See See Motor Coffee Co.
Owner: Thor Drake
Date Opened: 2003
Number of Storefronts: 1
Location(s): 1642 NE Sandy Blvd. Portland, OR 97232.
Editors Note: For the next month, TransWorld Business is bringing you a different shop profile every day as part of our 30 Shops in 30 Days series, presented by Bustin' Boards. Keep an eye out all month for more shop spotlights from across the country.
While recently in the Pacific Northwest, TransWorld Motocross Editor Michael Antonovich made a stop at a business that embodies two of the brand’s favorite things: caffeine and motorcycles. Located on the east side of the city, just over the Willamette River, See See Motor Coffee Co. has been making a name for itself with its unique retail concept, and by sponsoring well-known freestyle rider Drake McElroy, among others.
Run by a group of passionate riders headed up by Thor Drake—who is also responsible for launching the 1 Show in Portland—the space houses a motorcycle shop, retail space, and dining area that has a steady stream of clientele. The retail space carries everything from apparel, accessories and parts, to See See’s own private label collection.
TW Moto had a chance to catch up with Drake about the history of See See, his partnership with Drake McElroy, and what he, a fan turned influencer, thinks about motorcycle riding's current state. Also, take the official tour of the retail space, garage and coffee shop.
Reporting & photos by Michael Antonovich
How would you describe See See?
See See Motorcycles is a coffee shop and motorcycle shop, which are the business side of things. We also put on events, put on races, and sponsor racers ourselves. It was designed to be a little more like a skate shop in some senses, where we tried to grow the community of people who are in to what we are [into].
We live the exact way that we want the people who come in to want to live. We love building and riding bikes, hanging out around the whole scene, and racing of course. Basically it is me fulfilling my dream job, when it comes down to it. I get to do cool shit all of the time because of motorcycling.
What is the backstory of what you were up to before starting See See?
I had worked for Nike, and then started to do stuff on my own in a workshop. I had all kinds of shit, rode here and there, but the economy took a tank and I was at my wits-end. I wasn't getting paid for what I was doing, so I went back to school for advertising for a year. I did an intense program at Wieden+Kennedy, which is a big global advertising agency. It was a good experience, but after it they couldn't get me out the door fast enough. There is a lot of sitting at a desk with advertising, and I'm just not that guy, which strangely enough I do a lot of now [laughs]. Eight hours a day is spent in my office, dreaming about being in the workshop. I had an idea of how to put things together, and out of that I put together the 1 Show out of that school program because I was sick of working on really crappy campaigns that no one cared about. I figured I'd make a good experience out of the program and made it look really pro, and that first year was a magical year. It set the tone and everything took off from there. In that process, I dreamed up the idea of owning a shop and told enough people, so I couldn't be the flake that told a lot of people but fell through. So we kept See See running with our first store, a really small space in the industrial area of Portland that was mostly a workshop with a tiny retail space. We opened the doors with about as small of an amount of money that you can get away with; I think I even started it with a three hundred dollar sticker order. It was whatever we could do to stay out of advertising and not have a "real job," loosely termed.
How did you decide to open the second location?
[The first location] was in a weird area of Portland where there was not a lot of walkthrough, so for See See to grow we had to add some more legs to it. My business partner at the time took a job in Boston and sold out of the company, but another friend, George Kassapakis, who has a lot of restaurant experience, dreamed up this thing with a café and motorcycle shop, with the third leg being the shows that we put on or the builds, the extra stuff that we've added into it. Ever since we got in this space, it has been really good with a steady influx of people and business is getting better. I think motorcycling is also getting more popular, which helps as well. But our cliental aren't necessarily motorcyclists. Some people come in because they are interested by the place and some of our regulars had never considered getting a bike until they came here. Now I see a lot of them riding, which is pretty cool. I'm stoked to say every person that works here rides, which I think is rare for any motorcycle shop to have. It's been cool and we get to do whatever we want, because we don't have to "obey the law" or whatever [laughs]. We just have fun.
How did Drake McElroy become involved in See See?
Drake McElroy is one of my personal heroes and its funny because we were born on the exact same day. Growing up learning to jump and sucking at it, I looked to him as a man of style. Which is really interesting for motorcycling, because it has in some ways lost some of its style over sponsors. Drake was just a cool guy that was insanely talented at riding motorcycles and I was introduced to him by his brother, Cody, who was into skateboarding. When Drake and I first got together, we tried to think of a thing we both enjoyed, which was adding a little style into motorcycles that we were into, which were dirt bikes. That bred the Smoking Seagulls, which were the first two builds that we made. Mine was an XR400, which was street legal but the bike that your grandpa has, basically. He used an old SuperMoto YZF for his, and because he was hanging out with Roland Sands a lot, we looped Roland in the mix. That was seven years ago, when we built our first custom bikes and because it went over well and we got a lot of press we didn't expect, we kind of saw an area to capture. That is where we started the whole idea of Smoking Seagulls and See See; Drake was more of the Smoking Seagulls guy while I was just trying to make the See See model of a shop. Smoking Seagulls is the attitude of what we'd like to bring and See See is the shop. Both help each other out and do things on our terms, which felt honest. With everything that I have done at See See, I value Drake's creative sense and ability to ride. In a perfect world he wouldn't have to travel the world, he would be in one location doing See See stuff, but everyone has to get paid. I've opened this location with nothing really; So to ask him quit his day job to do this would be a big favor. But I hope that sooner or later everything will converge in someway, because it's fun when we work together.
Tell us more about how you came up with the idea behind 1 Show?
the top priority and it was as true as I wanted it to be as possible: Just hanging out in the garage with friends and talking about bikes. It was free to get in, there were dollar beers, you could stay as long as you wanted, and there was no one telling you what or whatnot to do. You could come, have a good time, and leave without spending a ton of money. The way to make that happen with a big show, with the cost involved, is to go to companies that are looking for people to buy their products. The one really cool thing about our shows are that we select our sponsors, if that makes sense; I don't put an open call out to everyone and hope we get something, because the sponsor has to be aligned with the same vision otherwise it is a pointless sponsorship. I really made it a point to find brands that would want to be involved, not just paying some money and asking how it was. I want all of our sponsors to add something to the community and the people interested in motorcycling. We have to get sponsors to pay for the shows, but we try to get the best that we can find. Every single sponsor we have had, like BMW coming on for the 1 Show last year, have been really cool, humble, and interested in the show. We work with a lot of local companies, because growing up in the skateboarding and snowboarding worlds, I like to work with my friends.
What does See See’s team look like?
We sponsor a couple of riders like Andy DiBrino who is a nineteen-year-old road racer that is super talented and Kevin Rookstool, who I met through Drake. Kevin is really good and we knew about him through that, but we found out he is racing the whole outdoor series as a privateer. He's just out there doing it and having a lot of fun, while enjoying the lifestyle. He's not on one of the big factory teams with the support and regimented schedule, but just because he likes it. He has the spirit of getting out there and getting it done because he likes it, not because it's a job. Anyone that has added anything to motorcycle has done it because they liked it, not because it was a job. I'm sure it becomes that at some point and there are some cloudy areas, but life is too short to do things you don't enjoy. Especially if that's what you do all of the time.
My requirement for anyone on this team is that you possess this spirit that I believe in, which is that this is supposed to fun and enjoyable, not a chore or a job. You can treat it that way, but you should first and foremost have fun. That is the spirit that I want to promote. Those kinds of guys are nice to talk to and inviting, and they want to help people learn to race better and safer. I'm fixated on the racing thing, because all of my heroes were racers. I want to support that because that is the thing that will persevere.
What’s your take on the current state of the moto industry?
What I see happening in motorcycling is that a lot of people get into it because it looks cool, but there has to be something more than that. When it comes down to it, you can't fake it on the racetrack, can't be Steve McQueen without racing. You have to do it because you can't just look like it. With a lot of people just getting into bikes, a certain amount just want to look like it and I don't think that is going to live forever. The one thing that has always been constant since the age of man is racing, and I wanted to put some focus on it because it is what I like to do. We have a ton of really good racing series going on in the Northwest and one that I had been to before was the Salem Indoor flat track. It is a family that runs it and I think they have since the late 1970s, with a good track and good facility that is very accessible to everyone. We kind of showed up interested in doing it and focusing our efforts into something during the wintertime, when it's wet in the Northwest, and we stunk up the pits a little bit [laughs]. It wasn't a smooth transition with us coming there racing, but we kept coming back and by the end of the series started to win some of our classes. That got us a little respect from the guys that have been doing it a long time. The one really cool thing about flat track racing is that anyone can do it, with any kind of bike. It is a good gateway into racing, because it's not too terribly hard to ride a motorcycle in circles, but it is to go fast and do it well. I wanted to help them promote it and get more people racing, because it's what I enjoy. And that is where we started our See See Racing from this past year.