Jenny Bonchak (Photo courtesy Jenny Bonchak)
Nominated by Emily Davis
Jenny Bonchak is the founder of Slingshot Coffee, a boutique ready-to-drink coffee company based in Raleigh, North Carolina. An accomplished specialty coffee entrepreneur, Bonchak built her brand from scratch in 2012, starting out hand-packing and brewing every batch herself from inside a shared kitchen. Today Slingshot is distributed nationally through major grocery brands like Whole Foods, Publix, and Target; Bonchak has been named as a Fellow for the 2018 Class of Coca-Cola’s Founders Forum and as Southern Living’s 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year. She manages the brand and oversees the project alongside her partner, Jonathan Bonchak, and together the couple has finaled at multiple national United States Brewers Cup events over the last decade.
What issue in coffee do you care about most?
I care most about equal representation and access to capital for womxn entrepreneurs throughout the supply chain.
What cause or element in coffee drives you?
I’m driven by expanding the definition of what “working in coffee” is. Thousands of people work as baristas to get their start in coffee, but there seems to be a very narrow focus on what’s next for those who want to develop a career beyond the bar. The path is often times working for a roaster. But jobs aren’t always abundant. There are so many more ways to be able to work in coffee as the industry grows and evolves and to be a part of something exciting and impactful.
What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?
Tools and technology can be great… they are great… in so many ways! But the technicality of this gadget or that method means nothing if the coffee/beverage being served simply doesn’t taste the best it can. True palate development has to be a critical and consistent part of any coffee professional’s journey.
What is the quality you like best about coffee?
I like that coffee isn’t forgiving, but if you know it well enough you can coax it to be nicer.
Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your career?
I didn’t experience a life-changing moment early in my career. But when I was practicing for Brewers Cup a few years ago, I shouted “watermelon rind!” after adjusting some of my brewing parameters. And I’d know that flavor anywhere as it’s my favorite part of the watermelon… when you get to the light pink that’s just above the white rind. When I then brewed that coffee at the 2016 US Brewers Cup Quals in KC and nailed that flavor call like nobody’s business, that was a moment when I left my imposter syndrome at the door and felt a lot of pride and trust in my palate. For good reason, too. I won that year.
What is your idea of coffee happiness?
Nothing will ever beat sipping on a clean, juicy, bright Slingshot Cold Brew on a sunny summer morning with my husband, Jonathan, and our beagle, Frank.
If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?
Pretty sure I’d do exactly what I am now.
Who are your coffee heroes?
My husband, Jonathan, has unbelievable skill and natural talent for coffee. So he’s on the list for sure. I have so much admiration for Emily Davis, Aida Batlle, Katie Carguilo, Kim Elena Ionescu (I thought I was going to pass out the first time I ever did a Brewers Cup run-through in front of her), Tymika Lawrence, Sam Penix… not just because they’re coffee heroes/heroines, but human heroes/heroines. There are so many badass coffee pros out there who are coffee heroes and heroines to everyone.
If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I’d drink coffee with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Since high school, I’ve always said I’d want her to play me if ever there were a character of me. I think she’s brilliantly funny—and what’s better than drinking coffee and laughing? She’s also experienced high highs and low lows and mastered them with humor and grace—an ability I admire.
If you didn’t get bit by the coffee bug, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
I’d like to be Liz Lambert’s apprentice for a while to really learn the ropes, and then own/operate a boutique motel I lovingly restored and designed myself along the coast where no detail would be overlooked. We’d operate a small radio station on the property so we could host in-studios with musicians, artists, everyday people and have a hand in bringing back great radio by supporting fantastic musicians (I miss you, WOXY). Of course there would be a super amazing cafe and breakfast joint on the property, too.
Do you have any coffee mentors?
I certainly count myself lucky to have some exceptional coffee people in my life, who not only share thoughts, expertise, and experience in coffee, but in life.
What do you wish someone would’ve told you when you were first starting out in coffee?
I wish I would have listened to Fleetwood Mac with more sincerity when they told me I could go my own way.
Name three coffee apparatuses you’d take into space with you.
Best song to brew coffee to:
Super-Connected by Belly because it’s the best song to do everything to.
Look into the crystal ball—where do you see yourself in 20 years?
I’d like to start a fund to capitalize early-stage businesses owned by womxn entrepreneurs. I want to be in the trenches with them and coach them in order to help grow their ideas and passions into profitable businesses that can continue to change the narrative on equity and equality in business—and then their businesses can do the same. And I’d like to be at that motel serving guests, waiting tables, making drinks, and playing records.
What’d you eat for breakfast this morning?
Oatmeal with dried cranberries and bacon (that I shared with Frank the Beagle).
When did you last drink coffee?
This afternoon, but I’ve been sipping all day.
What was it?
I started my day with a classic Slingshot Cold Brew, then threw back one of our amazing Cascara Teas around lunch and just put away a Slingshot Coffee Soda (Black Cherry Cola). I get high on my own supply.