Doug Zell’s involvement with coffee began in the early 1990’s. He had moved to California to begin a new business venture. It ultimately failed and landed him in San Francisco where he drank his first cup of real Specialty Coffee at the now defunct Spinelli Coffee. It was love at first taste. After stints at Peet’s Coffee and Spinelli Coffee working in various capacities from barista to management, Doug packed all of his worldly possessions into an old Isuzu Trooper and left San Francisco with his wife and future business partner, Emily Mange, on April Fool’s day, 1995 bound for Chicago, parts unknown.
After devising a business plan in his parent’s basement (doesn’t every entrepreneurial story require a basement, garage or second bedroom?), Doug and Emily emerged to found and open Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago’s Lakeview East neighborhood on October 9th, 1995. Doug has literally held every position in the company from coffee buyer, to roaster, to barista, to delivery driver, to bill collector, to Art Director, to chief floor sweeper and everything in between. He currently serves as Intelligentsia’s CEO, a position that he finds alternatively thrilling and maddening. Under his watch Intelligentsia has grown from a single in-store roaster/retailer to a coffee company with 4 coffee bars (three in Chicago and one in Los Angeles) and two roasting facilities (one in Chicago and one in Los Angeles) with wholesale customers throughout the United States and Canada including some of the world’s most renowned cafes, restaurants, up-market grocers and coffee bars. Intelligentsia has garnered countless awards since its inception for its coffee and its competing baristas. Intelligentsia has been credited with developing the Direct Trade buying model as well as coining the term micro-lot and putting on the first ever and increasingly popular latte art throwdown/smackdown.
What Doug cherishes most about the coffee business is traveling to coffee origins along with other members of Intelligentsia’s buying team, to work directly with the producers and producers’ groups that lovingly grow and prepare the best coffees in the world for Intelligentsia to roast. He can’t thank them enough. The stamps in his passport for these visits include Mexico (Oaxaca and Chiapas), Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, and Indonesia (Sumatra and Java).
Doug has served on the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Board of Directors and has served as the Chairman of the World Barista Championship as well as being a Board Member at large.