Pacific Beach man’s van trips with his aging dog led to new coffee brand
Ray Hivoral and his now-deceased dog, Jack, visited several national parks that are now the centerpiece of his National Parks Coffee Co.
Two years ago, Ray Hivoral of Pacific Beach had some vacation time saved up and a computer-based job he could work anywhere. So he bought and outfitted a travel van and made a series of trips to national parks throughout the western United States with his then-12-year-old dog, Jack.
The goal of Hivoral’s adventures was to spend as much time as possible with Jack, a white English Labrador retriever, before he died of old age. But the unexpected result of their travels was the creation of a new company by the 56-year-old coffee aficionado.
National Parks Coffee Co. — launched Aug. 25, the 104th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service — aims to raise awareness about the parks and their history.
Using beans blended and roasted in San Diego, National Parks Coffee kicked off with 12 varieties of coffee, each named after and inspired by a different national park. Yosemite is a medium roast whole bean coffee with dried fruit, wild berry and cocoa caramel flavor notes. Rocky Mountain is a dark roast with s’mores, chocolate and buttered sugar flavors. And Joshua Tree is a light roast with cactus flower, honeydew and lemongrass notes.
Sold online, the coffee retails for $14.95 plus shipping for either an 8-ounce bag of whole beans or a bag containing eight single-serve pouches of ground coffee.
Hivoral has launched several companies over the years, including a co-working office space, a sports marketing business and an event-planning service. He had toyed with the idea of starting a coffee company for many years but couldn’t come up with a theme, story or marketing niche for it.
Then he heard about destruction caused by vandals in Joshua Tree National Park after it was temporarily closed due to a government shutdown in December 2018. He and Jack had visited the park a month earlier, and Hivoral wanted to do something to honor it and other national parks.
Even before he asked if it were possible to trademark a product named for the government-owned parks, he secured the domain name nationalparkscoffeeco.com. It would take a year before he got permission to trademark the name for his souvenir product. In the meantime, he built the website, designed the packaging, found a roaster committed to organic, fair-trade practices and taste-tested the product.
He got the official OK for his trademark in March this year, two months after Jack died at age 14. Hivoral said it was a hard loss because Jack was his constant sidekick from the time he was a puppy.
“I got Jack after my dad passed away, and he was a recovery dog for me,” Hivoral said. “I went to rescue him, but he rescued me because he helped me get through my dad’s passing. He went everywhere with me. When people saw me, they saw Jack.”
In 2017, Hivoral went to work as a business advisor for the San Diego Community Development Corp., a lender to small businesses. The job didn’t require him to work behind a desk in an office. Meanwhile, he’d noticed that Jack was getting older and wasn’t able to climb stairs or play the way he used to. So Hivoral decided to pare down his lifestyle and give van life a try before Jack was gone. Their trips, which he chronicled on social media, fueled his love for national parks and his desire to share what he’d learned about the parks’ history and beauty.
The website for National Parks Coffee is more than an e-commerce site. Hivoral has hired freelancers to write off-the-beaten-path stories about the parks and visitors’ stories on a Storyteller blog page. As the company grows, he hopes to work with former park rangers to write booklets about the parks that can be provided free to the public.
The website also is home to Hivoral’s new charity, Coffee & Cause. A portion of profits will go to three or four local charities in every market where the company is rolled out in future months and years. The first beneficiary is It’s All About the Kids Foundation, which provides meals to San Diego families with food insecurity. He hopes to sell enough coffee by the end of September to fund the equivalent of 1,000 meals through It’s All About the Kids.
Hivoral said he sees his coffees and accessory items such as cups and carafes being sold in many ways. They could be fundraising premiums for partner charities, a featured part of company employee wellness programs, a retail gift product sold online, and a souvenir product sold at shops and gas stations outside national parks. His goal is to sell 10,000 bags a month.
Hivoral said the coffee company came along at a good time. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, he got a loan for another business he operates, VentureBeach CoWork. But with most Americans working from home, the market for office space has dried up, so he was able to apply the loan instead to the launch of his coffee venture.
“I’ve budgeted $100,000 of my own money to move this business forward,” he said. “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. But I have a full-time day job, so whatever I get out of it I will put back into it.”