Mike Sheldrake opened Polly’s Gourmet Coffee in 1976 at the end of Second Street in Belmont Shore. Forty-four years later, he is still roasting coffee beans every morning in the same location. Mike bought the coffee part of the business from Polly’s Pies in 1989 after having worked there since high school. He wanted to learn the business from roots to roasting, and the result was Polly’s Gourmet Coffee.
The 15-kilo Probat Coffee Roaster made in Germany is still in use today. Why mess with a good thing? The emphasis has always been the fact that customers can literally get the freshest coffee possible every single day.
There has been a lot of competition over the years, the greatest coming from Starbucks, which opened 2 shops on Second Street alone. A clever marketing ad Mike ran weekly in the local community newspaper reminded everyone that Polly’s was “Down the street from ordinary” and “Friends don’t let friends drink ordinary coffee”. Not only did he retain his faithful customers, he got some Starbucks coverts (me being one). After all, how can coffee beans roasted in Seattle and shipped to California compare with beans roasted right here every day!!
Mike has always been open to new marketing ideas, and for a few years in the early 2000s, is where I came in. When I was living in The Shore, I walked into Polly’s one morning, told the barista what I had always ordered at Starbucks – and what would the equivalent drink at Polly’s. One cup was all it took to make a change in my morning beverage routine. I had given Mike my card, and he actually called me a few days later. Would I be interested in talking to him about some marketing ideas? What follows here is partially a result of that conversation.
The side wall at Polly’s was a giant mass of white stucco. What about a mural showing customers lined up to buy coffee? How about a contest where customers could bid to have their “mug on the wall”? The three highest bidders would have that honor, with their bid money going to the charity of their choice. We raised $2,000, the press was on hand to record the event, and the representatives of the three charities were delighted to receive these unexpected donations. Local Artist Roy Herwick created a masterpiece colorfully depicting the winners in vivid detail. A few years later, the artist painted himself with Mike on the small wall by the side entry. It is disconcerting when you walk up to that door. At a quick first glance, it looks like Mike is standing there!
Polly’s Gourmet Coffee’s 25th anniversary (September 2001) was worth a special celebration. Creative Cakery donated a fancy cake and Long Beach may Beverly O’Neil cut the first slice. You can never have too much publicity
Periodically, Mike would give informal talks which included History from Bean to Cup, Roasting & Brewing and Espresso Drinks. Of course, there was plenty of coffee tasting. The talks were held in the store so there was standing room only if you didn’t get there early. At Cal State Long Beach, Mike has been a guest lecturer since 1997 for the “History of Food” course — part of the college’s Hospitality Administration and Management program. This is a true testament to the value of Mike’s knowledge for all things coffee.
Always thinking of way to give back to the community, different months of the year were dedicated to one of the local schools. Ten percent of total sales for that month would be donated to the school’s programs and activities. A newsletter kept customers informed of all the happenings at Polly’s.
2005 was one of many banner years for Mike and Polly’s Gourmet Coffee. The History Channel’s Modern Marvels, Season 12, episode 51 was devoted to The History of Coffee. Mike Sheldrake was prominently featured in this segment. AND The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SPCAA) in recognizing independent coffee roaster and retailers, awarded Polly’s Gourmet Coffee their highest honor – TOPS Award for Excellence in Coffee Retailing.
Mike also opened a kiosk at Long Beach Airport in 2005. What a great way for out-of-towners to have the ultimate coffee experience. After all, Polly’s does have a website, and orders can be shipped anywhere.
The experience of working with Mike was most rewarding and just plain fun. The best marketing tool, however, is Mike himself. He is available almost every day to call his customers by name, chat about their families, and tell his ever-popular jokes. He creates a comfortable atmosphere and a friendly place to gather.
NOW FOR THE BIG NEWS!! As of October 1, 2020, Polly’s Gourmet Coffee became Sheldrake Coffee Roasting. It is exactly the same operation – only the name has changed. In this time of Covid 19, restaurants have been suffering, and in-person visits are down. So many people who had been acquainting Polly’s Coffee with Polly’s Pies restaurants were sending Mike condolences. Now was the time to rebrand. Since the main focus had always been the roasting, this name change was natural and more fitting with Mike’s operation. New building signs, new graphics, new logo (the wonderful vintage coffee roaster) have appeared. The very popular Polly’s Blend of Mexican and Colombian beans is still the same – now called Mike’s Blend. It’s a new day!
Other chains have continued to target Belmont Shore over the years, but Mike Sheldrake has persevered with the philosophy, “Let others worry about the competition; I worry about the customers”.
The Other Thing – Even though I moved from Belmont Shore years ago, I still miss it and that enticing smell of freshly roasted coffee beans. I pop in when I can, for coffee and conversation with Mike.