Kevin Fuller, the owner of longstanding Portland cafe Albina Press and a prominent figure within the Portland coffee community, died suddenly this weekend. His family has yet to release the cause of death. Fuller is survived by his longtime partner, Joana O’Connor, and his three children, Georgia, Stephen, and William.
Fuller opened North Portland cafe Albina Press in 2004, during the rise of the third wave coffee movement. The cafe, with its limited digital presence, became a neighborhood standby known for its responsible sourcing and diligent barista work; soon, the cafe developed national buzz, from New York Times name drops to coffee competition medals. Riding the wave of that success, Fuller went on to open two other locations in Vancouver and Hawthorne. In his 16 years running Albina Press, several prominent Oregon baristas worked with him, including Barista owner Billy Wilson and Coava CEO Matt Higgins.
“To me, the Albina Press was the best coffee shop in Portland during the third wave, period,” Higgins says. “Kevin’s vision was that nothing short of excellence would come across that bar.” Higgins worked for Albina Press in its early years, eventually going off to start his successful roasting company. Coava would go on to supply the cafes with coffee beans, which it still does to this day.
“Kevin managed with his heart,” he says. “If people needed help with their rent, Kevin was helping them with rent. If someone was going through a bad breakup, he would take you to the Crow Bar and buy you shots... I don’t know if I’d be in my position here, running Coava, if Kevin didn’t give me a job. I am forever in debt and thankful for him taking a chance to employ me.”
Nich Ealy-Elder, a longtime Albina Press employee, remembers Fuller as a private and dedicated coffee connoisseur and businessman with a clear vision. “Kevin took so much pride and joy in seeing people go and open their own thing and succeed,” Ealy-Elder said. “We all knew how much it meant to him to see Coava do so well, to see Barista do well, Palate in Bend... Seeing people go off and do better things, he’d do his competitive dad thing, but it made him so proud to see people go on and succeed in the industry.”
Portland’s cafe community has been mourning his death throughout the weekend, sharing thoughts and memories of the barista in Facebook groups and on social media. “Kevin has been a leader and someone I’ve looked up to for my whole career,” writes Alex Pond, who works for coffee nonprofit Cup of Excellence. “His dream was always his staff and the roaster and the farmer.”
The owners of Bend coffee bar Palate shared a similar message on their Facebook page. “Kevin Fuller was one of our greatest teachers,” the post reads. “Kevin poured the most beautiful latte art, blindfolded. He is one of the original Portland coffee greats.”
Those looking to support his family’s funeral costs can donate to this GoFundMe.
Updated March 30, 2020, 2:02 p.m.
This story has been updated with comments from Coava CEO Matt Higgins.