Red Bay Coffee gets new digs, signs on with Uber

Red Bay Coffee. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Red Bay Coffee held an Open House on the evening of Feb. 25 to introduce its new home in a converted factory space at 3098 E 10th St. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Red Bay Coffee last week threw open the large doors to its beautiful new headquarters in a converted factory in Fruitvale. The Oakland startup, whose founder, Keba Konte, is committed to a workers-first approach to his business, now has a production facility that aligns with its ambitions. Just last week, Red Bay signed a contract to keep all four of Uber’s San Francisco offices caffeinated.

Along with providing coffee to Uber, Red Bay employees will have “lots of engagement” at the workspaces, according to Konte. “We are planning demos and presentations,” he said, adding that Uber was interested in going beyond a simple coffee supply contract.

Meanwhile, Red Bay’s 20 or so employees are settling into their new home at 3098 E 10th St., adjacent to the train tracks and freeway. It’s quite a leap from the tiny “coffee dojo” tucked under Konte’s Fruitvale home where the roaster started out.

Red Bay Coffee's Open House, Feb. 25, 2016. Photo: Randolph Belle
A ‘living wall’ in the shape of a map at Red Bay Coffee’s new HQ. Photo: Randolph Belle

All production will happen in the new space — bringing in beans, conducting quality control and R&D in the coffee labs, roasting and cupping. Red Bay also has its offices there. By the summer, Konte also hopes to have a coffee bar and retail operation in place, and is planning an education program too: workshops on something as relatively simple as “how to brew a better cup of coffee,” through classes leading to professional Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) accreditation, be it as roasters, buyers or baristas. Events, including a speakers’ series, are also on Konte’s agenda.


The new Red Bay space is part of the old Norton auto parts and steel factory which has been restored and rehabbed by Walter Craven, founder of design and manufacturing company Blank & Cables, whose HQ is next door to Red Bay. Craven has also opened Norton Factory Studios there: 18 private studios for artists. Brewery Ale Industries completes the line-up.

As with all new businesses, there have been hiccups. Permitting headaches have delayed the opening of Red Bay’s first standalone café at the Hive on Broadway at 23rd Street. The converted shipping container which will house the coffee shop is sitting in San Leandro, all ready to go, Konte said, and a manager has been hired, which makes the hold-up particularly frustrating. Konte said they plan to have a coffee popup at the Hive site soon while they wait for the red tape to be untangled.

Red Bay Coffee's Open House, Feb. 25, 2016. Photo: Randolph Belle
Red Bay Coffee founder Keba Konte, left, with a guest at the company’s Feb. 25 Open House. Photo: Randolph Belle
Red Bay Coffee's Open House, Feb. 25, 2016. Photo: Randolph Belle
Artwork by Keba Konte, founder of Red Bay Coffee, in the startup’s new facility. Photo: Randolph Belle
Red Bay Coffee's Open House, Feb. 25, 2016. Photo: Randolph Belle
Red Bay Coffee’s Open House on Feb. 25 . Photo: Randolph Belle

Red Bay has also just added two new farmers markets to its roster: Newark and Hayward which, along with Berkeley and Old Oakland, brings its total exclusive market contracts to four.

Red Bay’s mission, along with selling good coffee, is to help transform low-wage jobs with a business model that sees its workers keep all the profits. In doing so, Konte has said he also hopes to inject some diversity into the primarily white world of specialty coffee.

At its Open House on Thursday, Feb. 25, Red Bay unveiled its newly restored vintage Probat roaster, introduced guests to the art of assessing and roasting beans as well as cupping, and, of course, served coffee. There were also cocktails, a DJ delivered some mellow sounds, and a taco truck did brisk business across the street. A barber offered complimentary cuts and guests admired a just-completed living wall, planted in the shape of the map of Africa. Painted on a stark white wall as one entered the new facility were the words: “Red Bay Coffee: Beautiful Coffee to the People.”


Red Bay Coffee. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Guests talk under the wall that greets guests to Red Bay Coffee’s new home. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Red Bay Coffee. Photo: Tracey Taylor
A haircut for a Red Bay Coffee staffer at the company’s Feb. 25 Open House. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Red Bay Coffee. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Red Bay Coffee employees demonstrated how to assess green coffee beans at the company’s Feb. 25 Open House. Photo: Tracey Taylor
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Red Bay’s newly restored Probat coffee roaster. Photo: Randolph Belle
Red Bay Coffee's Open House, Feb. 25, 2016. Photo: Randolph Belle
Demonstrating the Probat roaster at Red Bay Coffee’s Open House on Feb. 25. Photo: Randolph Belle
Red Bay Coffee. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Red Bay Coffee staffers showed guests at its Feb. 25 Open House how to cup coffee. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Related:
With café, market spot, its Red Bay Coffee’s moment (07.13.15)
Red Bay and Highwire vie for farmers market spot (06.09.15)
Keba Konte: Serving coffee with color, social justice (05.14.15)
Berkeley Bites: Keba Konte (04.09.10)

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