Fist Full of Coffee: Raising Hell With See See Motor Coffee Co
Weaving in out of slow rolling traffic, cruising down a coastal highway or kicking up dust on a weather-worn dirt road, the undeniable freedom and joy that comes from holding a fist full of throttle is undeniable.
See See, which started as a coffee shop and cafe for the Portland, Oregon, motorcycle community has grown into something much more culturally significant. Yes the brand itself has evolved into a clothing label, retailer, and the tour de force behind Portland’s The One Motorcycle Show, but the truly transcendent part of the See See story is how a gathering place for moto heads become synonymous with motorcycle culture.
We caught up with Tori George at See See to get the inside scoop on the company’s humble beginnings, creating a community, and what the future holds for Portland’s two-wheeled fiends.
How did the concept for See See come to fruition?
For as long as the motorcycle has been around, coffee has been part of the culture and lifestyle associated with two-wheeled machines. Founder Thor Drake realized this and joined forces with George Kassapakis and combined the two into one business which is now known as See See Motor Coffee Co. The original location in Portland, Oregon, was an old warehouse built shop with a tiny retail space that offered Poler tents, Biltwell Helmets, and air-pots of Stumptown coffee and popcorn. Eventually needing more space See See evolved and ventured into the current building we are in now with a full retail shop and coffee cafe. While we never had any plans set in stone, we did have a goal of keeping our little motorcycle community open and inclusive and fun for anyone interested in coming by. Over almost 9 years later it has been such a hit that it led to opening our KTM dealership just a few blocks away, as well as a second Motor Coffee shop in Reno, Nevada, and soon a mobile Motor Coffee Sidecar. While business has been highly successful between selling good coffee, motorcycles, and vintage-inspired apparel, it’s hard to fully grasp or appreciate the vast number of things See See and Thor Drake and the team are involved in.
See See has a variety of projects – Motorcycle apparel and gear, a cafe, and a large custom bike show. Which came first and was it always your intention to expand outside of the original offering?
Yes, there are a lot of moving parts to See See Motorcycles and it’s hard to always connect the dots on them all, but we do our best. See See started, intentionally, a little bit different than what was available almost a decade ago in the motorcycle world. The standard was lots of skulls, flames and big loud half-helmeters, which is fine and great but not for everyone. We really just liked bikes and riding whatever we could get our hands on, which wasn’t much in the way of gear and custom bikes, so we did it ourselves. We also didn’t want motorcycling to be so “hard to get into” or intimidating. We believed you didn’t need to be “prospected or accepted into it” So it started with a motorcycle show that had no rules, no regulations, no “box” that the show bikes had to fit in… just a good old fashioned Rung-what-ya-brung motorcycle show for local builders, that men women and families could all be apart of. We opened doors for other people to enjoy them, and it kind of started with that notion of turning things on its head a bit and seeing what happens. We built a couple of our own custom bikes opened the doors to the show and over 60 bikes showed up and a thousand people attended that first year, and that’s when we knew we had something. We had to keep doing it. The One Motorcycle Show evolved and so did our community and our cafe which has evolved into what it is today, which is a coffee shop where anyone can come and enjoy coffee, grab some motorcycle gear and be involved in an inclusive motorcycle community.
Culture is a strong word, but it certainly seems like See See has cultivated a community and influenced motorcycle culture especially in Portland, how have you seen the community and culture change since you first started the company?
We won’t claim to have created the motorcycle culture or community here in Portland. However, yes, we are proud to have helped cultivate it. We are proud that we were able to bring it all together the way we have over the years. Not only do we speak to the existing motorcycle clubs that have been around for decades and decade, but we’ve inspired new riders into the fold. We’ve opened the doors for people to experience two-wheels without having to “prospect” or be accepted by anyone else to do it. We provided a safe space for folks to meet other folks and learn to ride, wrench, talk shit, or just questions about the motorcycles outside our cafe without being intimidated or having to prove oneself. We’ve brought together families and friendships that we really would’ve never thought would happen otherwise.
Portland seems like an incubator for small independent brands. Do you think being in Portland has been a key factor in See See’s success, is Portland a good place for small brands to thrive?
When nine months of the year is grey you have to get a little colorful. You have to get creative to survive here and you have to be a hard worker to keep afloat, and fortunately, back in the day, you didn’t need much financially to get others excited about something fresh if you did it right. Portlanders are loyal folks and proud of what comes from our city. For us, we just filled the gap and that need for a meeting space enjoyable enough to get you out the house and interested in meeting up with other folks also trying to avoid the rain. We intentionally presented The One Motorcycle Show in the dead of winter to keep motivation and enthusiasm high for ourselves along with the other 10-15 thousand other people that show up for it each and every year.
What has been the biggest surprise or unexpected success the brand has experienced?
We are always so blown away when an old veteran of the racing world comes to us saying that See See is exactly what this sport needed. Whether it’s motocross, flat-track, off-road racing etc it’s always such a surprise to hear it come from someone with such history and knowledge of the sport. It’s confirmation that we are doing it right and for the right reasons. It may not make our brand millions but it keeps the sport and community alive, and that’s been our mission statement and goal here at See See. The support we get from established and well-known brands and companies in the motorcycle world blows us away. We feel like that has been one unexpected success.
It’s also pretty phenomenal when you see Ken Roczen sporting See See gear during a race too.
On the flip side what have been the biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge is understanding and deciding the exact direction for us, and knowing where to put our efforts all the while keeping true to who we are and what we believe in. As mentioned before, we have so many moving factions, tieing them all together and having the ability to keep up with them all sometimes becomes a challenge in itself. We are still a family run and family owned business trying to make it all work but are very happy trying.
Any big or rad projects that See See that we should be looking out for?
We are really excited to introduce our Mobile Coffee Cart that will be hitting the tracks and roads this summer for all the events we can handle. It’s a Ural Sidecar motorbike built with a full espresso machine and generator. We’ll literally be able to pull up into the woods and serve you a coffee in the middle of an off-road event. We can’t wait to share it with the community.
What do you think See See’s legacy will be?
We hope that our legacy consists of inspiration. We hope to continue inspiring future generations to keep the sport of motorcycling and motorcycle racing alive and well in Pacific Northwest and beyond.