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Bob Sinclair was the founder of San Diego’s specialty coffee trade. He was the first one here to roast fine coffees and offer them for sale to both wholesale and retail clients with a view toward appreciating them for the varietal and other intrinsic differences they offer.
More than that, Bob helped create some of San Diego’s most captivating and comfortable coffeehouses. His Pannikin stores made friends of two generations of San Diegans and established a look and feel that many coffeehouses have adapted into elements that shape a style unique to San Diego. He had a fine taste that compelled him to choose buildings like the former Santa Fe Railroad station at Leucadia, the brutally elegant triangular spot at Kettner and G and the ancient, ivy-covered building at 7th and G for coffeehouses and retail stores. His early coffeehouse in La Jolla became a respected example of its kind and has been recognized — and copied — by many in the coffee trade.
Bob was a straightforward man who offered sage advice to those wanting to enter the world of coffee, and those who took his counsel usually soon saw the benefit of following his lead. One always came away from a conversation with him filled with jewels of knowledge and clarity, and he was open-handed with generosity to those who asked it of him.
One can only imagine how many people Bob influenced through the trade or more likely, through the coffeehouses he created. There are many roasters, cafe owners, brokers and others who got into coffee through Bob and many, many more whose lives were shaped by the influences found in the coffeehouses he created. Had it not been for him, San Diego would never have seen the rise in cafe culture that began in the early 80’s and which has influenced much here and elsewhere since.
There is no one as important as Bob Sinclair was to the growth of the coffee trade here. He was, and is, preeminent.
John Rippo lives downtown and is the publisher for ESPRESSO, San Diego’s Coffeehouse & Cafe Newspaper.