March 11, 2010

Intelly Venice

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The lists vary slightly, but talk to coffee folks and the following will typically show up on lists of “top roasters in the US”

  • Stumptown (Portland)
  • Intelligentsia (Chicago)
  • Verve (Santa Cruz)
  • Barefoot (San Jose)
  • Ritual (San Francisco)
  • Four Barrel (San Francisco)
  • George Howell (Acton, MA)
  • Barismo (Arlington, MA)
  • Barrington Coffee Roasters (Lee, MA)

Stumptown has some crazy status that I’ll admit I don’t fully appreciate. They’ve been at it for a while (10 years +) and have a ton of respect from new and old roasters. Their coffee is really yummy and we loved the folks there (more later).

This post is about Intelligentsia, or at least their most recent flagship shop. They must have hired some MBAs recently. Intelly started in Chicago but are on a crazy expansion path.

In LA we visited one of Intelligensia’s newest shops, Venice. It was sort of a scary experience for me. It’s an example of everything we want to avoid as we build our first Clover restaurant.

First, the build-out must have been super expensive. But it’s not just that. This place has a ton of hype. But it doesn’t work. The idea was to create Barista “stations” that allow customers to have a 1-on-1 experience with the Barista. The whole place is very conceptual. A team of architects must have had a blast dreaming it up. But in action it’s actually less personal than most well-run coffee shops. We found ourselves waiting to be noticed, whisked over to an impatient Barista, drinks shoved at us, and lame answers to our questions. The espresso drinks were top-knotch, but the drip was a second class citizen at best. Really bad experience both times we stopped by. The place wasn’t very welcoming and didn’t feel comfortable at all.

And well, you’re starting to understand that I’m a bit partial to drip-coffee.

On the other hand, the Silver Lake location of Intelligensia, also in LA, was doing a much better job. Felt more like a community, much more organic. And we had a solid experience there with real attention from the staff.

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