Blue Bot­tle, Tar­tine seek gourmet syn­ergy

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Paolo Luc­ch­esi

Tar­tine has the bread and the crois­sants.

Blue Bot­tle has the cof­fee — and an in­fra­struc­ture that has spawned nearly 20 out­posts across four cities and two con­ti­nents.

Now, in a deal that marks the lat­est small food busi­ness ex­plod­ing into the na­tional main­stream, two of the Bay Area’s top ar­ti­san food com­pa­nies have merged.

The merger of the bak­ery and cof­fee roaster is an­tic­i­pated to pro­vide mu­tual benefits to two trend- set­ting lo­cal com­pa­nies known for their high­qual­ity goods and at­ten­tion to de­tail, not to men­tion their fa­mously long lines — as they con­tinue to scale their op­er­a­tions to new lo­ca­tions and new mar­kets.

The part­ner­ship rep­re­sents

an­other move in the pro­lif­er­a­tion of the ar­ti­sanal move­ment, as food com­pa­nies that pride them­selves on well­crafted, qual­ity, lo­cally sourced and planet- sen­si­tive foods con­tinue to look for ways to not only thrive — but also to reach more peo­ple.

Tar­tine Bak­ery will serve Blue Bot­tle cof­fee at its flag­ship Mission store, and Blue Bot­tle, which raised $ 25.75 mil­lion last year, will begin to of­fer Tar­tine bread, crois­sants, pastries and sa­vory items at its lo­ca­tions.

“Tar­tine is join­ing the com­pany of Blue Bot­tle. We’re part of Blue Bot­tle,” said Tar­tine baker Chad Robert­son, who will be­come CEO of Tar­tine. His wife, Elis­a­beth Prueitt, will re­main ex­ec­u­tive pas­try chef.

Blue­print for growth

The ap­peal from Tar­tine’s end, in ad­di­tion to the plat­form that the Blue Bot­tle shops can pro­vide, is the in­fra­struc­ture that Blue Bot­tle founder/ CEO James Free­man and com­pany have built. Blue Bot­tle has pro­vided a blue­print for growth that Tar­tine hopes to em­u­late: scal­ing up and evolv­ing with tech­nol­ogy while main­tain­ing, as Robert­son puts it, “ex­treme ar­ti­san­ship.”

How­ever, the rise of “foodie cul­ture” and in­creased con­sumer aware­ness have sparked in­creased de­mand for qual­ity — and up­scale — food and drink, a trend re­flected in grow­ing com­pa­nies like Stump­town Cof­fee in Port­land, Ore., Chico’s Sierra Ne­vada Brew­ing Co., and New York burger chain Shake Shack, which raised $ 105 mil­lion in its ini­tial public of­fer­ing in Jan­uary. Mean­while, 2014 was one of McDon­ald’s worst sales years in decades.

“It’s a nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion when peo­ple have tasted and have had ac­cess to good food, they’re go­ing to want more of it,” Free­man said.

An­other San Fran­cisco food en­tre­pre­neur, Pas­cal Rigo, is proof of the de­mand for more qual­ity food in the main­stream.

Rigo founded Bay Bread in San Fran­cisco nearly two decades ago. In sub­se­quent years, he built a small em­pire of La Boulange neigh­bor­hood shops through­out the Bay Area; in 2013, he sold the com­pany to Star­bucks for $ 100 mil­lion.

‘ More con­scious’ con­sumers

“Peo­ple are more and more con­scious of what they want to eat,” said Rigo, who is now the se­nior vice pres­i­dent of Star­bucks North Amer­ica’s food cat­e­gory. “It’s all about the best in­gre­di­ents, and bring­ing them to as many cus­tomers as you can.”

The re­al­iza­tion that he could bring his scones and mac­arons to mil­lions of new con­sumers was one of the ap­peals for Rigo in mak­ing the Star­bucks deal. And though Tar­tine and Blue Bot­tle are much smaller, the at­trac­tion is much the same.

Stand­ing in line for 45 min­utes at a sin­gle lo­ca­tion will no longer be the only way to ac­cess the ar­ti­san goods.

“What I like about Tar­tine th­ese days is that they re­ally are un­der­stand­ing that they have a great prod­uct, but now they re­al­ized they have to share it. It’s not elit­ist any more,” said Rigo, point­ing out that Tar­tine and Blue Bot­tle are a very log­i­cal fit. “When you look at those two com­pa­nies to­gether, they are made for each other.”

Nei­ther Robert­son nor Free­man would dis­close the mon­e­tary de­tails sur­round­ing the deal. Free­man says this deal is dif­fer­ent from Blue Bot­tle’s 2014 ac­qui­si­tions of com­pa­nies like Tonx and Hand­some, largely be­cause Tar­tine will re­main its own en­tity un­der the Blue Bot­tle um­brella.

For his part, Robert­son says it is not a fi­nance- driven trans­ac­tion.

“Thank­fully, Tar­tine has never had any trou­ble rais­ing money,” Robert­son said. This deal “is much more of a trans­ac­tion driven by a team that I be­lieve in. I be­lieve in the at­ten­tion to de­tails and the ob­ses­sive na­ture of James and Blue Bot­tle. It’s never been a chal­lenge to get money. It’s about find­ing the right peo­ple to grow the com­pany.”

And grow they will. Tar­tine’s first growth spurt will take place in Tokyo, where a new bak­ery is open­ing this spring. Closer to home, Tar­tine’s new project in San Fran­cisco’s Heath build­ing is un­der con­struc­tion and sched­uled to open this fall; early next year, Robert­son plans to remodel the 18th and Guer­rero bak­ery. Look­ing ahead, Los An­ge­les is likely the next tar­get for Tar­tine ex­pan­sion, later this year.

Not part of the deal is the Va­len­cia Street restau­rant Bar Tar­tine, which Robert­son and Prueitt will sell to its chefs, Nick Balla and Cort­ney Burns, within the next six weeks. “They have such a strong vi­sion. I want them to have it for them­selves,” Robert­son said, adding that they will con­tinue to col­lab­o­rate although the restau­rant’s name will change.

Mean­while, Blue Bot­tle is work­ing on two new San Fran­cisco lo­ca­tions: one in the 115 San­some build­ing in the Fi­nan­cial Dis­trict, and an­other in the Twit­ter build­ing at 1355 Mar­ket St.

Though Robert­son and Free­man have known each other for more than a decade, their new part­ner­ship came to­gether rather re­cently — and with a bit of serendip­ity.

For­tu­itous mis­quote

The seeds were planted in fall 2014, when Robert­son gave an in­ter­view with a New York me­dia out­let about plans for a Tokyo bak­ery. The story in­cor­rectly quoted him as say­ing it was a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Blue Bot­tle. Robert­son quickly wrote to Free­man to clar­ify the state­ment. Free­man, in turn, replied that there were no prob­lems, adding that Robert­son should let him know if he ac­tu­ally wanted to dis­cuss the part­ner­ship pos­si­bil­ity.

“That’s lit­er­ally how the con­ver­sa­tion started,” said Robert­son. “That was the cat­a­lyst: a text, and a text back.”

The con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ued, in­clud­ing while the two waited in line at Blue Bot­tle’s out­post at the Mission’s Heath fac­tory, where Tar­tine is open­ing a new restau­rant later this year. With Robert­son’s de­sires to ex­pand Tar­tine into the same mar­kets that Blue Bot­tle al­ready has — New York, Los An­ge­les, Tokyo — the union be­came more ob­vi­ous.

“Chad, as long I’ve known him, can be de­light­fully el­lip­ti­cal,” said Free­man. “But it sounded like he re­ally wanted some­one to work with, and to start mak­ing bread in more than one place.”

“What Chad has done, and what he has cre­ated, is su­per im­pres­sive and in­ter­est­ing, but what’s more im­pres­sive and valu­able is what he’s about to do,” said Free­man.

“It’s been a pretty in­tense few months of plan­ning and dreaming. Now we’re ex­cited to not be in the trans­ac­tion busi­ness, and be in the cof­fee and bread busi­ness.”

Ja­son Henry / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle 2014

Fresh- baked bread is on dis­play dur­ing a Septem­ber brunch at Bar Tar­tine, which will be sold to its chefs.

Rus­sell Yip / The Chron­i­cle 2014

Tar­tine baker Chad Robert­son will be­come CEO.

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