We here at Sprudge have watched Verve Coffee‘s expansion with a close eye over the last several years, as they spread throughout their hometown of Santa Cruz, swooping south to Los Angeles and across the ocean to Tokyo, opening 9 shops total in the last decade. Yet one obvious piece of the puzzle remained—always wondering, and waiting, for the growing coffee company to open shop in San Francisco. Verve Coffee co-owner Colby Barr has been waiting even longer. “We always thought that after Santa Cruz, San Francisco would be next,” Barr says. “It’s never not been on our radar.”
Barr and his Verve co-founder Ryan O’Donovan grew up near the Bay Area—Donovan in the East Bay, Barr in NorCal—and to them, San Francisco was the “big city” you dream of as an angsty teen. “It’s always been my city in my heart,” Barr says, “I wanted to keep that dream alive.” That dream has, finally, come alive. Verve Coffee is now open in San Francisco.
Located on the northern border between The Castro and Duboce Park, the new Verve Coffee sits in an old brick building that once housed a glasses shop. “It fit what we look for in a retail space,” Barr tells Sprudge. “Long frontages, natural light…the building has a character that we could work with to make an interesting space.” The new cafe is soaked in sunlight, with blonde wood and splashes of soft color offset by the rays streaming in through near floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s a cozy, comfortable place, coaxed ever forward towards chill by little details like communal tables, low L-shaped couches, and a friendly staff vibe.
On day two every seat is filled, and a line snakes out the door as if to say, “Welcome to San Francisco.” Traditionally gay and strongly tied to the city's identity, in the past The Castro has been skeptical of out-of-towners opening in the neighborhood. Barr doesn’t seem to mind. “Verve is born from the neighborhood,” he says, “So it never felt like a liability. It made it feel like we were in the right location, that this where were supposed to be.” Similarly, Barr seems confident that Verve will mesh well with the coffee royalty already based in San Francisco, many of them just over the hill in the Mission District. “We’re not trying to come and say we’re the shit,” he says, “We just want to come and do our thing and have our brand in front of people, first hand.” Even with their strong wholesale into the city over last decade, Barr says, “[San Francisco] is a city that you have to be there physically.”
Standing in the new Verve, you feel that face-to-face interaction working, and you can see it in the people already comfortable lounged in chairs, computers and books open. Standing in a full shop, less than 48 hours after the cafe’s opening, there’s a sense of comfort, the feeling that Verve found some kind of early acceptance in the city its founders idolize. Barr cites the connection between Santa Cruz, Silicon Valley, and San Francisco for some of this. With San Francisco’s demographic skewing more and more towards young and tech-y, Santa Cruz has become a natural extension of the nearby tech capital. And to Barr, San Francisco seems like the natural extension of that connection. “There’s a feeling of compulsion,” he says, “a thread from Santa Cruz up to Silicon Valley and San Francisco. There’s a gravity to it.”
The new Verve’s robust food program pulls on that thread, serving as the only current wholesale account in San Francisco for famed Manresa chef David Kinch’s new Manresa Bread. Kinch, an avid surfer, lives in Santa Cruz and over time Manresa started serving Verve. Avery Ruzicka, the head baker at Manresa Bread, even worked for a time at the shop, and when their new bakery offshoot started up, Verve was the only place in Santa Cruz to serve the goods. San Francisco soon followed. “It’s logistically challenging,” Barr says, “but now we’ve got Manresa Bread for our food program and we’re selling biscuits their making just for us.” Eventually, Barr hopes Verve SF will be the lone outpost selling loaves of Manresa Bread in San Francisco. Until then, the vanilla chia pudding, overnight oats with bruleed apple slices, and faro salad with beet dressing will do quite nicely.
Barr and Donovan are always on the lookout for a new space in San Francisco, but for now they’re content with just basking in the joy of finally opening in the city of their youths. Of any of the Verve openings we've followed over the years, Barr's stokedness over this one is palpable, “It took a long time to get here,” he admits, but perhaps that just makes the espresso taste extra sweet.