Image counts for a lot in retail. This is perhaps even truer for the specialty coffee brands based in as design-savvy an enclave as San Francisco. Ritual Coffee Roasters‘ eye-catching red, black and white scheme and bold, communist-revolution-esque logo have been turning heads and winning patrons for over a decade, and yet as timeless as the brand would seem, Ritual has just undertaken the arguably bolder task of refreshing it to reflect the evolving spirit of the business.
“The coffee scene has changed in the U.S. in general, but nowhere more so than in San Francisco,” Ritual owner Eileen Rinaldi told Daily Coffee News. “When we opened 11 years ago, I feel like we had to be a little aggressive just to convince people to even try our coffee, because it was so different from what people were used to. Now I think San Francisco is known for the style of coffee that we do, so we can change our messaging around that, now that our style is familiar and our coffee is familiar and people trust us.”
It’s not as simple as to say that the revolution is over and the good guys won. Ritual’s intrepid cup-and-star logo will continue to fly on flags and signs, and there will still be lots of red and white. With the update, though, come some blues and golds, reflecting, perhaps inadvertently, the spoils of victory, as it comes from a place of confidence in Ritual’s securely established foothold in the market. The revolution is ongoing, but the good guys appear to be winning.
“Our old font used to be like yelling, in an aggressive way,” said Rinaldi. The updated typefaces are slightly more subdued and feature some shadowing to the letters. Their new 12-ounce retail bag, printed with soy-based ink, is now 100 percent compostable, and feature a removable wrap-around tag printed with additional information about the coffee, its origins, cultivation and processing. Customers are encouraged to remove, collect and save the tags to keep track of their favorite coffees and watch out for their return year after year.
The brand revamp comes just as the Ritual uprising claims new physical territory as well, opening its fifth retail location this week that’s actually only their second store situated independently, not as part of another establishment or business. The new shop is squarely in the heart of SF’s storied Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, at the corner Haight and Central.
With fresh electrical and plumbing yet original high ceilings and plenty of vintage exterior charm, the generous front and restored side windows let in plenty of light and glimpses of the greenery at Buena Vista Park just a couple doors down on the opposite side of Haight. The intimate 800-square-foot café is the street-level occupant of a historic Victorian building, and will feature sidewalk seating, as well. In keeping with the same policy instated upon remodeling the Valencia Street location, the new café will not be providing WiFi.
“I just like it better,” Rinaldi said of the decision. “It feels really good when you walk into a café and people are talking, and even reading books.”
She described her elation at entering the Valencia Street Ritual after the remodel and finding one person reading a newspaper, one writing in a journal and others reading and discussing a book of poetry.
“It felt like the nineties, which is when I fell in love with coffee and café culture,” said Rinaldi. “I almost felt like it was a show being put on for me to make me feel like I’d made the right decision. But then I realized that I didn’t actually know any of these people. It wasn’t a show, it was just people who were happy to be in an analog environment.”
Rinaldi added that at this point, particularly in SF, many wandering workers don’t rely on free WiFi to get online anymore, anyway. WiFi notwithstanding, the café will certainly provide V60 pour-overs, grab-n-go batch brew by Fetco, their own house cold brews and an arresting custom gold Synesso MVP Hydra handling espresso. Locally baked pastries, a smattering of merchandise and brewing gear will also be for sale.
Merchandise sold at the Haight location will reflect the neighborhood and the brand refresh, and will include a new custom-made diner mug for which Ritual collaborated with Berney Karp, a Los Angeles-based ceramics maker.
“It took a long time to track down somebody who was willing to make a diner mug for us,” said Rinaldi. “It was an extra bonus that they’re not only in the U.S., but even in California.”
Looking ahead, Rinaldi said that Ritual is also planning an expansion of their Napa location, as well as some work on their Hayes Valley location that makes use of a converted shipping container. The latter will include building walls and enclosing what’s currently a mostly outdoor space, adding protection from the elements and a more established cafe experience.
Roasting for all Ritual locations and wholesale will continue to be done on the company’s same modified vintage Probat UG22 located in an industrial space on Howard Street in SoMa. The new location at 1300 Haight Street will officially open on Tuesday, April 26.