Former NFL champ’s new playing field: coffee, breakfast, and wine

“Jason

Jason Kyle is sitting outside the new Press Coffee in Old Town Scottsdale with a mug in hand. It is a moment of calm for the ASU alum and football standout. Since graduating in 1994 with a bachelor’s in marketing, Kyle hasn’t shied away from a varied career in competitive industries. From professional football to tech startup, Kyle is now back on his home turf and finding community, passion, and success in food and beverage.

With a lineup that includes Press Coffee Roasters, the Over Easy franchise, and a boutique Napa Valley winery, the 46-year-old Kyle credits lessons learned in the classroom with his ability to tackle the challenges of a diverse business portfolio.

"ASU was a great opportunity for me to explore and define my business interests. I feel professors did a great job of presenting material in a way that gave me a level of confidence in business outside of the classroom."

From Super Bowl to startup

Born and raised in Tempe, Arizona, Kyle’s first career started on the playing field. The former Sun Devil linebacker/long snapper earned a spot on the team as a walk-on in the 1990s. He became the Pac-10’s leading tackler before going onto a 16-year career in the NFL.

A fourth-round draft pick in 1995, Kyle ‘s pro career started with the Seattle Seahawks and included a Super Bowl appearance with the Carolina Panthers and a Super Bowl championship with the New Orleans Saints. He would go on to log 203 regular season games and became a mainstay in the league as a long snapper, a specialty position that was growing in vogue. He retired in 2010 at age 38.

Even during his NFL tenure, Kyle had his eye on life after football. He launched ProPlayerConnect, a sports-related technology startup while he was still playing. The online platform helped companies connect with professional athletes and create a relationship, allowing for a quick and easy path to endorsements and appearances.

“We were a great solution for the mid-level professional athlete looking for opportunities off the field,” he says.

With the backing of a venture capital firm, the business grew to include about 3,000 companies and 1,000 athletes, including hockey legend Gordie Howe, football’s Vinny Testaverde, and basketball’s Tom Chambers. He estimates there were roughly 200,000 offers made on the platform.

Finding community in coffee

Where ProPlayerConnect provided a network for professional athletes like himself, Kyle found another type of community in the world of coffee. While deciding on his next steps, Kyle had made Press Coffee Roasters at the Scottsdale Quarter his neighborhood meeting place. It wasn’t long before he noticed the rare customer loyalty the local coffee shop attracted. He reached out to Steve Kraus and Alex Mason, Press’ co-owners, to learn about their plans and share his ideas for a possible future.

"Steve and Alex had created a great brand, and I wanted to be part of it. It took about six months of negotiating, and we had a deal,” he recalls.

Five years later, Press Coffee is carving out a niche that extends well beyond the lattes poured at its cafes. The three owners easily balanced their roles in the new relationship. Kyle explains that Kraus and Mason concentrate on the coffee and the operations while he focuses on business development.

"Being an Arizona company, we want to create a brand our customers and staff can be proud of. Not only proud of the product but proud of our community involvement,” he says. “We recently started Press On Charities, which works exclusively with Arizona charities.”

Kyle makes the rare sports comparison: It’s like the hometown pride associated with a football team.

“If the conversation is about coffee, we want people in Arizona to say, ‘We have the best coffee in the nation right here in Arizona,’ ” he says.

Late last year, the company opened its seventh full-service café and unveiled plans for a new $3.5 million, 5,600-square-foot facility in northeast Phoenix where people will be able to watch the roasting process. The roastery is scheduled to open in Spring 2019.

The playbook: Learn, get better, have fun

Kyle explains Press will stay local with no more than 15 locations in the state. But that’s not the case with the other concepts in his portfolio.

The modern breakfast/lunch diner Over Easy is a franchise model with eight restaurants in three states (Arizona, Washington, and Florida). Kyle says Over Easy will continue to grow with franchise locations.

Also occupying his time is Beau Vigne, a 4,000-case winery Kyle bought with a partner this year. The boutique winery is stepping up its game with a new $7-million facility built on eight acres in the Napa Valley. It is expected to be ready for the next crush in September next year.

The company also owns 10 acres on Atlas Peak just northeast of the city of Napa, where they source most of the grapes.

Kyle takes a hands-on role in all his businesses — an approach he’s taken since his days putting on the football pads.

“The formula for me in football or business has always been to get up every day and find a way to get better. With a little luck, I usually win more battles than I lose,” he says. “For me, having fun is the key. I wake up every day and look forward to what’s on my to-do list.”

His advice for ASU students and others looking to follow unconventional paths in the business world: "You're entitled to nothing. Make base hits every day and value relationships along the way.

“If I could go back to my ASU days, I wish I would have had the mindset of ‘How can I pull as much information out of these professors as possible,’ versus just trying to survive.”

By David Schwartz