It’s hard to think of Moniker General, the coffee shop and retail store in Liberty Station, without thinking of PLNU students. The store and coffee bar — with its neutral, earth-based tones and airy, friendly atmosphere — is usually full of students studying, talking with their friends over coffee, working at the register or making drinks.
Cooper Sage (19) is the general manager of Moniker Coffee and Craft Creamery. The Craft creamery is one of the newest companies under the Moniker group, which involves ice cream production. Sage oversees all of the locations and wholesale coffee production, as well as the baristas and food teams.
Sage works at Moniker because, simply put, he loves coffee. Not just how it tastes, or the fact that he drinks it every day, but because it brings people together and fosters community.
“Coffee is so simple but so powerful,” Sage said. “It’s such a powerful tool to connect with people. It can be part of a conversation over a Bible study, or hanging out with a friend. There’s so much intricacy with roasting and sourcing, and how in many third-world countries coffee is a core staple to their economy and the backbone to their livelihoods. It’s just beans and water at the end of the day, but it can be so impactful.”
Sage started working at Moniker as a part-time barista in June 2018 while he was a student at PLNU and has stayed with the company ever since. “One of the reasons I wanted to [major in] business was to own my own coffee shop someday,” he said.
Sage grew up in Roseville, CA and went to high school in Penryn, a nearby small town. Both of his parents went to PLNU, as well as his great-grandparents (who attended when it was still Pasadena college) and his uncle Jim Johnson, Ph.D., who recently retired from PLNU’s Department of Psychology after teaching there for 30 years.
“I boast that I graduated twice because my mom was actually pregnant with me when she walked,” he said. “I ultimately decided to go to Point Loma during my junior year of high school. [My dad] ended up being incarcerated, and so that kind of spurred me to go to Point Loma and be in that Christian environment.”
Also during his junior year, Sage applied to work at Starbucks.
“I was like, ‘let’s just do something simple,’ and I really liked that about Starbucks,” he said. “It was just a cafe, easy as a cup of coffee. You got to talk to so many people and connect with them. Having people recognize you — that feeling of knowing people and also being known — I really loved that.”
The “virtue of hospitality” that Sage saw cultivated at Starbucks and other coffee shops is what led him to work at Moniker, and what gave him a passion for coffee.
“It’s just beans and water at the end of the day, but it can be so impactful.”
“The ‘why’ behind the coffee piece connects to why I chose Point Loma,” he said. “We want to make people feel like they really are welcome, that they are thought of. [Moniker] is a safe place for them to come hang out, drink a coffee, or read a book in all of our spaces.”
Moniker General, which sells coffee, cocktails, and retail goods, opened in 2016 at Liberty Station. Moniker, as a company, was founded in 2010 by a team of carpenters. “We call ourselves a hospitality company,” Sage said. In addition to the Moniker General store, Moniker has design and fabrication teams, as well as an event company.
Sage’s go-to drink at Moniker is the Single Origin, which is a classic drip coffee on rotation that features coffee from roasters throughout San Diego.
“Moniker is pretty unique in the sense that we don’t actually roast our own coffee,” Sage said. “We work closely in partnership with Sur coffee, and we connect with other shops throughout San Diego to showcase what they’re doing and feature them on our menu. We see that as a strength, as an opportunity to collaborate, connect with, and champion other people and what they are doing in the San Diego community.”
Sage’s role as general manager involves working across many teams and departments, as well as overseeing the food and beverage teams. Leading a team and communicating well while remaining kind, supportive, and people-focused are values he learned from professors at PLNU.
“So much of [this role] is taking the time, being available, and having that human element,” Sage said. “[This was] modeled extremely well at Point Loma. Professors showed me what it looks like to lead and accept challenges.”
Sage praised PLNU’s business program and its holistic approach to business.
“There’s this triple bottom line of ‘people, planning, and profit,’ and a lot of times secular business programs talk about the bottom line being all about profit,” Sage said. “But the true value of a company is also associated with the environment and the people that it’s impacting. I feel like my top strength is how I manage my team and connect with them and show them grace which can help them grow. I’ve learned to appreciate the journey and what it takes to get there. It’s not all about how much money we made or didn’t make this week.”
“I’ve learned to appreciate the journey and what it takes to get there. It’s not all about how much money we made or didn’t make this week.”
Sage said his dream of owning his own coffee shop someday is still there, but it’s taken a bit of a backseat to his current dreams of growing and working alongside the people at Moniker.
“I’ve really fallen in love with this company and the people who are part of it,” he said. “[Moniker’s culture] aligns really well with Christian values and Point Loma’s values. It isn’t a drive thru. You’ve got to sit down inside the shop and talk to people.”
One of the positions Sage oversees is the person working behind the register, a position called ‘woo,’ which stands for ‘winning others over.’
“It’s from Strengthsfinders — we kind of stole it,” Sage said. “The heart of that position is to not just take someone’s order and get to the next order in line as quickly as possible, but to make it relational and not so transactional.”
That relationality is what inspires Sage to continue to show up for his team and for the people they serve.
“It’s a great way to embody Christ’s love to others,” he said. “That’s our job as Christians, to make sure people feel seen. It can be something as simple as a cup of coffee, asking them how their day is going.”