In a surprise move, Oakland-based cult coffee roaster Blue Bottle Coffee is acquiring two Los Angeles coffee businesses -- Handsome Coffee Roasters in the downtown Arts District and Tonx, the fresh-roasted subscription coffee service.
In a phone conversation, Blue Bottle Chief Executive James Freeman, Handsome Coffee co-founder Michael Phillips and Tonx co-founder Nik Bauman talked about how the deal went down.
Phillips of Handsome Coffee explained that he and his two partners, Tyler Wells and Chris Owens, had a wonderful three years growing the company. But by joining Blue Bottle, said Phillips, “our roaster and barista team will become part of a larger family that has the resources and the ambition to do great and exciting things. ... As a single shop-roaster operation, it would have taken a lot of money and time to provide more opportunity for our staff.” Their 18 or so employees will join a company with 240.
What’s in it for Blue Bottle? Freeman said they were already planning to open a cafe in Venice, but now they gain a roasting facility in Los Angeles as well as a downtown coffee shop.
The subscription-based coffee roaster Tonx already has a smart, sassy online presence. Tonx’s Bauman describes the deal as more a merger in which the Tonx team of 13 is joining Blue Bottle. They’re going to be responsible for creating an entire digital strategy within the larger company. Over time, Tonx will fold into Blue Bottle. “The most immediate effect, though, is that we’re going to be able to take advantage of resources we never got around to building out,” said Bauman. That includes two roasting facilities (theirs and Handsome’s) and a full quality-assurance lab.
For his part, Freeman is tremendously excited about the merger. “We all want great coffee, great customer experience in shops and online. We’re all ambitious to do great things in coffee.”
Right now Blue Bottle has a dozen coffee shops in Oakland, San Francisco, New York and Brooklyn. Its first shop in L.A. opens on Abbot Kinney sometime in the summer. A Culver City locale is opening next year. For the Venice shop, Freeman envisions, among other things, having new items such as coffee granita. “I’m doing some tests on that,” he said. “I married well. My wife is a pastry chef and she’s thinking up things like that.”
As to when Handsome Coffee Roasters will become a Blue Bottle cafe, no decision has been made yet. “It’s a collaborative effort,” said Freeman.
Meanwhile, he’s just signed a lease for a roasting facility in Tokyo, which has been a dream of his for years. “Things can happen fast in Tokyo,” he said, which is the opposite of dealing with the health department and building inspection process in Los Angeles. “We might be able to catch the tail end of 2014.”