Souvenir Coffee Co. will open a fourth location in Old Oakland in March. Photo: Sarah Han
Berkeley-based Souvenir Coffee owner Jeremy Bled is about to open his fourth location. In March, he will take over the former Coloso coffee at Swan’s Market in Old Oakland, which has been out of service since the lockdown in March 2020. Previously, Bled will have a grand opening on February 1st at its third Souvenir Coffee outpost in San Francisco, which it gently launched in August.
Given this rapid expansion, especially amid a pandemic, one might think souvenir has to do brisk business. But Bled said his company – like most other grocery retailers – is doing no better than it did before the COVID-19 success – and that’s part of why it’s expanding.
“I want to give people jobs!” Bled said emphatically. “If you are interested in people right now, you want to employ as many people as possible.”
Bled said that Souvenir Coffee, which debuted on Claremont Avenue in Berkeley in October 2017 and added a second cafe on Solano Avenue in Albany in January 2019, was sustainable and able to grow thanks to each cafe’s regular patronage.
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“Every type of food retail is different. By and large, if you are a cafe and you have a good following, a good pre-pandemic group of people, you can survive and be okay, ”said Bled. “No one I know over coffee is better off than before the pandemic, but some of us can hold on because of our regulars.”
During the pandemic, Bled was able to “fine-tune” souvenir offers. The Claremont Avenue cafe began serving more food like breakfast and lunch sandwiches and making its own syrups and baked goods. Perhaps the coffee supply to the co-operatives and farmers has been even more effective.
“We now have more stable offers that we can get year after year,” said Bled.
Although the number of souvenir sales has decreased at all locations, more and more customers are buying bags of beans to take away. Souvenir roasts its own blends and beans from a single source at Bay Area Co-Roasters or CoRo in West Berkeley. Bled is fortunate to run a business that offers other revenue options and is not tied to an on-site experience that restaurants and bars depend on.
“People just can’t experience what they normally want to experience in restaurants. We’re very lucky, ”he said.
Souvenir Coffee opened a second location in Albany in 2019. Photo: Sarah Han
While Bled, a Berkeley native, wasn’t planning on opening a coffee shop in San Francisco, he decided to take over the former Native Twins Coffee Spot on the corner of Divisadero and Haight Streets, as Souvenirs General Manager now lives in SF. Bled says his goal is to get the locals who live in the shops to work there.
“There is no community café without the community,” he said. “You have to have people from the church working for the church and be a reflection of the church.”
Now that Souvenir has multiple locations, Bled’s long-term goal is to offer some of the Souvenir employees a partial stake. However, this will only happen when the company has shown itself to be “demonstrably profitable over a certain period of time”.
Collaboration and community building has always been something Bled has built into its business. He takes customer feedback so seriously that each souvenir location has its own filter coffee blend based on the tastes of the general neighborhood. On Claremont Avenue, Souvenir pours a more traditional dark roast that is smokier in flavor. On Solano Avenue, Bled said, locals prefer a medium-sized roast with a chocolaty profile. And on Divisadero Street he said the cafe had a fruity, lighter roast. When it opens, the Old Oakland souvenir will serve a drop to suit the tastes of locals who visit the Washington Street cafe.
The upcoming souvenir café is located in the former Coloso Coffee Space on Swan’s Market. Photo: Coloso Coffee / Facebook
In Old Oakland, Bled is fortunate to have two coffee experts on board who know the area and local preferences. The Coloso co-owners Jose Posadas and Renzo Gianella will support Souvenir with the transition into the room and share their extensive coffee knowledge. Bled is happy to work with them as he has been a long-time fan of Coloso Coffee.
“I love what they did, they are the main reason I wanted to go into specialty coffees,” said Bled. “If I was unhappy at my previous job, I would go to their store and it would make me happy. Their quality is second to none. “
Posadas will be running the new souvenir cafe when it quietly opens on March 1st, but he will eventually step out of the role as soon as a new barista learns the ropes. Bled said the Old Oakland Cafe will likely be in soft-open mode for at least two months.
Another thing that Bled is excited about in the new space – “It has a great presence on the sidewalk,” he said. “The plan is to sit outside and have a beer and wine and have a bite to eat.” But don’t expect much from a makeover. “We’re not going to change the look – they did a great job there. We’re just trying to build on what they did. “
Bled is the first to admit that expanding business may seem reckless during this time of uncertainty.
“Pretty much anyone who somehow knows what this is about thinks I’m totally crazy, which is true,” he said. However, Bled is confident that its employees and the new partnership with Renzo and Gianella are worth the risk.
“I wouldn’t do this without having great people. The secret to this type of job is amazing people, and you have to start there. “
Souvenir Coffee Co.’s upcoming Swan’s Market Cafe is located at 917 Washington St. (between Ninth and Tenth Streets) in Oakland
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