Ecco Caffe, the lauded Santa Rosa coffee roastery, is on the verge of relocating to San Francisco after a decade in Sonoma County. Andrew Barnett plans to swap the rural locale for a “vibrant, sophisticated, urbane area,” a combination café and roastery not far from Anchor Brewing Company. The company founder recently discussed the latest developments.
Food GPS: What’s motivating the move to San Francisco?
Barnett: Going to San Francisco has always been something Ecco wanted to do. We wanted to be a place with a vibrant urban culture. We always wanted to roast in San Francisco. Last year, Ecco partnered with Intelligentsia. We now have greater resources. We found an awesome spot, so we found a place where we can roast and have a café.
Food GPS: Where will you be located?
Barnett: We’re in the Potrero Hill area of San Francisco. Right now we’re looking at opening late summer. The factors will be navigating through permits and build-out.
Food GPS: What will a café allow you to do as a company?
Barnett: One of the things is that really gives us a vehicle for people to taste our coffees. We can draw our line in the sand and say how we want to express coffee; this is how we want to prepare it. Something that’s difficult as a wholesaler is that we can’t control how people prepare our coffee. Some of our clients do a great job; we look forward to controlling all of the elements in our coffee bar.
Food GPS: How did the partnership with Intelligentsia happen?
Barnett: We’ve been friends for years. We shared coffees through purchases, through Cup of Excellence. We’ve both been involved with the World Barista Championship. I spent time with Doug Zell in Brazil in 2009 and he discussed the possibility of merging the companies and we found a good way of doing it. Intelligentsia offers a lot of muscle, and we offer a lot of finesse. Our goals have always been similar, working with farms. It’s always interesting how coffees are prepared, doing the best job possible. I always thought Intelligentsia was the leader, the visionary, in terms of going to farm. It was a great alliance, philosophically.
Food GPS: What has the partnership allowed you to do?
Barnett: For Ecco, it allows us to have an unparalleled selection of in-season coffees. Ecco is a small company, so there were limitations to go to all the coffee producing countries we wanted to. It also offers us access to the training department. Stephen Morrissey, the 2008 World Barista Champion, Michael Phillips, the 2009 United States Barista Champion, Kyle Glanville, the 2008 United States Barista Champion, on and on, gives us a much more diverse training program, great marketing team, sourcing at origin with Geoff Watts. I would say the relationship with Doug Zell is a collaboration between great chefs or winemakers, or in a way, Mario Batali working with Nancy Silverton at Mozza. We’re putting together a team that’s innovative and exciting and bringing that to San Francisco.
Food GPS: What will Ecco Caffe offer that doesn’t exist in San Francisco?
Barnett: It gives Ecco a chance to showcase our coffees, but it is really an open kitchen with roasting. Someone can look in to experience that, and then there’s a coffee bar. Other models are coffee bars with a roasting facility. It will be unique, singular, fun, experimental, innovative and a great way for people who taste our coffee to experience the coffee roasting side of it.
Food GPS: How will you go about finding baristas?
Barnett: We’ve got baristas that will be willing to work with us. A couple of our key members have competed in the US Barista Competition. Drew Cattlin, our lead roaster, was a finalist in the 2008 U.S. Barista Championship.