Emeryville has spawned its share of originals. Trader Vic’s (originally on the Oakland side of the border, I know), Rudy’s Can’t Fail may have met this status and perhaps even Honor Kitchen & Cocktails or Prizefighter Bar can be considered “New Originals”. We could be on the cusp of another E’ville original with Scarlet City Espresso slated to host its Grand Opening this Saturday August 23rd. Jen St. Hilaire and Susanna Handow’s Sci-Fi themed, “Northern Italian” style espresso bar has been working out the wrinkles with a week-long soft opening but are finally “ready for lift off”.
Scarlet City is looking to bring the Italian ritual of espresso, popularized in America by the famed Seattle-based Espresso Vivace, to the East Bay. Vivace’s founder David Schomer (who Jen worked for and was mentored by) is credited with popularizing latte art and really establishing espresso as a culinary art.
Scarlet City’s origins are as a West Oakland roasting company which Jen founded in 2009. The name is a subtle feminine nod to an industry traditionally dominated by men. Their single-origin beans are in fact from women-owned or supported South American farms and they contribute to female and sustainability causes. Jen’s “Warp Drive” beans (sold locally at the Berkeley Bowl), like the films she enjoys, became a bit of a cult favorite in the Bay Area artisanal coffee scene and she sought a retail outlet to help grow her brand.
Enter Susanna Handlow whom Jen met in Berkeley at an “unnamed coffee chain” back in 2004. The duo decided to join forces for this venture as they compliment each other’s skill sets. Pair Jen’s roasting passion & expertise with Susanna’s marketing prowess and fundraising abilities in the non-profit sector to assemble a formidable small business tandem. Once Scarlet City has hit its stride, Jen looks to return “behind the scenes” to the roastery to continue her mastery.
After shopping around Oakland, the pair ultimately decided on E’ville, looking to capitalize on the city’s helpful reputation toward business. They seem delighted with E’ville’s Planning & Building Department which they described as straight-forward and responsive. “We’re not experts in everything, they told us what we needed to know.” Susanna offered “They have no pretense about working with lay-people”.
They settled in the corner unit of the Key Route Lofts that straddles the Emeryville Triangle/Oakland Longfellow border, the space had been vacant since the building’s 2005 development and primarily used for storage by its construction company. It took Jen & Susanna about year to negotiate a lease for the vacant space.
Designed by Oakland based Dougherty + Dougherty Architects LLP & built by JBM Construction, they worked hard to incorporate all of their Geek Culture inspiration into the space to make it unique. Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, Mad Max, Blade Runner … with a dash of Frank Lloyd Wright and sculptor Louise Nevelson.
Anchored by the trusty La Marzocco Linea Classic (They’ve likened it to the “Ford Mustang” of Espresso machines for its classic, high-horsepower muscle) that reliably churns out pulls of the creamy, caffeinated beverage. The layout of their establishment differs from your standard, linear “grab & go” coffee-house in that’s it’s built around an impressive Star Trek parabola inspired counter that promotes interaction amongst the staff and customers. “We think it’s actually part of the coffee scene that’s missing” offered Susanna.
For a Sci-Fi themed establishment, they’re taking a remarkably “analog” approach to running their coffee shop. Modern technology will be eschewed for board games & pinball and there are no plans to offer free wi-fi (something they think the industry is heading toward). They want their space to be vibrant and promote interaction, not isolation. “This is going to be a fun, break space. A fun place to start your day and to end your day but it’s not going to be quiet. It’s not work space, it’s play” offered Susanna (No word on their Google Glass policy ;).
The nearby “Star Intersection” where Adeline intersects with San Pablo & MacArthur is undergoing a major metamorphosis with a slate of residential projects underway including Holliday Development’s Maz Project, Madison Park’s 3900 Adeline & EAH Housing’s 3706 San Pablo that should provide the currently underserved area the population base needed to support a neighborhood coffee shop. The population around the East Bay is also rich in science and tech culture and Scarlet City is looking to purvey to that crowd.
They’re confident their style of espresso will catch on but are already looking ahead. “Phase II” of their plan for world domination (or at least E’ville Domination) will include an in the works liquor license with intentions to serve locally brewed beers and stay open until 7pm. They’re also looking at readings by local sci-fi authors and movie nights with some of their favorite cult classics on a projector screen. “This is the place where you go after the apocalypse” describes Jen, “because we’re going to have it all. Espresso, Beer, Pinball, Sci-Fi readings, movie-nights …”. As their tagline states: Resistance is Futile
Mon – Fri: 7AM – 3PM
Sat – Sun: 8AM – 3PM