Equator Coffee has been roasting coffee beans in San Rafael for roughly 18 years, but a big milestone is approaching for the company as it prepares to open its first retail store in Mill Valley this month.
The socially-responsible company, owned by two Novato women, will open on June 21 in the Proof Lab Surf Shop, which already offers everything from an indoor skate ramp, surf camp, music lessons, art and ceramics studios, and sustainability workshops.
They’ll be serving free coffee when they open on Friday, June 21, and throughout the weekend.
“Which is bold,” said co-owner Helen Russell. “But we want to get as many people in as possible.”
Up until now, Equator Coffee, which consists of a 22-person team, has been primarily wholesale, with more than 250 customers that include Chef Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, and Tyler Florence’s El Paseo in Mill Valley. For the fast few years they’ve also been operating in San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 2 at Napa Farms, which features other sustainable purveyors from Marin and the North Bay.
“Now, we’re doing this little retail store at a surf shop in Mill Valley, which is totally cool,” Russell said.
They’re going for a “beach shack meets modern day coffee bar” kind of feel with copper fixtures, Red Elm furnishings, plenty of surf elements and their giant Bengal Tiger mascot painted on the front of a bright red building. The interior will include seating for eight, in addition to a standing bar. The outside will seat 30 and is designed as a bit of an oasis, with a sunny patio and communal table for 10 surrounded by colorful flower pots and plants.
The menu will feature a wide variety of coffees including classic and seasonal blends, multiple brewing options, and a full espresso bar. They’ll also sell baked goods from Beth’s Community Kitchen in Mill Valley and Flour Craft Bakery in San Anselmo, along with other local products.
Founded in 1995 by Russell and Brooke McDonnell, Equator is dedicated to environmental sustainability and quality, and works with growers who use bio-farming techniques, Russel said. They also produce a great cup of joe through careful selection, artisan blend developments, small batch roasting and advanced brewing techniques.
“We’ve been doing this for 18 years and have been very successful,” Russell said. “What this is about for us is sharing what we’ve been doing.”
Equator Coffee has won its fair share of awards, including Roast Magazine’s Roaster of the Year in 2010, but has keep a low profile when it comes to everyday consumers.
“We’ve kind of flown under the radar and there’s been this explosion of coffee companies,” Russell said. “We need to pop our heads up and the only way to do that is retail.”
She and McDonnell had been considering opening a retail shop for the last two years, and were torn between Marin and San Francisco.
“The city is pretty saturated,” Russell said. Then, Proof Lab approached them looking for information about what’s involved in opening a coffee shop on their site. After a long conversation “they said maybe you guys should just do it,” Russell said.
It wasn’t a hard sell.
“This is such a cool spot to do it in,” Russell said.