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Commonwealth Joe: Meet Robert Peck

By Luke Fichter

As we celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we sat down with Robert "Robbie" Peck, a local entrepreneur whose vibrant journey through life and business captures the essence of innovative pride here in National Landing. Robbie, a co-founder of Commonwealth Joe, shared his story with us—from his roots in Virginia to his rich Korean-American heritage.

Tell us your story. How did you land here, in National Landing?

I've spent nearly my entire life in Virginia, having grown up in Culpeper and attending the University of Virginia, where I studied Systems Engineering and Business. After college, I embarked on a consulting career at Accenture, which was instrumental in sharpening my skills in the corporate world.

Following graduation from UVa in 2009, I lived briefly with my Korean grandmother in Falls Church for a few months before moving to Ballston with friends. Then, I lived in Virginia Square for about 6-7 years, during which time we founded Commonwealth Joe. I transitioned to work full-time at Commonwealth Joe in 2013. During this period, we were often in Crystal City, hosting numerous coffee events and getting involved in the local scene. This regular presence allowed me to witness firsthand the potential and growth of the area.

In 2015, we decided to establish our flagship cafe at The Bartlett in Pentagon City, drawn by the vibrant energy and promising future of the community. Our cafe opened in 2016, and then a year later, I moved to Pentagon City and have called National Landing home for the past seven years. Having lived in Arlington for over 15 years and in Virginia for nearly four decades, my roots here are deep, and my commitment to the community is strong. National Landing is where I live, work, and play. 

So why coffee?

My coffee journey started in 2004, when my mother and I worked together at a local coffee shop in Culpeper, Virginia - she was a roaster and I was a barista. It was there that we both fell in love with amazing, freshly-roasted coffee. A year later, my mother started her own coffee roasting company. I supported her in various capacities, helping design her business logo, launching an e-commerce website, and occasionally assisting with packaging and customer fulfillment.

My real turning point came in 2012 while hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain with a close friend. This was a period of deep personal reflection. It clarified my mission, deeply influenced by my parents, who were both entrepreneurs, and their journeys inspired me to embrace a similar path. I wanted to impact communities and empower others to pursue their passions through business, starting by working with my mom and bringing her coffee to market.

With renewed clarity and purpose, I returned home from Spain and rallied three friends from the University of Virginia to embark on a new venture. We founded 'Commonwealth Joe' as a coffee distributorship to bring my mother’s craft-roasted coffee to a broader audience under the new brand. Our mission was to make amazing coffee more approachable and accessible. Since then, there has been no looking back, as we continue to share our love for coffee with as many people as possible.

You mentioned you are Korean-American and were able to travel to South Korea with your grandmother. Can you share a bit more about your family’s heritage and history?

I have always known that I was half Korean, though I didn't fully grasp what this meant until later in life. Growing up in Culpeper, a place with very few Koreans, my primary exposure to Korean culture came through the traditions preserved and meals made by my Korean grandparents – my grandmother in particular. This early connection to my heritage planted a seed of curiosity that grew as I matured. As I grew older, I felt an increasing desire to delve deeper into my Korean origins. In November 2019 I traveled to South Korea with my grandmother, who was 85 at the time, and my cousin. This trip provided the perfect opportunity to explore our family's past and experience the rich history of Korea firsthand.

One of the highlights of my 2019 pilgrimage to Korea was learning about my great-grandfather, Dr. Chang Sei Kim. A pioneer in public health in Korea and a fervent participant in the Korean Independence Movement, Dr. Kim’s work aimed to improve physical health standards in Korea. He believed that improving the physical health of Koreans was essential for their ability to achieve independence and thrive as a nation. He was notably the first Korean to receive a Doctoral Degree in Public Health from Johns Hopkins in 1925.

I also discovered more about my great uncle Ahn Chang Ho, linked through marriage to my great-grandfather as their wives were sisters. Known by his pen name Dosan, which means 'island mountain,' he was a prominent leader of the Korean Independence movement. Notably, he and his wife, Helen Lee, were the first Korean couple ever to immigrate to the United States in 1902. Their passports were authorized by Emperor Gojong, numbered 51 and 52, prior to Japan taking control of Korea. Dosan was an early leader of the Korean-American immigrant community in the United States and he founded many organizations to unite Korean immigrants and promote Korean independence, including the Friendship Society in 1903, Korean National Association (Daehan Heungsa) in 1909, and Young Korean Academy (Heungsadan) in 1913. Dosan played a key role in helping to establish the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai in 1919. It is rumored that Dosan was one of the authors of “Aegukga”, the national anthem of South Korea. During Ahn's activism for Korean Independence, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Japanese Imperial government at least five times. Dosan promoted values such as education, moral integrity, self-reliance, collective responsibility, leadership, democracy, and social reform, all aimed at empowering individuals and creating a strong, ethical society. His efforts in education and moral philosophy underscored his belief that Korea’s liberation depended on the education and ethical advancement of its people.

Additionally, my late grandfather, James Kim, born in the United States and a Georgetown University graduate, had a distinguished U.S. military career. He served in WWII in the U.S. Army, participating in key battles across the Pacific Theater. During World War II, the number of Koreans who directly fought alongside U.S. forces was relatively small, mainly due to Korea's geopolitical situation at the time, being under Japanese occupation from 1910 until the end of WWII in 1945. Captain Kim’s bravery earned him a number of medals including the Purple Heart for being wounded in battle. After WWII, he continued his service in the Korean War, where he met my grandmother, Jane, in Busan after she fled an air raid in Seoul. James Kim undertook special assignments, such as personally escorting No Kum-sok after his dramatic defection in a MiG-15 jet, providing the U.S. with valuable insights into Soviet aviation technology. This role led him to meet notable figures including then-Vice President Richard Nixon. Later, he joined the OSS/CIA, serving in both Europe and Africa. James Kim is buried at Arlington Cemetery, close to where I now live, marking his legacy of service and dedication.

These stories of resilience and dedication profoundly shape my understanding of my identity and duty. The sacrifices my ancestors made for independence and public health deeply impact me, serving as a constant reminder of the importance of perseverance and community principles. Their legacy also underscores how intertwined modern Korean history is with the United States, and it is also a reminder that every family has a rich history reaching far back into the past, offering valuable insights and inspiration.

Reflecting on my ancestors’ lives during my visit to South Korea not only deepened my appreciation for the intricate narrative of my family's history but also instilled a greater respect for my Korean heritage. This experience renewed my commitment to positively serve and contribute to my community. I highly encourage others to explore their genealogy and family history because understanding where we come from can profoundly influence our path forward and our contributions to society.

Do you have any role models? How did they inspire you in your professional life?

I have many role models, who span across my family, friends, mentors, and even historical figures known for their leadership and resilience. My role models begin with my parents and grandparents. While I have already described inspiring figures on my mother’s side (the Korean side of my family), my grandfather on my father’s side of the family, Darrell Peck, was a lawyer who dedicated more than 23 years as an Army Judge Advocate officer and then served for more than 15 years as a civilian Senior Executive in the Office of the Secretary of the Army, working in the Pentagon, very close to where I live and work today. My grandparents on both sides served the United States, a legacy that inspires me with their commitment and service. My grandmothers and my mother are equally inspiring, embodying strength and integrity in every aspect of their lives. My father is a role model for me as well; his strong faith, positive attitude, and unwavering integrity and moral compass continuously shape how I strive to conduct myself both personally and professionally. Beyond my family, I am inspired by many friends, business advisors, and mentors, whose guidance and experiences provide daily inspiration and valuable lessons in navigating the entrepreneurial / business landscape. I am also inspired by my fiancée and her family. They are remarkable people who have overcome considerable adversity in Colombia. Mentors and fellow entrepreneurs offer invaluable guidance. I also find great enjoyment in reading biographies of prominent innovators and leaders. Recent biographies I’ve read of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, John D. Rockefeller, and George Washington have provided deep insights into leadership and perseverance.

These role models collectively influence my professional journey, teaching me the importance of perseverance, integrity, and leadership.

Can you discuss a pivotal moment in your career where you had to overcome a significant barrier?

A pivotal moment in my career occurred during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which dramatically impacted Commonwealth Joe due to our primary revenue channel being office-based cold brew coffee services. As offices closed and the shift to remote work became widespread, we faced a severe downturn, losing over 90% of our revenue within a few weeks in March 2020.

Faced with this unprecedented challenge, we realized we needed to pivot quickly to stay afloat and relevant. One significant adaptation was launching an online coffee subscription service, targeting the at-home consumer market. This pivot allowed us to tap into a new customer base and mitigate the impact of lost revenue from our office services. We also expanded our mobile ordering and delivery business at our cafe.

Despite these severe challenges, the situation brought out a level of resilience and creativity in our team that even I hadn't fully appreciated before. We reimagined our business strategy, found new ways to engage with customers, and significantly, by 2022, we achieved company-wide profitability for the first time. The pandemic taught us that at Commonwealth Joe, we are more resilient, resourceful, and creative than we ever imagined, and with grit and teamwork, we can achieve even our most ambitious goals during the toughest times. These experiences were tough but invaluable, and the lessons learned during this period are something I wouldn’t trade for anything. The hardships, indeed, were worth it.

What might people be surprised to learn about you or your business?

Many people know Commonwealth Joe for our award-winning cafe in National Landing, renowned for its delicious handcrafted beverages and freshly-roasted coffee. However, what often surprises many is the scale and scope of our primary business - large-scale manufacturing of premium cold coffee. Unlike typical single-serve packaging, we specialize in multi-serve formats, specifically kegs and bag-in-box (BiB), which are primarily designed for office and foodservice channels. We are the largest producer of cold brew coffee in the keg format in the United States, with our products distributed across 25 states in strategic, coffee-forward metropolitan areas. This extensive reach and specialized packaging format set us apart in the coffee industry, extending our impact far beyond our local cafe presence. If you are interested to learn more about our office coffee services, please visit

Do you hope to inspire future generations of entrepreneurs? What advice would you give?

Many people have been gracious to extend a helping hand and advice to help me, and I desire to pay it forward to future generations of entrepreneurs. I believe that by sharing my experiences and the lessons I've learned, I can help others on their entrepreneurial journey. Here’s some advice I’d give to anyone looking to carve out a successful path in business:

Do what you love: Reflect deeply and find your purpose. Living a purpose-driven life aligns your work with your passions, making challenges more manageable and successes more meaningful. 

Pursue excellence: Dedication and a commitment to quality set the foundation for success. Strive for excellence in every aspect of your business and personal life. Obsess over your customers.

Never quit on your dreamsEntrepreneurship tests your resilience; every failure is a stepping stone to success. Maintain your focus, keep your goals in sight, and never give up on your dreams, no matter the obstacles.

Invest in building long-term, healthy relationships: The value of strong relationships can’t be overstated. Deep relationships with friends and family will become the greatest source of joy in your life.

Take care of your physical & mental health: Never take your health for granted. A healthy diet and regular exercise contribute significantly to your well-being, enabling you to perform at your best. Remember, a strong body supports a strong mind, enhancing both your personal life and business endeavors.

Live with integrity: Be honest and trustworthy in all your dealings and treat everyone with respect. Integrity is the cornerstone of lasting success and leadership in business.

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude: Learn to be thankful for what you have and be grateful for every day. View each challenge as an opportunity to grow. Developing a mindset of gratitude will enrich your life, making it more enjoyable and leading to greater achievements.

Do you have any future plans for your business in National Landing?

Absolutely, we have exciting plans for our business in National Landing. Our commitment to enriching the community's coffee experience continues to grow, particularly at our Pentagon City cafe. For example, we've recently invested in new outdoor seating to enhance our cafe ambiance, perfect for the upcoming summer. We invite everyone to come and experience this new setup!

Beyond maintaining our reputation as a consistent source of high-quality coffee and handcrafted drinks, we're actively looking to expand our partnerships within the local business community. We aim to collaborate more closely with real estate owners, property managers, restaurateurs, and other business owners to broaden our reach and impact in the area.

Additionally, we see our cafe not just as a place to enjoy great coffee but as a community hub. We're planning to host more community-building events in the evenings at our cafe. These events will range from local gatherings and music nights to board games and poetry readings. Our goal is to enhance the role we play in the community, making our cafe a central spot for connection and cultural enrichment in National Landing.