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James Freeman Reflective as Blue Bottle Bows Out of Ferry Plaza Market

blue bottle coffee san francisco

Instagram photo by @bluebottle

Blue Bottle Coffee is bowing out of San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, a place that that helped fuel the company’s grassroots momentum in its formative years.

Blue Bottle has had a spot in the market since 2003, drawing increasingly longer lines year by year. In an announcement yesterday, Blue Bottle founder James Freeman describes day one:

The first Saturday I came to the Ferry Plaza farmers market as a vendor was December 13th, 2003. I got up at 3:45am, drove to the roastery in Oakland (which at the time was behind Restaurante Dona Tomas in the Temescal), loaded my station wagon, hitched up the espresso cart, stopped at the Thrifty Drugs across the street for ice and then white-knuckled it across the bridge, flooring my Peugeot trying to keep up with the flow of traffic. I’d been in business for a year and a half, but getting in this market was a long-held dream.

Near the end of day one, Freeman traded four cappuccinos four a roasted chicken.

Things have come a long way since then. In the past 2.5 years alone, Blue Bottle has secured some $45 million through two investment rounds, acquired Handsome Coffee Roasters, Tonx Coffee and, most recently, San Francisco bakery Tartine, and expanded to 19 cafes in the Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles and Japan. One of those cafes opened in 2009 inside the Ferry Building. Freeman says that cafe will continue to operate despite the market departure.

In yesterday’s announcement, Freeman candidly suggests the farmers market is no longer an entirely appropriate venue for a company of Blue Bottle’s size. He writes:

I was shopping at the market with my family several months ago when I realized that Blue Bottle today was neither scrappy nor under-capitalized. It’s a great feeling, actually. To have a plan and be able to execute it with plenty of long range thinking and no compromises feels luxurious. But the incubator nature of the farmers market is not really about the luxury of ever-increasing preparation standards. It’s not about scaling excellence. It’s about taking a chance on an unknown doing great work and giving that person the opportunity to succeed (or fail) in front of some of the most astute and demanding customers in the country. Even though our drinks have never been more carefully prepared, and our coffee has never been more carefully sourced and roasted, we are at the point in our trajectory where our ambitions just don’t fit outside the Ferry Building on Saturdays. I’ve seen some vendors get to this point without realizing it. I’ve seen a few of them them take being told they are at this point with a certain amount of bad grace. Fortunately, that’s not our style. We are going to celebrate how lucky we are and how far we’ve come by donating the entirety of our revenues to all our Markets on our last day.

That last day will be Saturday, May 30. Freeman says he plans to get up early and work the stand, so expect the competition among area chicken vendors to be fierce.


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