The La Marzocco espresso machine manufacturing company has earned more than respect from the industry over the past 90 years for its line of long-lasting, dependable and innovative products. It has earned the loyalty and affection of legions of baristas, shop owners and roasters all over the world whose careers started and continued on LM machines.
With its recent salvos into the home market, this towering and pivotal fixture of the specialty coffee industry has also been steadily transcending the divide between industry and consumer audiences.
This week in Seattle — the North American home base for the Italian company — La Marzocco’s relationship with all sides of its adoring public takes another stride forward with the opening of the first La Marzocco Café & Showroom.
The 1,100-square-foot retail café space located at 472 1st Ave. N. at the Seattle Center, just around the corner from the iconic Space Needle, showcases not only LM’s prowess in equipping a professional bar, but also the company’s history, their line of domestic products, and the coffees of some of the roasters they’ve enjoyed working with over the years, served alongside baked goods by Seattle bakery The London Plane.
The open-concept café and 200-square-foot bar designed by SkB Architects with branding and interior finishing assisted by the creative agency States of Matter are housed within the building owned and occupied by the radio station KEXP, which constitutes a unique partnership that nevertheless feels like a natural combination. “We always had on our radio station, KCMU, which is the station that evolved into KEXP,” La Marzocco North America President Joe Monaghan told Daily Coffee News of the early days of La Marzocco’s development in Seattle. “There was already kind of a tie, a natural bonding that we felt, that we grew up together.”
Monaghan said that while La Marzocco is of course by origin an Italian company, and now also a global company with machines located anywhere on earth there’s a passion for quality coffee, it’s also a very Seattle-oriented company. “Our roots are very deep here in Seattle,” said Monaghan, who considers La Marzocco’s worldwide success to be part and parcel with coffee’s colloquial “third wave,” the advancement of which Monaghan attributes in large part to Seattle’s trendsetting culture of specialty coffee particularly in the 1980s and ’90s.
Coffee at the new café will come in the form of a “Roasters in Residence” program, consisting of month-long residencies of roasters and coffee individuals from across the Unites States and beyond, serving their own curated selections of coffees and drinks. “We’re offering the stage for performers to come in and do their thing,” said Monaghan, characterizing the program as similar to a music venue that hosts different artists, which links the café concept again to its spiritual kinship with KEXP.
“Part of the intent is to give the Seattle coffee community and customer base a chance to get exposed to coffees they wouldn’t normally get,” said Monaghan, explaining why the initial roster of roasters to reside at the LM Café does not include any indigenous Seattle companies. The café will launch with Stumptown on the bar, a company that does operate a roastery in Seattle but was of course founded in Portland, Ore.
Apart from their quality and popularity, Stumptown was also a pragmatic choice for the opening act as they’re not traveling across the world to participate, therefore they’re better equipped able to handle what bumps may come in the road of launching a brand new café.
The list of confirmed upcoming roasters recently announced by LM includes: G&B Coffee of Los Angeles, Calif.; Buna of Mexico City, Mexico; Campos Coffee of Sydney, Australia; Counter Culture Coffee of Durham N.C.; Intelligentsia Coffee of Chicago; Panther Coffee of Miami; Pilot Coffee Roasters of Toronto; Cat & Cloud of Santa Cruz, Calif.; Coffee Supreme of Wellington, New Zealand; and Heart Coffee Roasters of Portland, Oregon.
The on-site “Espresso Lab” consumer product showroom aspect will provide patrons with hands-on opportunities to test and experience the Linea Mini and GS3 “prosumer” machines, and the Lux grinder, as well as what other products may roll out in the future. Those hoping for a rumored “Strada Mini” to appear may be somewhat disappointed to learn that LM’s recently launched single-group Strada is not a compact home machine but really more of a lower-volume commercial machine — not that this is an obstacle for the most fervent of home-baristas.
“Ironically, the first two orders I’ve taken are for people’s homes,” said Monaghan. “There’s a demand, there’s an interest both on our end and on the market’s to go that direction, but I wouldn’t call it any kind of deliberate intent yet.”
As for La Curva, the fascinating LM manual lever concept machine revealed last year at HOST Milan, this too remains the stuff of only a theoretical future. “It’s a fun project with pretty amazing results,” said Monaghan of the one-off exercise in innovation and design for LM’s R&D team. He added, “Whether we ever take it to market or not has not been decided.”
Futures aside, the very real present involves a celebration of the company’s rich history as well as a clearing of the way forward for La Marzocco’s relationship with the public and with the industry. The company will be taking a sort of “wait and see” approach to whether or not there will be any additional La Marzocco cafes after this one opens and hits its stride, the process of which is more than enough excitement for LM USA for now.
As the primary driver for this café that’s been a personal pet project of Monaghan’s for a while, he’s relieved to be getting passed the sleepless nights through which his mind swirled over the details and complications of balancing the incorporation of LM history and culture, brand-building for the LM Home line, managing roaster partnerships and crafting the customer experience all into one seamless package.
“I can’t give enough credit to Amy Hattemer, who was the project manager and now café manager, for sticking with this and seeing through all the ups and downs and challenges,” said Monaghan. “We’ve got a great staff of — they’re more than baristas — ‘experience managers’ is what we’re calling them. They’ve come from all over the country to work with us. It’s really exciting, it’s unlike anything, to my knowledge, anybody’s ever done.”
The La Marzocco Café & Showroom held a brief open house the morning of Sunday, April 10, and begins its official grand opening at 7 a.m. on Saturday, April 16. It will be open daily at 7 a.m. from then on.