Corban Campbell, Singing Sun Coffee

Ventura, CA

November, 16, 2020
Ventura, CA

Through our mutual friend, Keegan Fong, I met up with Corban Campbell, owner of Singing Sun Coffee in Ventura, CA. Over the past twenty years, Corban has spent quite some time traveling to surf destinations, hitting the road upwards of thirty to fifty times a year. He eventually found himself working in marketing for surf brands where he learned photography on the fly, and some of his personal portrait and lifestyle work has been published in select surf publications. He would later leave behind his corporate marketing job to move to Ventura and open Singing Sun.

We met up for an early coffee at his shop, where we had time to catch up and chat about life, inspiration, and how Singing Sun came to be:


What's an ideal morning for you?

An ideal morning would be waking up early, feeling rested, and making coffee with my wife Raquel. Ideally, my son Oscar would wake up once we’re caffeinated, so we can all be moving to the beat of the same drum. It's nice to spend time with them in the morning making breakfast, and hanging out before the day gets going. From there, we wish the little fellow off to day care, and I head toward the beach, to see what the ocean is doing. I typically always have a camera with me in case something stands out in the day. In a perfect world, the waves would be fun and I’d run into some friends. For me it’s best to not spend the morning calling or texting people to surf, better just to see who shows up. Depending if I am scheduled at the shop or not, I will go by to see what’s broken since I was there last, or see what needs to be fixed or cleaned.
Has coffee always been a passion for you? When did you realize opening your own shop was something you wanted? Tell us a bit about the process of conceptualizing and opening the shop.

Coffee has been a passion for me since I started drinking it, and feeling the effects. It's not hard to get behind. I love coffee! Traveling was a big educator in terms of exposure to all kinds of different coffees globally. Originally the goal was to try and know all the good coffee shops in every town, and to be able to connect the dots while on the road, and never be far from a good cup of coffee. Once you have the good stuff it's hard to settle for anything less. I knew I didn’t want to continue working my corporate surf marketing job forever. It was tuff on a young family, me being gone as much as i was. My wife is an accountant for an architect firm and knows how to run all the back end pieces of a business. She is also extremely talented and has an eye for design. She’s a deadly partner to have on a business venture, so I knew that she could set us up for success and run all the numbers and projections accurately. Life in my mind is about the quality of your lifestyle and the people in it. Coffee was a way to be close to both. It has been fun messing around with people, and hanging out all day. Getting to know the shop regulars all by first name and what’s going on in their lives is awesome! In my previous jobs there had been a cap on creativity, and I love the idea of being able to do whatever you or your friends dream up. Having no boss means you can do whatever you want, right? Haha. Except the landlord, health Inspector, customers, and the city, to name just a few. They all become your boss, but you can figure it out. I also liked the idea of getting into the business of something that’s essential for most people. It's a commodity.

My friend Jason Woodside owns a coffee shop in New York city called Happy Bones, he was a huge support and source to lean on, and learn from. It's actually kind of funny because Keegan Fong and I started sharing a plan and conceptualizing an ideal to build a coffee shop. A couple months into it Keegan told me he wanted to do coffee, but it was a stepping stone to what he ultimately wanted to do: A Chinese comfort food restaurant with his mom and her recipes In LA. I don’t know anything about Chinese food, and the part of LA he was thinking wasn’t near the ocean, so we went our separate ways. His restaurant Woon is killing it and rightfully so. Keegan is an awesome human. I haven’t met many people as good as him. Love that dude. Actually i take that back my very first job, I was a dishwasher at a chinese restaurant! From there I worked a bunch of different restaurant jobs prior to the surf world, such as: I was a line cook, fry cook, prep cook, bus boy, server, and my ultimate claim to fame was I was the dishwasher at Outback steakhouse!

Another thing is my wife or I don’t come from money, we saved as much as we could and took out an SBA loan. I told her If all else failed and we had to declare bankruptcy because the coffee shop didn't work, at least could buy a sail boat and live on that and have each other. So yeah, we were all in! I won’t say it was easy starting a coffee shop, there have been a lot of very uncomfortable times along the way, but I think that’s when you grow as a person, is when you put yourself out there and do something that is scary or new. So yeah friends, traveling, and a bunch of shitty restaurants and odd jobs, paved the way for us. It took my wife and I about three years of loose planning before we got to a point to pull the trigger.
Your background encompasses surfing, photography, and design. How have those elements influenced your latest project, Singing Sun Coffee?

The majority of my life has been spent on the road traveling to surf destinations with surfers, musicians, and artists, so I inherently see things from more of lifestyle, “humans living the life” perspective. We don’t look to other coffee shops for inspiration, but rather try and showcase coffee and people through our strengths, with a new perspective in the coffee world. My background also makes me actually shy away from surfing, and focus on other outdoor aspects of life in conjunction with coffee. Before my wife and I opened the shop I had never taken a photo of a coffee, so it’s been really fun and refreshing.
Who are some of the artists/designers/makers you worked with on Singing Sun and what drew you to their work?

We have been fortunate to make great friendships with some really talented humans! Jeff Canham is our main squeeze. He designed our sun logo and is a good friend that I always bounce ideas off of. His sneaky skill that one might overlook is: colors. He is so good with color theory in his design, and how he sees things. He has been at it for a while and has a very timeless design acsthetic. I can’t say enough nice things about Jeff. My wife Raquel is very good with interior design and colors, additionally, so in terms of the shop layout, furnishings, etc she had a lot to do with every aspect. Our friends Gabe and Bergen at Abrego designs helped us collaborate and build all of the woodwork in the shop. They do really amazing work! Gabe and I were actually sleeping in the shop durning the buildout process. Talk about feeling vulnerable and out of your comfort zone... We recently built out a gallery in the front window of the shop per my friend Kim Pollo’s bright idea. The gallery was intended to play to the strengths of the shop not being open for customers to enter, and give them something to look at aside from the COVID paper work, while they waited for their coffee. This has allowed us to showcase work from artist such as: Jeff Canham, Rachel Kaye, and Nate Tyler. The gallery will be up until January 1st at this point, unless CoVid says otherwise. Jay Nelson is a long time friend and is helping design our new to-go cups artwork. Ty Williams has been doing some awesome t-shirt doodles for us, that everyone loves! Thanks to Keegan Fong for introducing us. We always have ceramicist making pottery to sell such as Takoma ceramics, and we have new mugs coming from Klapp ceramics. My buddy Beau Flemister helps me with some writing stuff, and Kenny Hurtado has shot some photos of the shop. Victor Pakpour is constantly helping with video projects and music. Jake Neuman is a local carpenter in town that helps me with pretty much everything including both of our new to-go windows. Long story short, we are fortunate to work with so many talented humans! It’s hard to say why we’ve been drawn to them aside from it making sense to us, and they are all really, really special!
What sources of inspiration do you find yourself turning to most?

I think mostly traveling and seeing people’s internal creativity and how people do and see things differently. Also, just how beautiful life and this planet can be. It's yours and you can do whatever you want to do if you work for it. ●