Blue Bottle Coffee Founder & CEO James Freeman has confirmed that Blue Bottle have inked a lease on a coffee bar and roastery in Tokyo. The space is located in the Kiyosumi area, near the iconic Kiyosumi Gardens and the Kiyosumi-shirakawa Tokyo Metro station. Its street address is 1-4-8, Hirano, Koto-ku, Tokyo. This information comes from our candid, in-depth interview with Mr. Freeman on their recent venture funding, their overall expansion plans, and what lies in store for Japan.
“It's not glamour-cool Tokyo,” Freeman tells us. “This neighborhood is more peaceful and residential, and reminds me of our roastery neighborhood in Oakland.” Freeman confirmed with us that Blue Bottle's new venture in Tokyo is not a franchising or licensing agreement with a Japanese company, but rather, a wholly owned project funded and managed by Blue Bottle Coffee. He sees this distinction as very important: licensing agreements and franchise offers between Japanese and American coffee companies are relatively common, including Tokyo franchise outposts for brands like Zoka Coffee Roasters in Seattle. For Blue Bottle, Freeman tells us, “we're spending our own money on this (which is a little scary), but I hope people will respect it as being authentically us.”
Blue Bottle's Tokyo facility is 7000 square feet, and will include a training room, coffee cupping room, roastery (featuring a Loring SmartRoast), offices, pastry kitchen, and a retail cafe. Caitlin Freeman, who heads Blue Bottle's robust pastry program, will be directly involved in creating a food menu for the Tokyo cafe, which will include her popular stateside standards like granola, saffron snickerdoodles, and absinthe biscotti–and may also include new pastries specifically designed for Japan.
“It's like a little factory,” Freeman says of the new space, and if it all sounds like phase one of a larger expansion, that's because it is. Blue Bottle hopes to have their Kiyosumi facility up and running in 2014, and are currently in talks for two more spaces in Tokyo, in the hip Roppongi and Shibuya districts. “We’ll be able to do a lot and have a lot of production,” he says, including providing fresh-roasted coffee, pastries, training, and staff support for future Tokyo locations.
Blue Bottle plans for considerable back-and-forth between their Tokyo and US operations, including staff exchanges for training and even a staff apartment in Tokyo. Freeman says, “there’s a lot of HR implictions, but we want awesome Tokyo baristas to work in the USA for a little bit. We want baristas who’ve done a great job with our company to have a chance to work in Tokyo. People on staff here are working hard on their Japanese.”
Read our full interview with Mr. Freeman for all the details.