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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

Page 2 of 4

I am interested in putting a coffee trailer in Dolores Park, not because it is a gateway to riches (more on that later), but because I think it is a charming idea. To backtrack a little, I'd like to talk about Rec and Park's prior approach to vending in the parks. For some time in the past, I gather, they had been charging steep rents to vendors. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25% of revenues. People in business tell me that you shouldn't spend more than 6-7% of revenues on rent, and as a company, we average about 6%. If you are spending 20% of revenues on rent, then your options boil down to hiring people at minimum wage, firing them if they want more money, and buying the cheapest possible ingredients. So when the RFP for vending in the parks went out in September of 2009, that signaled to us that Rec and Park was changing direction: that they realized that a smaller piece of a bigger pie was to the park's financial advantage, and that they wanted approved vendors to represent the high quality food and drink environment that San Francisco is known for. So we were very excited to be part of that change in philosophy. Many of our colleagues in the food industry shared that excitement, and quite a few organizations submitted responses to the RFP. We felt very lucky to be selected to the second round, a tasting round, which occurred in January 2010. After we passed the tasting round, we started planning for the cart in earnest. I had assumed that since there were published articles in The Chronicle, the Examiner, and the SF Weekly in November of 2009, and January 2010, that the community around Dolores Park was well informed. So it pained me to hear that many of our (hopefully) future neighbors were upset that more outreach had not been done.

To start serving coffee in the park at 8am, Mike Hamm needs to be at the roastery in Oakland by 5am, to load up, and get to the bridge at 6am, and start setting up in the park by 7am. The second shift starts cleaning up at 4pm, and will be lucky if the get back to the roastery by 6pm. So the thing about mobile vending (which we've learned from our years at the farmers' markets) is that there are a lot of hours of labor that are not occupied making and selling coffee. In order to be profitable (our target, our hope, our fervent wish is to average 10% profit in the park), we needed to choose a park that 1. We loved, 2. Had access to a lot of our customers and 3. Was pretty busy much of the time. Dolores Park fit that bill in a way that no other park really did.

Now to a few nuts and bolts questions:

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