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Monday, September 27, 2010

An Open Letter from Blue Bottle to the Dolores Park Community

Posted By on Mon, Sep 27, 2010 at 1:08 PM

click to enlarge Rendering of Blue Bottle's proposed coffee trailer and its site in Dolores Park. - BLUE BOTTLE COFFEE CO.
  • Blue Bottle Coffee Co.
  • Rendering of Blue Bottle's proposed coffee trailer and its site in Dolores Park.
Organizers of tonight's community meeting at Dolores Park Church to discuss Rec and Park's vendor plans for Dolores Park are finalizing the final agenda. And while representatives of would-be Dolores vendor Blue Bottle Coffee plan to speak tonight, Blue Bottle's James Freeman and his wife, Miette founder Caitlin Williams Freeman, won't be, due, Freeman says, to longstanding travel plans.

This morning, Freeman sent SFoodie two open letters to the Dolores Park community: one he penned, another from Caitlin Williams Freeman. He also sent a diagram of the Blue Bottle trailer (reproduced above), and its proposed location in the park. We present both open letters here, unedited. [Note: in Freeman's letter, "Crystal" is a reference to Dolores Park Works' Crystal Vann Wallstrom, organizer of tonight's meeting.]

The public meeting, in the church at 455 Dolores (at Dorland), starts at 7 p.m. Dolores Park Works has the full speaker roster.

UPDATE: Read our report of the Sept. 27 meeting.


Dear Dolores Park friends and neighbors,

I apologize that I can't attend today's meeting. I had made plans to be away several weeks prior to hearing about this meeting. Such is the nature of the nonrefundable plane ticket. Nevertheless, I'd like to tell you a little bit about my history, our company's history, our desires for the park, and address some of the concerns that Crystal has communicated to me. Mike Hamm, our manager of the outdoors, will be here to answer questions directly, but if you would like to ask me anything, please send me an email at, or perhaps we could meet at one of our shops and discuss over a coffee.

I started Blue Bottle in 2002, but prior to that, I lived on 25th and Guerrero and 20th and Guerrero from 1990 to 1999.

At the time I was a freelance clarinetist, driving around to gigs in the bay area and teaching at the prep department of the San Francisco Conservatory. Every once in a while I would work in the Mission; I have fond memories of playing with the Clubfoot orchestra at Brunos, with my quintet (the City Winds, in case you were one of our 12 ardent fans) at the ODC center, the Intersection for the Arts, and the Community Music Center. I remember eating at the Flying Saucer (Albert Tordjman, RIP), Val 21, Radio Valencia, the Latin Freeze .... A great time to be in the Mission. Living in the Mission caused me to fall in love with San Francisco. It's a different neighborhood now, of course, but that sense of vitality and community is what makes it so magical still. I lived in Oakland from 2001 to 2005, and moved back to San Francisco in August of 2005. Hopefully for good. Now I live a block from Alamo square, but my son goes to school on 25th and Valencia, so I'm in the Mission almost every day. I still love it.

I started Blue Bottle Coffee in August of 2002 in a 186 square foot former potting shed in Oakland's Temescal District. I had no background in business (or coffee really), but I was an avid home roaster and loved coffee so much. It was a total pipe dream. But it seems to be working out. I started in Farmers' markets (where I met my wife) in 2002, and we opened our kiosk on Linden Street on January 23d 2005. We opened our café on Mint Plaza January 23d 2008. In 2009 we opened a shop in the Ferry Building and in the new Rooftop Garden of the SFMOMA, and in 2010 we opened our new beautiful roastery in Oakland, and a roastery and coffee bar in Brooklyn New York. I think that our coffee is getting better and better as we grow. I work with outstanding crew (many of whom have been with me for years), and we have incredibly loyal and passionate customers. I feel very lucky.

The growth issue is a tricky one. I get phone calls and emails from real estate people every single day asking if I wouldn't be interested café spaces all over the country. I usually say no, thank you. But every once in a while opportunities come up in such beautiful or interesting locations that I get tempted. Ferry Building and SFMOMA are prime examples. And we do need to grow carefully and methodically to keep up with increasing costs (for example, our average price for green coffee has tripled over the last eight years). Another factor is labor costs. If I want to hire great people, and keep them motivated, I need to offer them regular raises, the best possible health benefits, and the potential for upward mobility. Almost every single salaried position (except for the accountant) in our company is occupied by former baristas, or other hourly production positions.

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