There is something special about the Original Pilot House Coffee (OPHC) shop. You can feel it the instant you step inside. From the hand-crafted live edge wooden accents, to the custom-built walls, to the tantalizing smells emanating from Pilot’s signature coffee blends.
The entire place breathes life.
Owned and operated by Jeff and Heather Rousey, OPHC specializes in organically grown, certified fair-trade coffee beans, custom roasted to achieve Jeff’s unique signature flavor profiles. In addition to its one-of-a-kind line of artisan coffee blends, sustainable business practices and welcoming atmosphere, OPHC serves up home-baked cookies, fruit and other sumptuous snacks, tea, lattes, Italian sodas and more. Stock up on a few OPHC classics while you’re there, including the innovative whiskey barrel coffee, or OPHC’s famous cold brew, which is unlike any other cold brew you’re likely to encounter.
Jeff, known by many as “Pilot,” embraced the nickname when naming the business.
OPHC offers free coffee delivery service during the week, in which “the caffeinator” – sometimes OPHC staffer Michelle Walker and sometimes Jeff – takes to the Monroe streets in a branded WATV festooned with the vibrant, coffee themed OPHC logo.
Freshly baked cinnamon rolls every Saturday morning have become an OPHC tradition.
“Heather and I like to work Saturday mornings together because it gives us an opportunity to really connect with our customer base in the community,” Jeff said. “I feel like Saturday mornings are the finish line for the week. We get to just smile and laugh and have fun. There’s no structure in here.”
Saturdays are truly an example of community at its finest, Heather agreed.
“We’ll inevitably get a phone call on Saturday mornings asking, ‘Do you deliver today?’ and I say, ‘No, come down in your PJs,’” Heather said. “And they do.”
All the coffee served at OPHC is roasted on-site at Rousey Roasthouse, which adjoins the café and adds to its ambiance. Ask for a tour the next time you’re in, for an experience you won’t soon forget. Known for his infectious zest for life and passion for the Monroe community, Jeff can typically be found in the Roasthouse – hard at work on whatever coffee-related idea has him captivated at the moment – whether it’s developing a custom blend for a client or inventing something entirely new.
One thing is for certain: he won’t be sitting still.
Jeff and Heather are deeply rooted in the Monroe community and devoted to community service. Heather is a fourth generation Monroe resident, while Jeff moved to Monroe with his mom and stepfather when he was in the second grade. Their lives became intertwined when Heather was three and Jeff was 13, as their families became close.
“His little brother was one of my closest friends growing up,” Heather said. “So, Jeff was always Tony’s cute older brother.”
Married since 2013, their story might seem typical. But Jeff earned the nickname “Pilot” while serving nearly 28 years in prison for first degree murder – a crime he committed while living in California, immersed in the tumultuous lifestyle that often results from drug use. He was given a sentence of 25 years to life, and at 22 years old, became the property of the California Department of Corrections. When his mom came to visit him in Folsom Prison, she tried to take responsibility for his decisions.
It was a pivotal moment for Jeff. He experienced a fundamental shift in his being. It was irrevocable.
“I made a promise to my mom that I would never ever drink again, and I would never do another drug, ever,” Jeff said. “And I haven’t. It’s just not who I am anymore.”
His mom finessed an interstate compact in 1989, which conveyed him to the Washington DOC. The years passed, and Jeff didn’t know if he would ever be released. But despite repeated rejections from the parole board, he still lived life. He reveled in the art of accomplishment, building programs inside the impenetrable prison walls that healed himself and others. He was a skilled woodworker and craftsman, he fixed bicycles for low-income kids, and he helped other inmates achieve fitness.
He was an innovator, even while shackled and confined to a cement box.
On the outside, his losses stacked up. He lost his father while incarcerated. His mom passed away in 2008. In 2009 his Grandfather Rousey passed away, leaving him a modest, $2,500 inheritance. It was inspirational to Jeff, who immediately set a new goal. It was an unshackled goal, barely fathomable after 23 years in prison. But he was used to obstacles, and, by this time, was quite adept at overcoming them.
“I had been in prison for so long that I had no knowledge of the streets, the community or how things work in today’s world. I mean no knowledge, nothing,” Jeff said. “But I knew that I wanted to invest this money, and make it work for my future.”
He needed something tangible to invest in. He settled on coffee, and immediately set out to become an expert. He asked the prison for interlibrary loans. He got books. He read voraciously. He devoured information, absorbing that knowledge like a sponge. Breathing it in. He taught himself about green coffee bean distribution, shipping, customs, roasting and marketing. He wrote 27 letters to 27 farmers. He repeated the drill with roasters. He forged relationships, he built, he achieved.
His very first investment netted him 900 pounds of coffee beans from a farm in Costa Rica. He developed his flavor profile and calculated exactly how the beans should be roasted.
And he did it all from inside the walls of the Monroe Correctional Complex.
He hung huge pieces of paper on the wall of his cell and mapped out his vision.
“I built the entire business on a piece of paper on the wall of my cage,” Jeff said.
Original Pilot House Coffees was formed in 2010. Every word on his website, he wrote in prison. All the descriptions of his coffees, he wrote in prison. All the custom labels, he designed in prison. All the roasting was done based on specifications he developed in prison.
“I did every single thing from inside my cage,” Jeff said. “Everything.”
He had help from the outside. His brother built his website. Friends would pick up his coffee from the docks and take it to a roaster in Olympia who agreed to help him. It was packaged and distributed. He steadily built his business on a carefully crafted foundation of signature coffees – that he wasn’t permitted to touch, smell, see or taste. It wasn’t until 2012, when he donated 50 pounds of coffee to the DOC for a holiday event, that he was finally able to experience his own creation.
It was like drinking life.
“Finally,” said Jeff. “It was the first time I ever tasted it!”
Heather had reentered his world around that time, eventually becoming an integral part of the business. She never went anywhere a supply of Pilot’s coffee to pass out to potential customers.
“I made up little two-ounce packages and gave them out everywhere,” Heather said.
The couple married on Jeff’s release from prison in 2013. After a few bumps in the road, they settled in and began to build their dream. During the daytime, Jeff worked for a construction company in Seattle. At night, the two completely renovated and refurbished what has become the coziest coffee shop in all of Monroe. Jeff did all the work himself, from the custom woodworking to the floors to the painting. The result is a one of a kind environment reflective of hard work and perseverance.
Coffee may be his expertise, but woodworking competes for dominance in his slew of talents.
“My father was a craftsman, my grandfather too. It runs in my Rousey heritage,” Jeff said. “It’s just something I’ve always been into.”
First, he built the coffee shop, formerly known as the Christian Armory bookstore, owned by Heather’s father. The Roasthouse was next. The buildouts took place in 2015. Jeff was methodical and motivated, accomplishing his five-year business plan in roughly half the time.
Where his “crazy coffee life” goes next is yet to be seen.
Jeff knows the enormity of what he did 33 years ago, and he knows he can’t ever change what happened. And even though he knows that the scales will never be balanced, he’ll never stop trying. Jeff and Heather are both tireless supporters of the community, from the City to the schools, to their memberships in various service organizations. Jeff is a staunch and passionate supporter of Monroe VFW Post 7511, which expressed its gratitude in May of 2019, presenting him with a commemorative military shadowbox and certificate of appreciation.
“I try to make a difference in other people’s lives on the daily. I don’t mean that every once in a while, I help somebody across the street. I mean on the daily, I will drop what I’m doing to help somebody,” Jeff said. “And it’s genuine. It’s from my guts. It’s not superficial.”
Jeff takes nothing for granted. He recognizes that without the help he received from his family, including Heather; Heather’s father, Ken Fulcher; business associate and boss, Jim Barger; and all the others who believed in his vision, his success would have been less assured.
He’d have undoubtedly gotten there, but the path would have been different.
He credits his mom, who always believed in his gifts and infused that belief into the air around her.
“My momma said, ‘You are the only human being that I have ever met who can take a dream, turn it into a goal and make that goal a reality,’” Jeff said. “Those were her words.”
He is a creator, a trailblazer and a motivator, with a contagious passion for living. He is emphatically dedicated to helping incarcerated individuals successfully reenter society. He is an ambassador of rehabilitation – but not because of the DOC’s “key goal” of reducing recidivism. He is an ambassador of rehabilitation in spite of them.
“I have never seen anyone more driven,” Heather said. “He’s more driven from his time on the inside than most people are who have had a life filled with freedom and opportunity. I can’t exactly explain what makes him that way, but I know he is that way.”
Yes. Thirty-three years ago, Jeffrey Mark Rousey took a life. But today, he is life.
Original Pilot House Coffee and Rousey Roasthouse are located at 408 W. Main St. in Monroe. For more information about Pilot’s coffee, please visit: http://www.ophc.biz.