Coast To Coast Coffee Adventure – Part 2

Hope you enjoyed Part 1 of our Coast To Coast Coffee Adventure – the field recon was a little more sparse from our West Coast division but they did get out in the field and grab some snapshots for us. 

Sight Glass

  • Roaster – Yes (On Site)
  • Pourover – Yes

Sight Glass is a roaster tucked away in a quiet corner of San Francisco. The location was a bit odd, no one was around and it was fairly quiet. The interior was stark, cold and clean with very little activity. The staff was a bit disinterested and cold as well. Sight Glass does have a great selection of locally sourced pastries from several local bakers. Here are a few shots of the store.

Four Barrel

  • Roaster – Yes (On Site)
  • Pourover – Yes
  • Bakery – Local Source

Four Barrel was located in a bustling community in San Fran’s Mission district. It featured a nice selection of outdoor seating as well as a variety of street vendors nearby.  Both the inside and the outside featured some creative engineering and design – including several stuffed boar’s heads on the walls which the owners shared a funny story about with our team.

The vibe in Four Barrel was very energetic, busy and authentic. The staff was friendly, passionate, engaged,  and very willing to share stories with customers. Had a much warmer and more inviting feel than Sight Glass. The in-store roasting operation created a spectacle that people were very interested in seeing.

Four Barrel sells Dynamo Donuts (a well known bakery in San Fran) every morning. They also have no wifi or plugs for electric sockets. Here are a few images of the store.

Key Takeaways

The two strongest players in this market seem to be Stumptown and Four Barrel. They have several similarities. They roast their own beans, retail is displayed over condiment stations, baked goods are sourced from a local supplier, and they both make use of interesting and unique design to create a warm and engaging environment at their store. The biggest difference is Stumptown’s use of the Ace Hotel lobby caters to the laptop crowd, whereas Four Barrel discourages laptop use. Keep in mind that Intelligentsia (Chicago based) is also one of the biggest players in the market but we didn’t get to them on this trip.

Now let’s get to the key takeaways and interesting finds from our coast to coast coffee journey.

  • Great use of in-store posters describing local sourcing (gimme! coffee)
  • Effective small-store footprint for possible future use (Cafe Grumpy)
  • Variety of in-store retail display case options
  • Near the counter or on an adjacent wall
  • Above the condiment station (Four Barrel & Stumptown)
  • Inclusion of chemex, pourover, coffee mugs etc in addition to coffee beans in retail space
  • Most bakery models seem centered around re-selling product from well known local bakeries in a display case
  • Roasting is key – serious contenders in this space all roast their own beans
  • Pourover is also very important – pourover really distinguishes the top tier coffee shops from the more middle of the road players in the market
  • Use of unique decor to create warm and friendly environment (Four Barrel, Stumptown)

Hope you enjoyed – let us know what you think in the comments and on Twitter.

Coast To Coast Coffee Adventure – Where is The Gourmet Coffee Business Heading?

A few weeks ago the Fresh Hospitality team split up and simultaneously journeyed to both the Atlantic and Pacific coast in our quest to learn as much as we could about the gourmet coffee business. We wanted to research the best of the best to learn about the competition for our gourmet coffee concept Octane Coffee.

There are really 2 core things I look for to define what is a “gourmet” coffee business as opposed to a Starbucks or neighborhood shop.

Roasting – to be a real player in the gourmet space you need to be roasting your own beans. Preferably on site. Obviously for some of the NYC shops it’s not viable to be on site in NYC but they do all of their own roasting.

Pourover –Pourover (or chemex) is an essential piece of any gourmet coffee shop.  French press is nice and should also be a staple, but you can’t truly bring out the flavors of the beans without using a pourover. This in my mind is the single biggest differentiator in the space.

We also spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of bakery and pastries were offered. We are still determining the best strategy for Octane’s pastries and wanted to see what the competition was up to.

In store retail displays are also a big thing we looked at – the art of display cases and in store retail is something we want to learn more about.

While Mike and John Michael journeyed to San Francisco to scout Four Barrel and Sight Glass, I ventured to New York City to check out Stumptown, Grumpy, and Gimme. I’m just going to run through each concept and show design, layout, and what we thought.  There are a lot of photos in this report, mostly taken with my grainy iPhone 3, so don’t except miracles with the photo quality.

First up… NYC

gimme! coffee


  • Roaster – Yes
  • Pourover – Yes
  • Bakery – Local Source 

I visited the gimme coffee location on Mott Street in New York’s East Village. The store itself was relatively small and standing room only (typical for New York City) and was very busy on Saturday morning.  Gimme is a roaster in addition to being a coffee shop so they also had various bags of coffee for sale.  They served 2 basic coffees from urns and several different pourovers. All of their baked goods were sourced from a local baker named “This Girl Bakes.”


gimme! also did a great job explaining how much effort they go to in order to source local fresh coffee beans. Above the condiment station there was a poster telling stories of their visits to South America.

Cafe Grumpy


  • Roaster – Yes
  • Pourover – Yes
  • Bakery – Self / Commissary

I visited two different Cafe Grumpy locations in Manhattan. The first was a standing room only little shop right at the bottom of the Lower East Side. The entire store was staffed with one employee running coffee, pastries, and espresso. This was at roughly 9am on a Friday morning.  The barista said that this location was relatively new and never got super busy. This small setup might be a footprint to think about for a small scale Octane in specific sites or locations (similar to our existing Octane Pocket Bar).

Bakery case / left side of the front counter. Note the iPad POS system running “Square” app as their POS system.  You can also see their “every 10th coffee free” card.

All of Cafe Grumpy’s pastries are commissaried and baked in their bakery location – shipped to the stores each morning.  This location happened to be right next to the bakery itself. The bakery wasn’t open but I did take a photo of their sign.

I also visited Cafe Grumpy’s location in Chelsea. This was a larger footprint with seating room, but still a relatively tight space. The picture is a bit blurry but this is the largest shot I could get of the shop.

The retail space was actually on the very back wall, a bit away from the counter or anything else. It’s behind me in the first picture where you can clearly see I’m several feet back from the counter.

One side note – the Chelsea location had a NO LAPTOPS policy – the manager came over and told me to put my laptop away about 2 minutes after I opened it. Personally huge turnoff for me, I am not sure how well that would work outside of New York City where space is very tight.

Stumptown Coffee


  • Roaster – Yes
  • Pourover – Yes
  • Bakery – Local Source

I went into this trip with very little knowledge of any of the shops I visited and no preconceived notions about which was the best. Stumptown really crushed the competition in my mind. Hands down best place I visited for a variety of reasons. Their coffee was on another level compared to Grumpy and Gimme. It was one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had.

Their location (while rather unique) was unbelievable. The bar itself was standing room only (with a long railing looking out a window on the far wall) but the entire bar is connected to the lobby of the Ace Hotel. Inside the lobby there are dozens of people camped out on tables with power outlets and people relaxing in comfortable chairs. Mixed in with the tourists filtering in and out of the lobby really created a unique atmosphere.

Stumptown’s bakery case was filled with local pastries from several well known bakeries in Manhattan, including Momofuku Milk Bar and the Breslin. The bakery case itself was imbedded in the counter between the two registers.

Stumptown also had one of the most creative uses of their Retail Space – putting it directly above the condiment bar.

What about the West Coast? Check out part 2 of our journey right here.

Hope you enjoyed – let us know what you think in the comments and on Twitter.