Entering Our Sixteenth Year, with Old Friends and New
Fifteen years is not a long time, but it has taken us far
Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated our fifteen-year anniversary. We heralded the occasion with a throwback coffee, a nostalgic bandana, and a block party for our staff. Fifteen years is not a long time, but it has taken us far. There were adventures to find in those years, and people to meet, and coffee to roast and sell. Our kids grew up. We became who we are. We met fans who believed in us before we even fully believed in ourselves. Your encouragement has kept us going through the uncertainties of the economy and the perils of San Francisco real estate.
We’ve kept at it, even at times when we weren’t sure we could, or should.
We started as a small company—can we even call it that? James Freeman, escaping from the classical music circuit like a convict on the run, eventually gathering together a team of leaders and coffee comrades to make their way toward this simple but beautiful thing. Coffee.
And it started quite simply.
James would roast coffee in a rented 183-square-foot potting shed in the back of Dona Tomas’s patio. He would drive it around town, to friends and friends-of-friends, dropping it on doorsteps and hoping for repeat orders. His son, Dashiell, would sit in the back of his Peugeot wagon and drum on the empty sacks of coffee. Soon, there was a farmers’ market. Then, there was a small shop, a hole in the wall of a friend’s garage. Now, fifteen years on, there are 41 shops in five cities, one international.
It’s been a wild ride. And, it turns out, that was only the beginning.
Blue Bottle has officially become a part of the Nestlé family. Blue Bottle’s team and leadership will remain the same. We will keep growing, as we’ve hoped and planned to. We will keep making delicious coffee—that’s always been our favorite part of this business we’re in. This isn’t the first time we’ve made a change like this, though this partnership might be the most widely publicized. New investment in 2012, with Bryan coming on as a partner, brought a shift in majority holdings, but it did not foreshadow less delicious coffee. It enabled us to do more of what we love and to continue improving.
Our decision to become a part of Nestlé was complex, of course, involving many discussions, considerations, questions—but it was also easy. The concept of “Nestlé” as a figment, or symbol, was one thing—Eiffel’s dictum “there is an attraction in the colossal” comes to mind. But standing on the banks of Lake Geneva, meeting one worldly, genuine person after another was a different thing altogether. The colossus of our imaginings crumbled. We found kinship.
Nestlé wants to help us realize our dream of bringing Blue Bottle Coffee to more people. Sure, it’s a business deal. But more importantly, to us, this deal brings with it an attendant recognition and belief in our accomplishments.
The team at Blue Bottle Coffee—not just its leaders, but everyone—has made something that others recognize as precious and valuable. This makes us incredibly happy. It means that we’ll be able to keep roasting and selling the most transcendent coffees we can find, and bringing them to you, our guests, for a very long time into the future.
When Blue Bottle Coffee first set up shop at the Old Oakland Farmers’ Market, it was remarkable to see the line of people waiting for coffee. It blew us away that you thought we were worth waiting for, and that you kept coming back. Some of our first guests are still our closest friends.
Our hometown of San Francisco opened its arms to us before “third-wave coffee” was even a Googlable term. It has completely exceeded our expectations. Our conversations with you kept us interested and gave our work meaning. It might sound treacly or nostalgic, but we know that we couldn’t have done this without you.
So, on the eve of our sixteenth year, with changes afoot, we want to say: Thank you.
We’re not going anywhere. We’ve been asked to stay true to who we are. You can probably expect more Blue Bottle shops in more cities. Our coffee will only get better, as it has every year since we opened. We are looking forward to meeting you and serving you some of it.
We can’t wait to see what sixteen brings.
—James, Bryan & the Blue Bottle family