Jean Paul Coupal talks coffee, community
On a Monday morning at the Coupa Café outside of Green Library, loyal regulars wait in line for carefully crafted lattes and cappuccinos. The aroma of freshly prepared Venezuelan dishes and the sound of lively Latin music ensconce passersby. Baristas attend to the hissing espresso machine, trying to keep up with the seemingly endless queue of drink orders from sleepy patrons seeking a morning boost. Known for its bold coffee and espresso drinks–as well as its affordable and authentic Venezuelan fare–Coupa Café has become an integral part of the Stanford community in its four years on campus.
Jean Paul Coupal ’07, who graduated from Stanford with a degree in economics, opened the first Coupa Café in Palo Alto in 2004 with his mother Nancy Coupal. Coupal’s initial philosophy behind Coupa was simple: to provide fresh, high-quality and affordable coffee.
“The idea is to get great coffee directly from the source to you,” Coupal said. “We purchase the highest quality beans from farmers in Venezuela and then brew and ship them out to California next-day air.”
In addition to its bold, fresh coffee, Coupa Café is also known for its extensive menu, which includes dishes such as authentic Venezuelan arepas, sweet and savory crepes and paninis featuring local ingredients served on freshly baked organic wheat breads.
“We want Coupa to be a place where you can go and not only get a great cup of coffee, but also get a great meal,” Coupal said. “I think that having both high quality coffee and food has really allowed us to be successful at Stanford.”
Coupa Café’s success on campus began with its opening in the Yang and Yamazaki Environment and Energy (Y2E2) building in 2008. Upon opening, Coupa Y2E2 quickly became a favorite spot for students and professors. In 2010, Green Library also awarded Coupa Cafe a lease to replace MoonBean’s Coffee, which had occupied the neighboring kiosk for 10 years. Coupal said that he largely drew from his own experiences at Stanford in drafting a proposal for a Coupa location at Green Library.
“I was an undergrad here, so I really understand the value of having a Coupa right at Green Library,” Coupal said.
In 2011, Coupa Café further expanded to the Graduate School of Business and opened an “express” branch at the Huang Engineering Center. The expansion of Coupa at Stanford, Coupal describes, can be attributed to its progressive and innovative mindset.
“We constantly aim to improve our product, and I think that’s why people have responded to Coupa so favorably,” Coupal said. “I want people to really recognize Coupa for its quality.”
Coupal also noted how his experiences as a Stanford student have been an immense help in his ventures as a restaurateur.
“Economics definitely gave me a specific mindset for solving problems,” Coupal said. “A lot of the questions and decisions I face are modeled by the skills I learned in econ classes.”
Though he graduated in 2007, Coupal continues to remain active in the Stanford community and often provides advice to students who are forming their own startups. Coupa Café has served as a testing ground for several restaurant-related startups.
“Many entrepreneurs create a product, and they can get a lot of exposure at Coupa,” Coupal said. “Whether it’s a survey or loyalty or communication tool, I like to give tips and advice given my own experiences starting Coupa.”
Coupal’s interactions with the Stanford community have largely shaped the growth of Coupa Café, and Coupal sees a continued dialogue with Coupa’s patrons as the key to its future growth and success.
“Coupa was really born out of Stanford,” Coupal said. “We can always be improving, and we will continue to turn to the Stanford community to better our product.”