People of SRP: JP Coupalby SRP on August 21, 2023
Get to Know: JP Coupal, Fueling Entrepreneurship with Coffee
Co-founder, Coupa Café
It’s not too often that a family-owned café becomes part of pop culture lore. But this is exactly what has happened with Coupa Café. Eagle-eyed viewers of The Social Network movie or The Dropout Hulu series will spy scenes with Coupa coffee cups. And while this is a fun claim to fame for JP Coupal, his mom Nancy, and sister Camelia—owners of Coupa Café—far more meaningful is their long-standing relationship with the larger Stanford community.
JP and his two older sisters grew up in Venezuela, where his parents had moved in the 1970s, after meeting at UCLA. Eventually, JP’s oldest sister went off to college at Stanford. Then his other sister went off to Stanford. Then he went off to Stanford. And then his mom went off to Stanford! Well, kind of.
By the time all three kids had flown the coop(al), Venezuela’s economy was in precipitous decline. JP’s mom, Nancy, decided to diversify their family of restaurants in Venezuela with new business in the U.S. When deciding where she and her husband would relocate, the answer was obvious: Where their kids were. They became Palo Alto residents in 2003.
In 2004, JP’s mom opened the now-storied Ramona Street location of Coupa Café. Upon their respective graduations from Stanford, JP and his sister, Camelia, joined as co-founders. With three Stanford grads in the family, appealing to the burgeoning local tech community was only natural. In an “if you build it, they will come” move, the Coupals decided to offer free Wi-Fi at the café—a simultaneously novel offering and a renegade one, as they broke with the early practice of charging customers for it. The rest, as they say, is history. Countless hands have been shaken and dotted lines have been signed at Coupa Café.
Today, the family operates nine locations, including four across Stanford campus and, most recently, one in the Stanford Research Park. If you find yourself near a Coupa, know that much of the food is infused with some of the best of Venezuelan cuisine. JP says with total confidence that, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, the Venezuelan-inspired desserts—often made from ingredients sourced directly from the country—will not disappoint.
JP also takes great pride in the fact that women assume the majority of leadership roles in the company. Coupa boasts a high retention rate, a fact that JP credits to total wage parity across job roles, a team-oriented environment, and a culture that feels less corporate and more familial.
We’re excited for you to get to know JP Coupal, yet another person who makes Stanford Research Park a unique and special place.
What do you consider your hometown?
I was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. It is a really beautiful city. Just north of the equator, it should have a really humid and miserable climate. But it sits among Ávila National Park, a mountain range that elevates the city 3,000 miles above sea level. As a result, it’s basically 75 degrees with low humidity all year around. It’s got the best climate. And the mountains, which cover all of Caracas, make for dramatic views. On the back side of the mountains are beautiful beaches along the Caribbean Sea. It’s just quite amazing.
Despite the risk of opening a new Coupa Café in the pandemic, we decided to go for it and expand in The Hub. We get to be surrounded by the most amazing companies within SRP. And The Hub itself is just a cool and gorgeous building with so many great amenities.
JP Coupal, Co-founder, Coupa Café
What was your first paying job?
Working as a dishwasher in my parents’ café when I was about fourteen. My parents believed I needed to work my way through the back-of-house positions. I had already almost reached my full-grown height of six feet. The sink was under a staircase, so I spent full shifts with my neck torqued to one side because I couldn’t stand up straight without my head hitting the bottom of the stairs. It was hard work. I worked the whole summer and earned about $300. Shortly after, we visited my grandparents in the States, and I was able to buy one tennis racket with my entire summer’s earnings.
What is a risk you took that paid off?
Interestingly enough, opening Coupa at The Hub in Stanford Research Park. In late 2019, Stanford approached us to submit a request for proposal to open a Coupa at what would become The Hub. By the time conversations progressed, the pandemic had hit, making this a very difficult decision. On the one hand, we could see all the potential of operating out of this incredible building Stanford was constructing from scratch. On the other hand, people were working—and eating—from home. And, at Coupa, we were trying to come back from a rapid 90 percent drop in revenue. For so long, we were in survival mode and working to preserve our employees’ jobs, which was our priority.
Eventually, we decided to go for it and expand in The Hub. It has more than paid off. People are back at the office and at The Hub all the time. And for us, we get to be surrounded by the most amazing companies within Stanford Research Park. At a recent Hub event, my mom, along with other members of the SRP community, got to see a Tesla semi-truck, which she loved. Being in the Research Park has also afforded us the opportunity to partner with companies to offer employee meal programs. And The Hub itself is just a cool and gorgeous building with so many great amenities.
What is an accomplishment you're most proud of?
I’m going to divide this into two parts. In my twenties, it was graduating from Stanford. At the time, I’m not sure I realized what an accomplishment it is. But looking back, I’m really proud of it, and I thank my parents for helping me achieve it. In my thirties, my proudest accomplishment is having two beautiful kids. Our daughter is two and a half, and our son is four months. Our daughter is enjoying being a big sister. And she’s got a big personality! We recently took her to see live music in Palo Alto, and she just started grabbing kids’ hands and asking them to dance with her. As you can imagine, we got great video of this.
What is your favorite food, or what do you tend to crave most?
One hundred percent, pizza. I’m a pizza fanatic. And I like all pizza! I appreciate any pizza for what it is. My favorite pizza, though, is Napoli style. When I lived in San Francisco in my twenties, I used to eat Neapolitan pizza at my favorite restaurant once or twice a week. One of my lifelong dreams has been to go to Napoli—just to eat pizza!