Ritual Coffee Roasters has been around for nearly a decade now. To celebrate entering the double digits–a major milestone in this still-burgeoning specialty coffee industry–the San Francisco company decided to remodel their flagship store on Valencia in the Mission. This café has always been famous for its long lines—you could probably even say that it was on the cutting edge of lines, along with other tasty Mission places to line up at like Tartine and Bi-Rite. But the new remodel has a radically shifted layout and expanded production capacity, wrapped in a sleek new wood interior. To learn more about the remodel, we spoke with Eileen Rinaldi, owner of Ritual.
If you’re familiar with the old Ritual Valencia Street café, you probably remember it as a bit dark, a little cave-like, something of a laptop enclave, kind of confusingly laid out. For Rinaldi and the Ritual team, opening this cafe in 2005 was a huge learning exercise: “when we opened…people didn’t understand what we were doing. There wasn’t anything like it in SF at the time: 1,800 square feet devoted to just coffee.” Even in 2005 people told Rinaldi “that there were already too many cafes on Valencia Street” and she says that definitely informed the original design of the cafe: “we tried to make the large space feel smaller, we broke it up into different areas,” and they designed the space expecting to often staff just one barista.
Here in 2014, well, it seems that coffee demand in the Mission is as exuberantly elastic as the current tech bubble, and Rinaldi says that the new Ritual design is ready to meet that demand: “There’s room for many baristas to work together behind the bar, and there are comfortable spots for customers to be from being in line to picking up their drinks, and different kinds of seating areas.” The new space is almost exactly the opposite of the old space, but it’s still obviously and recognizably Ritual.
The new café has a spacious, almost luxuriously roomy barista zone. There’s even a second white powder-coated Synesso Hydra and a couple of Mazzer Robur grinders for those extra busy times. The addition of more space and a second machine allows Ritual to dispatch their lines of thirsty patrons more efficiently. But it’s not just about getting people in and out quickly. Clearly a lot of thought was put into making this a welcoming, bright space to visit.
Rinaldi said that her first goal with the space was “to open the cafe up and bring more light in,” and they’ve done that by flipping the bar to the right side and going with a new motif of light wood and white walls and equipment. For the design, Ritual worked with Sagan Piechota Architecture, who also did Blue Bottle‘s Ferry Building store among other projects. Looking at this new Ritual alongside other recent openings like Wrecking Ball and Saint Frank, the aesthetic trend in cafes here in the Bay Area seems to be leaning towards lighter; less dark wood, less rustic, more minimal, more airy.
The original Ritual Valencia was one of the holdouts to continue offering Wi-Fi during the great the Wi-Fi wars of the late aughts, but there is now less seating and no Wi-Fi in the remodeled store. Still, plenty of people seemed happy to work on laptops without the internet—and plenty went BYOI (bring your own Internet.)
Another highlight of the café is the addition of a garden. There’s a plate glass back wall in order to show it off. It adds a lively green accent to the blond wood, echoed in the succulents placed throughout. Unfortunately, customers aren’t allowed in this area. This space used to be a confusing alley that was open for air flow, and always seemed to be where the cool kids would disappear, possibly to play ping pong on the roof. There’s also a wicked cool light installation above the bar, and the white walls hung with a selection of art give a sort of gallery feel to the space.
The new remodel is in many ways a radical rethink of the space, updating the experience for the rapidly evolving world of high-end coffee in the Bay. And it’s true: when Ritual Valencia opened in 2005, the idea of devoting 1,800 square feet to just coffee and pastry service did seem a little crazy. But like many crazy things—and San Francisco things—that crazy idea was on to something. Nine years later, the idea’s refined and redefined with a customer in mind that, let’s remember, didn’t really even exist when the store first opened. Here’s to the next decade, and generations of coffee-drinkers to come.