For just about any specialty coffee company operating today, opening a new cafe is an exciting event, a physical extension of both the brand’s philosophy and their product, put out into the world for customers to enjoy. I don't mean to imply that Mill Valley’s Equator Coffees & Teas aren't excited about the opening of their new space on a quaint stretch in historic Downtown Larkspur—because they are, very excited—it’s just that, well, Equator's had one hell of a 2016 so far. As Equator’s Head of Retail Devorah Freudiger will tell you, “Things are so exciting at Equator right now.”
Their first store in San Francisco proper, spitting distance from the historic Warfield Theater, celebrated its one year anniversary in March. There was the small occasion of the company—a longtime Sprudge advertiser—celebrating its 20th anniversary in business, as well their selection as one of the Finalists for the 2016 Good Food Awards. And just when people were wondering if the year for Equator couldn’t get any better, the U.S. Small Business Administration deemed them the California Small Business of the Year, followed quickly by the company’s co-founders Helen Russell and Brooke McDonnell being named the United States 2016 Small Business Persons of Year. If this wasn’t a big enough honor, it’s the first time in the history of the awards, the very first time ever, that they’ve been given to an LGBT-owned business. And as if to cap it all off, or to place the giant glistening cherry on the top of the enormous coffee-flavored ice cream sundae, a few short weeks ago Equator threw open the doors to their store in Larkspur, their fourth.
But the Larkspur isn’t a victory lap. “We want to be brand-building,” Freudiger tells me. “We are such a wholesale heavy company and we want to show our clients that to us, this is what a cafe looks like.” Each new cafe represents not just another step forward, but a reminder to the 350 Equator wholesale accounts in the United States that Equator isn’t just talking the talk, they are very much living what they, oh so kindly, preach. As Freudiger puts it, “We’re making our own syrups, we’re buying the organic milk, and we’re still making money. It’s important to be able to show our [wholesale accounts] that. It just gives us this authenticity.”
The Larkspur store will be Equator’s third in Marin County, north of the city of San Francisco, tucked away in a redwood grove as part of a recently renovated historic shopping center. “We love Marin,” Freudiger puts it simply, “and this space was right over the hill from our Mill Valley store, and when it opened up it just had that feeling a new space has to have. We couldn’t resist.” Larkspur is one of Marin’s main hubs for bicycling, a little mini-highway of high-end bikes and spandex shorts, and the new Equator aims to not only pay homage to that but to support the community it brings. “We’re always trying to connect with where we are,” Freudiger says, “and we’ve had this great synergy with Mike’s Bikes and their women’s team, so we wanted Larkspur to be a really good meeting spot and a place you could host big bike rides.”
To do so Freudiger and her team designed the space with wide open patios allowing for a considerable amount of bike parking. A laser-etched topographic map of Marin adorns one wall and for a short while Pro Cyclist Tayler Wiles’ (whom Equator sponsors) Big Shot bicycle will be on display. In terms of coffee gear, Freudiger just laughs: “We’re so not a gadget store. We’ve got a La Marzocco Strada, but honestly, I’m way more excited about the projector we have showing old bike clips, live streams of the Tour de France, barista competitions, and maybe, on occasion, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That’ll be fun.”
Beyond just being a place that compliments and enjoys Marin’s bike culture, the Larkspur Equator wants to be a part of something bigger. Equator will team with World Bicycle Relief to host fundraising bicycle events to support the WBR cause of improving people’s lives the world over by providing access to bicycles.
All this, and Equator isn’t done for the year. They’ll open a second store in San Francisco this summer, followed by their first Oakland location sometime later in the year. But for now, Larkspur, with its bike piles and towering redwoods, stands as one more chapter in Equator's remarkable 2016. Or as Freudiger says, “It just feels like a great way to celebrate with our community, you know? And that feels really good.”
Photos courtesy of Akaash Saini.