Yesterday in Seattle, longtime Sprudge partner La Marzocco unveiled its first ever cafe and showroom at the new home of listener-supported radio station KEXP. While time will reveal how the public interacts with the ambitious project, it’s fair to say that specialty coffee has yet to welcome a concept quite like what La Marzocco has pulled off at the independent station’s new address in Seattle Center.
La Marzocco’s cafe and showroom is poised to cross paths with locals, touring bands playing in-studios, out-of-town coffee enthusiasts, and tourists: The Seattle Center is home to the Space Needle and many of the city’s annual festivals, museums, and cultural institutions.
La Marzocco USA President Joe Monaghan tells Sprudge that the idea to launch a cafe and showroom with KEXP was first hatched around four years ago. “As La Marzocco, we were just getting full enough of ourselves to think maybe we could do something like this. When [KEXP] approached us, it clicked right away,” Monaghan says. “We’re trying to do something that’s never been done before. It was just unique enough for both of us to work.”
Although it’s firmly rooted in Seattle, with more than 200,000 on-air and online weekly listeners, KEXP is one of the most influential independent radio stations in the United States. More than 500 artists perform live at the station each year, with in-studios catalogued on the station’s YouTube channel.
Monaghan remembers listening to the station, then called KCMU, during the early years of La Marzocco USA. “Our history with La Marzocco goes back to the late '70s when we had a little office here where we were selling espresso machines,” he says. “We had KCMU playing nonstop, day and night. I’ve had this as my radio station in my home and car ever since.”
Monaghan talks with pride about the cafe’s just-launched Roasters in Residence program, a series of one-month residencies allowing guests to interact with a fresh menu and experience up to twelve times a year from visiting coffee companies located around the world. The first roaster to set up shop is Stumptown Coffee, a longtime supporter of KEXP and La Marzocco. Stumptown’s first shop in Portland opened in 1999 with a La Marzocco Linea machine.
With plumbing and electrical running the length of the bar and three machine installation points, roaster residents will have control over aspects of space layout. La Marzocco Experience Manager Amy Hattemer says she’s already lined up roasters for the first 12 months and is working on an application process for roasters interested in a future residency slot.
While the order is not completely final, per press materials Stumptown’s inaugural residency will wrap up at the end of May. It will be followed by G&B Coffee of Los Angeles, California; Buna of Mexico City, Mexico; Campos Coffee of Sydney, Australia; Counter Culture Coffee of Durham, North Carolina; Intelligentsia Coffee of Chicago, Illinois; Panther Coffee of Miami, Florida; Pilot Coffee Roasters of Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Cat & Cloud of Santa Cruz, California; Coffee Supreme of Wellington, New Zealand; and Heart Coffee Roasters of Portland, Oregon.
When sketching out designs for the space, architects spent time at the La Marzocco factory in Florence last year to better understand the company’s roots. They were also able to talk bar design with Piero Bambi, the octogenarian nephew and son of the brothers that started the company in 1927.
The finished cafe is flanked by a gorgeous, locally crafted U-shaped pewter bar, handmade cabinets, and bar doors and knock box drawers imported from Italy. Sketches of espresso machines from the La Marzocco line ranging from the 1920s to present day form a floor border around the bar. The space also includes a history wall displaying vintage machines and artifacts from the company’s past nine decades.
In addition, the showroom features a home espresso lab centered on the La Marzocco home line, with live GS3 and Linea Mini machines lining a back wall. Sunday barista basics and milk basics classes are planned to give the project a consumer education component. Staff are also planning a monthly Seattle home barista meetup.
At a recent preview of the cafe and showroom inside KEXP’s community gathering space, Stumptown baristas kept busy making drinks for guests gathered in the large room that includes a performance stage and a gallery wall that will eventually house a restaurant. Morning Show host/Producer and Associate Program Director John Richards and Afternoon Show host/Senior Program Director Kevin Cole welcomed visitors after a short live set from Robyn Hitchcock and Sean Nelson.
When we asked him why KEXP choose to partner with La Marzocco and its residency program instead of a single local cafe, Richards says, “I don’t think we did it on purpose to not exclude other coffee companies, but imagine we did do that. That would be really alienating since we have such a strong community of coffee makers.” He adds, “La Marzocco was the perfect match. These guys have been listeners since KCMU days. They sat and listened to the station back when they first tried to sell these silly machines that no one would buy. It’s crazy how it’s come full circle.”
Monaghan agrees. He knew the La Marzocco team was taking on “a pretty ambitious project” especially from the design perspective of trying to squeeze the company’s 90-year history into 1,100 square feet. “I think we pulled it off,” he says. “La Marzocco is very much a global company, selling machines in over 100 countries. But it’s very much a Seattle company, too. Our roots, what fuels La Marzocco’s success, all started here in Seattle. To do it here, there was no other choice.”
Sara Billups is a Sprudge contributor based in Seattle, Washington. Read more Sara Billups on Sprudge.