different way of making things better.   
Where do you see your organization going in the next five years?
Our dream, our goal is really to become a household name.  For people to associate Phin Bar with quality, kick-ass, delicious coffee!  We'd love to be on the same level as Blue Bottle or Philz Coffee, if not more.  We are on our second year of business (YAY!) and for now we are focusing primarily on corporate and events catering.  The overhead is low and it allows us to work on scaling our business more efficiently and effectively before we take on our first brick and mortar location.  We are, however, planning on establishing a space for production and scheduled pop-up's early next year.   Ultimately, we'd love to have a location in all major cities--by year five, we hope to have a store front in Palo Alto, San Francisco or maybe even Sonoma county.    The long term goal as a business is to constantly challenge the status quo, to learn, and to always evaluate how we can satisfy our customers better.
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Sonoma State University School of Business and Economics. Reach.
1801 East Cotati Avenue, Rohnert Park, CA, 94928 • 707-664-2377