Mitch Lison and Tom Waterman first met at Hills Bros. Coffee, Inc. which later became a subsidiary of Nestle Enterprises. A native of Pittsburgh, PA, Lison earned a degree in Marketing from John Carroll University, an MBA from Xavier University in Cincinnati and, among other accomplishments, helped build Hills Bros. into one of the nation's leading roaster of food service industry coffee. The California-born Waterman earned a degree in Sociology from California State University Hayward, and first concentrated on the area of human resources, developing labor contracts and policy for Hills Bros.

Here the two began to truly cut their teeth on the coffee business, sitting with industry elders at informal roundtable discussions at San Francisco restaurants and bars, including several — such as Boondock Bay — that later lent their names to specific Bay Area Coffee brands. Inspired by the integrity inherent to the coffee business — where a handshake means more than a contract and a man's word is as precious as life itself — Waterman left Hills Bros. to purchase and operate one of the largest green coffee warehouses on the West Coast, and then owned and operated two gourmet coffee stores in The City. Meanwhile, Lison became the vice president and general manager of the Nestle Beverage Company's Gourmet Division, securing new business with major grocery chains and increasing sales volume by more than 50 percent over three years.

It was in San Francisco coffee circles that Lison and Waterman came to understand and develop relationships within the coffee industry.  Both partners had focused on educating themselves from the inside but quickly realized that success lay in taking their knowledge of coffee expertise to the customer.  Nurturing close relationships between Bay Area Coffee and its potential customers would translate into success.  They sold roasted coffee products in a custom format, removing the hyperbole, to clients in the grocery, food service and specialty channel environment.  Rather than sell a fixed portfolio of blends and roasts, they worked with customers to develop flavor profiles that were unique and understood.  This approach made customers confident in offering matchless blends and roasts to the coffee loving public.  With Bay Area Coffee's guidance, customer confidence was developed and understanding of coffee sales greatly improved.  This translated into increased sales and improved margins for both Bay Area Coffee as well as its customers.  Education coupled with great service and competitive pricing established Bay Area Coffee's value.

The Process

The process of roasting green coffee beans hasn't fundamentally changed over the past century. Perceptions of what is quality coffee, and what is merely a commodity coffee, have greatly shifted. In fact, the whole bean "gourmet" coffee now sold in 12-ounce bags is remarkably similar to what our great grandparents ground and brewed prior to World War II. Among the many dozens of recipes for roasting and blending coffee beans are some that go back to the 1930s.

After the Great Depression and WWII, American consumers began demanding products that were more convenient to use — in both packaging and application, thus the rise of ground and canned coffee in multi-pound, vacuum-sealed cans. The quality in these coffees were generally good and yet varied, mainly due to the sizes of the beans chosen for a blend; the smaller beans generally are not as flavorful, or as expensive, as larger green beans.

Coffee is a terrifically competitive commodity business, particularly at the bulk end. By the 1980s and 1990s, manufacturers of canned coffee began to sacrifice quality for price. This opened the door for gourmet manufacturers such as Bay Area Coffee, who understand that individual consumers have quite different tastes — in strengths, styles and flavorings — and that there are sometimes distinct regional and cultural preferences in coffee.

Consequently, there are a number of different coffee manufacturers concentrating on different segments of the market. In some ways, coffee is not unlike the wine business. Companies continued to put ground into 34oz and 3lb cans not unlike Gallo and its jug wines. The familiar gourmet brands such as Starbucks and Peets offer coffee that's not unlike the higher quality wines made by Robert Mondavi and Buena Vista.

To continue the wine analogy, Bay Area Coffee is like a private label negociant, those French merchants who buy various lots of grapes or wines, blends them up in quality, and offers buyers a fine wine at very reasonable price. Through its care and consistency in blending and roasting, Bay Area Coffee offers its industry clients gourmet coffee at a price remarkably close to coffee that is ground and canned.

Yet another advantage for Bay Area Coffee customers is freshness, which to a palate attuned to coffee makes an appreciable difference. Most Bay Area Coffeearrives on the shelves of our customers within a week or two of being roasted; for most national and well-known brands, the time lag is more in the range of months. For customers in northern California, the service is even faster, thanks to the direct delivery company called Custom Merchandise Services Inc., or CMSI.

What's more, Bay Area Coffee meets the social needs of its clients, with coffee that is certified Kosher, Organic, Free Trade or Shade Grown. Bay Area will taste test literally hundreds of blends with a client. And if a preference is not on the menu, Waterman and Lison will create an entirely new blend. And, once a preferred taste is chosen, Bay Area Coffee guarantees it will be delivered, on time, over and over.

The Plant and Its People

Bay Area Coffee employs approximately 40 people, mostly drawn from the area around Benicia and Northern California. From master roasters to custom packers, all are dedicated to serving our clients with fresh coffee roasted to the most exacting standards. Following are some of Bay Area's equipment and capabilities.

Batch Roasting

  • Three Burns R23 four-bag roasters
  • One Diedrich small batch roaster
  • Ribbon Blending capabilities for flavoring
  • Twenty Million lb Annual Capacity


  • High speed Eagles (3) automated equipment
  • Packaging Sizes
  • Fraction Packs: 1.0 to 3.5 oz ground
  • Bags: 4 ounce to 3-lb. ground/whole bean
  • Bulk: 3-lb. to 25-lb. ground/whole bean


  • 16 high capacity roasted storage bins
  • Over 50 portable roasted storage tote bins

Marketing and Branding Support

For its partners and clients, Bay Area Coffee offers much more than swift delivery of fresh coffee that is consistently roasted and blended to a precise standard. With decades of success and experience in product development, brand creation and management, Lison and Waterman can provide all those services that can make a commodity a distinctive and valuable sales item. The company's branding solutions include:

  • Category Analysis
  • Trademark Development
  • Package Design
  • Point of Sale and Display Design
  • Advertising and Promotion Materials
  • Strike Market Research
  • Executional Tactics Specific to Customer