For most professional football players, football is life. Sunday is their favorite day of the week. Working out is their favorite hobby. And a porterhouse steak is their favorite meal.
But for Cory Withrow—an 11-year career backup center that made a living out of literally serving one man, his quarterback—he wanted something else.
Yeah, he still loves the game. Yeah, he still trains. Yeah, he still treats his body like a temple. And yeah, he is still serving someone. But someone different, to say the least. Now, he’s serving the ever-growing speciality coffee community.
A community that is far cry from your typical American football fan whose Sunday morning ritual likely consists of wrapping themselves in a mustard-stained replica jersey from 2003. In fact, those that drink speciality coffee on a regular basis, also known as coffee snobs to many people, probably would prefer to spend their Sunday mornings in a coffee shop sipping on a cappuccino.
And now more than ever before, coffee drinking football fans have options. Thanks to Cory and his wife Monica—whom have lived in Poway, CA since his time as a member of the San Diego Chargers in 2006-07—North County San Diegans now don’t have to drive ten miles to have their favorite single origin coffee. Or some pretty badass cold brew that he’s been known to whip up, too.
But why coffee? And why Poway?
One, Cory had always loved coffee. And two, he wanted to find a way to continue to serve people. And it just so happens that walking distance from his house in Poway, CA, where they raised all of their seven kids, was a vacant space. Right across the street from one of the soccer fields that his kids used to play on, and behind a tiny, sleepy strip mall, was the future site of King’s Craft Coffee.
The King’s Craft Coffee Co., as Cory puts it, is a place where he wants people to feel like they can come in and try something they’ve never had before. Whether it’s a chocolate banana cold brew on tap, or a single-origin Papa New Guinea, Cory wants his customers to drink the absolute best coffee available.
Which explains one of the meanings of the “King’s Craft”, and Cory’s constant pursuit of pure excellence.
“If you’re at the top of a kingdom, you are the king. If you’re going to be the king of a kingdom, you’re going to have to provide some provision and protection. We want to protect our coffee community, and our local community, and just provide.”
On top of pursuing the most excellent coffee around, the King’s Craft name also has some biblical subtlety tossed in, and more.
“We wanted to profess faith, to provide a service that no one can touch, and to provide a product that is at the top.”
It wasn’t long after we met that morning that he was asking us all kinds of questions about what kind of coffee we liked, and if wanted to try this single origin espresso, or have some of this cold brew. He was excited to be around people that were excited about good coffee in Poway. He even insisted that we take home some beans to taste, and try all of the pastries his baker had made that morning. We kindly accepted.
To return the favor, I said I’d give him my most detailed, honest critique of the beans. And of course, this story. But that’s not the only way to repay a man like Cory, someone so giving, kind and hardworking. His personality is weaved into his company culture and shop perfectly. You’ll notice upon walking into TKC, packed with natural light and handmade wood tables that come straight from his uncle’s yard in Washington. Despite being open for less than month, this is a place where the judgement that you often see in speciality coffee shops is checked at the door. Like at his church and in his home, everyone is a part of the family, and everyone works hard.
That diligence I keep talking about is so clearly a part of Cory’s chemical makeup. He credits his family, and his hard-nosed Irish bloodlines. Pause for a moment and try to think of how many former NFL players are opening up coffee shops after they retire. But, like in his football career, Cory wanted it, so he pursued it. Simple.
Look at his entire football career. At Washington State University, he walked on. Shortly after, he earned himself a scholarship. Then, the NFL came knocking. But not without him approaching them first. Cory was never drafted, and made a career out of being a backup. But those 11 years kept Cory centered, literally. They also helped him provide for his family, and instill life’s values of health and hard work in his children. When I asked Cory where the motivation to work stemmed from, he got choked up. It wasn’t the NFL, it wasn’t the NCAA, he explained. It was something deeper, as we saw through his delayed emotional pause before answering.
“Work ethic wise, it’s [coffee] just always been something that I didn’t have to do, but wanted to do.”
Cory’s work ethic, passion for coffee, giving spirit, and also where he’s located in Poway, has him set him up for success. Oh yeah, he’s also working with a pretty badass roaster too.
His name is Matt, and he owns Black Velvet Coffee in Mammoth, CA. According to Cory, everything comes easy to Matt. And being around an easy-going, passionate coffee geek like Matt can rub off on a guy. So eventually, Cory started picking his brain. He took note of what he liked and didn’t like Matt’s business. Like being able to serve wine and beer, something Cory hopes to implement in the future. In fact, speaking of his space, there’s quite the neat vacant space right next door to King’s Craft. A perfect space for a micro brewery. Hint hint.
Eventually, Cory started selling Matt’s coffee online. It was close to an instant hit among family and friends. That led to cold brew. Even more of an instant hit. Then came the reality of opening a storefront, a longtime dream of Cory’s. But, like any former NFL retiree, Cory didn’t know what the hell he was doing. But that didn't matter. He had the product, support, attitude and space. And with that a little nudging from his wife, he pulled the trigger. He worked hard, and he fulfilled his second dream.
“It takes being surrounded by angels and not settling for being average. If someone tells me I can’t do something, I’m going to ask them why and prove to them that I can.”
And that’s exactly how the story goes for Cory Withrow. A man of faith, community and provision, defying all of the odds.