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Meet our team

Laurie Britton

CEO/Founder

A stickler for perfection and the absolute opposite of a morning person by nature, Laurie seems to always have been destined to be part of the world of organic specialty coffee and tea. Initially beginning her career in the manufacturing business, after several years she realized her true passion was coffee following a big decision to move from where she grew up in Oregon to begin with a fresh start and new adventure in San Diego. This led to a major career switch beginning with roasting coffee in her garage, to what was eventually to become Café Virtuoso in 2008, and now what it has evolved into today.

When Laurie first set out to learn about the specialty coffee industry, she discovered the real importance of each and every detail and why 100 percent organic was the only way to go; not just to achieve a quality product worthy of her purist nature, but also for all the people involved from harvest to cup. Coffee is one of the most widely-produced agricultural beverages in the world and the chemicals used in conventional non-organic farming practices in many countries are extremely harmful to the farmers and to the environment.

By being socially and ethically responsible for her product and acutely involved in every aspect of what it means to be truly sustainable, Café Virtuoso’s coffee and tea is something that Laurie is positively proud to stand behind.

Savannah Phillips

Quality Assurance / Education Contributor

Not that long ago, if anyone would’ve told Savannah that she was going to devote her entire professional career to coffee, she likely would’ve laughed quite uncontrollably in downright disbelief. However, fast forward to today and coffee has truly and unexpectedly become her life. Looking back to her childhood, it’s now more clear as to why she chose a career in this industry. An interest in coffee began at the age of 11 after discovering espresso and sweet coffee drinks at a drive-thru coffee stand in Salem, Oregon that placed chocolate covered coffee beans on the lids of their to-go cups for each customer who was in need of their daily caffeine fix. What started as an unusually strong interest in coffee for Savannah, especially for someone so young, has now manifested into a full-fledged obsession.

A native Northwesterner turned So-Cal sunshine girl, she has no memory of ever not loving coffee. Most kids, and even quite a few adults, absolutely hate the taste of coffee, especially the bitterness that some lesser-quality or poorly-made coffee takes on, but Savannah has never complained. Unquestionably, she understands that coffee, in general, is an acquired taste—one that she’s very happy to possess—and now is very grateful to work with an outstanding team that not only loves coffee as much as her, but never makes a bitter cup.

After just one year in the industry and a trip to LA for Barista Nation, she realized that there is an enormous amount of opportunities available for people who want to make a career in coffee. A dozen or so reality checks, a few major obstacles to overcome and several Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Barista Camps and Expo trips later, she obtained her Level One and Level Two SCA Barista Certifications. After that, she knew this is exactly where she wanted to be with her career and ultimately decided to take it a step further to become a Lead Instructor for SCA.

One of the most important aspects about the industry for her is the amount of truly passionate people involved. A large majority of these people, including Savannah, spend their time volunteering for SCA events that are truly impactful in making a difference and continuing to fuel the authentic and unique art of creating an irresistibly beautiful and deliciously memorable cup of coffee.

Savannah’s most recent endeavor is founding the San Diego Coffee Training Institute (SDCTI), a non-profit organization that aims to empower and elevate vulnerable populations (homeless, foster care youth, previously incarcerated individuals, and others) to self-sufficiency through the advancement of coffee. These students receive specialized training in the form of SCA certified classes, workforce skills and job placement. For more information about SDCTI, visit SDCTI.org

Greg Luli, PhD

General Manager

As an industrial microbiologist—both by education and for 30 years by trade—Greg never really imagined that he’d find himself, as he is today, thoroughly involved and immensely intrigued by working in the specialty coffee industry.

After discovering more specifics about the complexity and level of science and technology that is actually involved, he was fascinated at the sheer amount of effort and expertise that is required in order to roast and brew just an above average cup of coffee, let alone one that positively stops coffee aficionados in their tracks. From that moment on and to this day, he has been hooked on continuously learning the endless intricate nuances, varieties and methods that goes into every detail of creating specialty coffee.

Greg loves to spend most of his time outdoors, especially since San Diego has the piqued best climate of all the places he’s lived previously. He’s inspired by the sunshine, mountains, beaches and ocean, which of course is also a no-brainer when it came down to aligning his core values with those of Café Virtuoso as a major proponent of taking impactful steps that benefit the environment as well as other people by being a truly sustainable business.

Ben Phillips

Café Manager

Ben discovered his love for coffee by pure accident in high school. After finding it necessary to stay awake due to an all-night study session for a chemistry final, he thought to use his parent’s espresso machine for the first time with the help of a tutorial he found on YouTube. While he was pleasantly surprised that the espresso kept him sufficiently alert, he was even more amazed by how much he enjoyed the taste. From then on, drinking coffee became a cherished morning ritual. 

During college at UC Davis, he started a job at an on-campus coffee shop that provided him the skills and additional knowledge that further fueled his affection for coffee. By his second year, he became the student manager at the cafe and found himself taking chemical engineering courses that focused on coffee preparation and the science of brewing and roasting. 

His own research also led him to discover the importance of organic, Fair Trade and sustainability in the world of coffee, which not only aligned with his major in environmental policy, but also with his genuine love of being outdoors and his passion for helping to preserve the environment. These same values ultimately led him to join the team at Cafe Virtuoso. 

When not at work managing the retail cafe, Ben will most likely be found traveling whenever possible, as well as running, hiking, climbing or camping, especially in the Eastern Sierras where he spends at least one weekend every month. 

Jeremiah "Iah" Gallardo

Production Manager

Iah was born on Whidbey Island, Washington where he lived for four months before his family packed up and moved to Southern California.

He received his bachelor’s from UC Irvine in social sciences as well as in film studies, which both significantly contributed to his worldview, but didn’t necessarily influence his career path as much as he thought it might after graduating. 

A job as a barista that began right after college was actually what initially piqued his curiosity in coffee. From there it became not only a job that lasted nine years, but also his favorite hobby. Iah began researching by studying other coffee shops, tasting different bean varieties, sampling roast levels, grinding, brewing, and everything in between in order to understand the complex science behind every aspect of this industry. This ultimately led to him joining Cafe Virtuoso as the production manager and one of three members of our expert coffee roasting team.

Maricella Lopez

Office Manager

As long as she can remember, Maricella has always had a bit of an obsession with coffee. Even after graduating from SDSU with a degree in Economics, a career in coffee was somehow still calling her name.

Having grown up in the neighborhood of Sherman Heights, just a few miles from Café Virtuoso, she has been a big fan for years even before becoming part of the team, which seems now to have been pure serendipity.

Maricella’s role as the office manager gives her the chance to share her love of great coffee and ensures that operations run smoothly both internally and externally for Cafe Virtuoso’s customers.

In her free time, despite being a city girl at heart, she loves to escape to the outdoors as often as possible, especially to Eastern Sierra. She also has a natural talent for scouring antique stores and thrift shops for hidden treasures, saying that in many ways, these new discoveries remind her of coffee.  Coffee comes from different regions, has a different method of being processed and therefore has a unique story that is reflected in ultimately how it tastes.