If you need a friend, don’t look to a stranger. Instead pay a visit to one of the most affable coffee roasting company’s in all of San Diego. We’re talking about Thankful Friend, whose small crew (Kelli Matheny, Wade Matheny, and their two-year-old Sam) has set out to create a “visual guide to wonderful coffees.”

“Kelli is the brand designer. Wade sources, roasts, and packages the coffee, while Sam, our two-year-old, helps collect beans off the roastery floor,” they explained to us over email. “Our mission is to positively disrupt the daily hurry of life by creating a momentary pause of joy, remembrance, and love for coffees and the producers behind them.”

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Thankful Friend started out in March 2020 and have hosted and participated in a number of events and pop-ups along the way, including over a dozen in their garage last year alone. They’ve developed a reputation for coffee companionship that extends beyond the San Diego city limits through subscriptions, online sales, social media, and wholesale partners that extend internationally. Kelli also runs a design vertical on the side, with gorgeous work in their portfolio. It takes a village, and the Methenys would be remiss not to mention the kind friends that helped them along the way. “We have had so much help, ideas, and feedback making this company possible,” they write, “to list a few: Jared Hamilton, Jeremy Ottens, and Leigh and Jared Smith.”

Thankful Friend stands out for its unique way of categorizing coffee, colorful packaging design, and passion for using coffee as a gateway toward healing. (And their plucky penguin mascot.) We spoke with the Mathenys digitally to learn more.

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Tell us about the brand design!

Kelli Matheny: Our brand design is a collaborative expression of Wade and myself. I have worked vocationally in design for over a decade, working for boutique branding agencies, larger advertising firms, and in-house creative teams. In July 2022, I stepped fully into my own freelance design business while continuing to bring the Thankful Friend brand to life.

You have a great way of categorizing coffees—tell us about how the character, color, and categorization came about!

The Penguin: Who doesn’t love penguins? They are trustworthy and humble, making them excellent companions for a grand coffee journey. Our friendly penguin makes an appearance in all of our branding. You never know what situation the penguin will be in, allowing our brand story to be continually told in new and fun ways.

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Colors: Primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) resonated with us because they extend to our childhood. Not only are they the base of all color combinations, but they are also familiar and conducive to learning. We wanted simple, clear, and repetitive visual cues to create a bridge between what the customer is seeing and tasting.

Each color correlates with a taste profile.

While colors indicate a flavor profile, our layered categorization system allowed us to share more variations within coffee production.

Standards: Our Standard line represents details executed well, such as the soil quality, timing of the pick, processing, and how the coffee is dried. They will always be washed, honey, or naturally processed, displaying the terroir of the farms, regions, and origins.

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Supers: “Exhibiting the characteristics of its type to an extreme or excessive degree.” (Merriam-Webster’s definition). These coffees experience unique fermentations, inoculations, and at times infusions. Naming these coffees “Super” and making our labels holographic was our way of capturing that nostalgic moment of visual delight (Super Street Fighter, Pokémon, etc.) and matching that visual to the coffee’s flavor profile.

Rares: We want to embrace the earnest efforts of producers who prepare their coffees at the highest level. Showcasing these Rare coffees is an opportunity to grow the palate and give customers an “ah-ha” moment that stays with them.

You mentioned branding helped the healing process – tell us about that.

Wade Matheny: Coming from working in all levels of the industry in Texas and New York City for 12+ years, you experience a lot of pain points. Some can be resolved, but most you learn to live with.

Building this brand has caused me to deal with my anger, bitterness, and hurt. I had to believe that things could be better. I had to learn to tell a story of hope instead of critique and anger. Our penguin is alone in all of our illustrations, and thats how we felt during lock down. But over the last three years we have had so many people share how much our little penguin meant to them. Our desire to heal made others feel not so alone.

Kelli Matheny: Our company was formed at the beginning of COVID in March 2020. It was a scary and isolating time, so daily thankfulness was a learned practice and a lifeline cultivated these last few years. Wade and I experienced burnout in our industries at one point or another. Working on Thankful Friend has been a cathartic and life-giving process of building something together slowly, embracing exploration/play vs. production, and being vulnerable enough to invite others to come along on this wild adventure with us. This brand has helped us discover and refine what we are about, what we want to bring to the table, and how we can tell the continual story of thankfulness through visual design.

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Where is your coffee available?

How many pop-ups were y’all a part of this year? 

We put on 12+ pop-ups this year, all from our garage.

What’s next for Thankful Friend?

We are looking to build out a roasting space, continue to partner with cafes that are thoughtful in their approach, and continue the conversation of how visual storytelling can positively impact the coffee industry as a whole.

What are three books [any books] on your shelf?

If I wanted to have a perfect day in San Diego—what should I do first? Where should I eat? Do I need a car?

A perfect day in San Diego—you will need a car. Nothing is far and everything is 15 min. Brew a cup of coffee in a thermos, drive to Bird Rock, grab a croissant over at Wayfarer Bread & Pastry, and head down to Windansea Beach. Find a rock and sit and watch the world wake up, the seals playing in the waves, and listen to the sound of the water moving. From there, grab some tacos at Mike’s Taco Club (we recommend the Special). After that, head over to the San Diego Zoo, and go on a long walk through the beautiful tropical landscaping. To close out the day, head down to Landini’s in Little Italy, grab a box of pizza, and take it to Vino Carta (BOYF). This lovely bottle shop was modeled after our favorite spot in NYC, Chambers Street Wines. Pick out a bottle and enjoy the sunset over the bay.

Last question – does the penguin have a name??penguin

We are so glad you asked! His name is Friend :)

Thank you!