All of us, in the Bay Area and beyond, have watched specialty coffee giant Blue Bottle grow over the last four or so years, expanding through San Francisco, Oakland, New York, and Japan before returning to San Francisco earlier this month with a new Mid-Market shop. And now, with the opening of their new café inside of Palo Alto’s shared tech work-space, HanaHaus last month, Blue Bottle has taken a step in a new direction—Palo Alto and the South Bay. Many might consider (with it's recent expansions, most notably their recent acquisition of revered San Francisco bakery, Tartine) that the move is just that—Blue Bottle's attempt to plant a flag in new territory. But a visit to the 15,000-square-foot HanaHaus makes it entirely evident that this is simply one more chapter in Blue Bottle's attempt to bring the best of specialty coffee to the masses, wherever they might be.
The home of HanaHaus, and the first South Bay Blue Bottle café, Palo Alto’s historic New Varsity Theater looms over the town’s quaint University Avenue, it’s glowing white Spanish architecture unique on a street of plate-glassed storefronts. Once a functioning movie theater, the New Varsity now houses HanaHaus, the brainchild of German software company SAP AG’s co-founder, Dr. Hasso Plattner. The space, epic in size, hopes to draw the community of thinkers and entrepreneurs so crucial to Silicon Valley to what Plattner envisions as a shared thinking space. Customers at the store can reserve a myriad of work environments to hunker down, with a cup of siphon-brewed Blue Bottle coffee, and decipher the steps to becoming the next Google.
Blue Bottle, with an army of staff, seeks to fuel this next wave of idea makers, offering a full breakfast, lunch and dinner service, and the excellent coffee preparation they’re known for. Tech-savvy business-folk can nosh on a fine Belgian waffle while enjoying a coffee beverage pulled from the La Marzocco Strada or brewed on their beautiful siphon station. We sat down with Store Manager Conner Burns and Northern Californian Director of Retail, Chad Janowiak, to discuss the move to the South Bay, the cultural relevance of the New Varsity Theater, and the pros and cons of operating in Palo Alto.
What prompted Blue Bottle to finally open in the South Bay?
Chad Janowiak: We have been looking for years, wanting to find that perfect spot where Blue Bottle could be a part of the community. The history of the theater was such a key draw for us. The courtyard is simply magical!
What was the process like in building out the space with HanaHaus as a partner?
CJ: It was a joint project from the beginning. We both wanted to keep the integrity of the space and pay homage to its history. Our coffee bar is where the concession stand once was and our pastry case is similar to the candy set-up in a movie theater.
This is a big space. How does it affect the way your service functions?
Conner Burns: This has been a bit more challenging for us. The size of the space is a great deal larger than any Blue Bottle ever before. We’re making adjustments to workflow to best serve both the guests coming to the cafe and guests of HanaHaus. Typically, we haven’t offered Wi-Fi in our cafes, so that availability has changed the length of the guest’s visit as well. We’re happy to have them spend more time with us.
How are you going to take advantage of this beautiful historic space going forward?
CB: The Varsity Theater has immense cultural significance for Palo Alto. People in this community have been experiencing culture in this facility for generations and there’s great potential for it to once again become a cultural hub. Soon people will be able to enjoy delicious beers and wines, produced by like-minded artisans from California and abroad. Between HanaHaus and Blue Bottle, the possibilities are endless: musical acts, TED talks, etc. You name it.
What are the pros/cons of opening a location in Palo Alto?
CB: Pros: Third Wave virgins. Some folks have never had a cup of coffee so expertly prepared and they’re blown away by it. That feeling never gets old! Cons: Third Wave virgins. It’s a double-sided coin of sorts. Some folks simply don’t understand what we do quite yet, but we’re excited to continue blowing people's minds with our coffees and other excellent product offerings. We’re soon going to offer public cuppings and educational experiences like that to really stoke that fire!
Do you guys have plans to continue your expansion southwards?
CJ: We are always in search of beautiful, unique locations where Blue Bottle can play a role in the community. We are looking at other potential locations in the South Bay. We have so many loyal guests who make regular trips to SF/Oakland to enjoy our coffee; it's wonderful to be in their backyard!