For the last two weeks, while The Crown, Royal Coffee’s lab and tasting room, was in soft opening mode, general manager Richard Sandlin said people would stumble in out of curiosity, order a coffee at the counter, and then undoubtedly, ask for a tour of the space.
“How often does that happen at a coffee café?” Sandlin said. “They can feel there’s something special happening here.”
The Crown, which officially opened today, March 4, is designed as a coffee community space, built in a former auto showroom on Broadway, sandwiched between a pet daycare center and a hair salon. It’s part of the city’s redevelopment plan of Oakland’s Uptown district, bringing in new residential buildings, retailers and community spaces to revitalize the former Broadway Auto Row.
Walking in, guests are immediately hit by the stunning design of the space, starting with the retail tasting room in the front and continuing with a presentation space (where classes and workshops will take place), a brew lab and roasting lab. Evan Gilman, creative director of The Crown, said the layout is meant to reflect the life arc of a coffee bean that begins with the importing of green coffee to the roasting to the brew testing and then finally the cup poured for a customer.
“The space is laid out to show you how we get coffee from the importing side all the way to the front of service,” Gilman said.
The Crown is the new public face of its owner, Royal Coffee, a 41-year-old green coffee importer based in the East Bay. As a green coffee importer, Royal imports beans from around the world and sells them to coffee companies that then roast and sell them under their brands. Royal Coffee has warehouses in Oakland, Seattle, Madison, Houston and Shanghai, but it’s hoping to make The Crown its home base. Along with R&D labs and a tasting room, the new space will also house some of its administrative offices.
The Crown was a project four years in the making. Sandlin said typical city permitting and construction delays added to the timeline, but Royal also took its time, to focus on the space’s design and details. Every aspect — from the high ceilings to the movable, modular NanaWall System from Germany — has a purpose and function.
“There’s no corner where we haven’t obsessed over every detail,” he said, adding that The Crown is “designed so it can grow, adapt and change for the future. We really want this space to last for the next 40 years.”
The space was designed by Norman Sanchez Architecture of Alameda and Studio Terpeluk of San Francisco, which won awards for its designs of spaces such as the Liholiho Yacht Club restaurant. The tasting room’s movable counters, made up of eight interlocking pieces, were designed by Chambers Art & Design of West Oakland. Like the NanaWall System, the counters can be broken down and lined up in different ways, depending on the needs of the space or event.
The first thing people see behind the counter of the tasting room is the bright green tile wall and a white backlit sign that hangs on it. Instead of featuring the drinks offered, the sign lists the names of producers or coffee farmers who supply Royal Coffee.
In the tasting room, guests can order drinks, from regular coffee to special signature drinks, like the Cloudy with a Chance of Cold Brew, made with lime, ginger, soda water and simple syrup. There are also coffee flights, for those wanting to learn the nuances of each variety.
Along with the tasting room, a presentation room will invite the public to participate in classes and workshops such as a free weekly public coffee tasting on Thursday afternoons. The back wall along the corridor will be used as a gallery space for local artists (During opening, Oakland artist Tara Tucker is featured).
Sandlin said The Crown is the concept of Royal CEO Max Nicholas-Fulmer, who wanted an educational space where the company can invest in the future of the green coffee industry. For example, the roasting room isn’t roasting coffee beans to sell at The Crown. Instead, employees test different ways to roast a coffee bean and then provide those recommendations to coffee companies who buy Royal’s beans. It’s this collaboration among the industry that’s reflected in all aspect of the new Crown.
“Everyone in this room is a direct competitor of each other,” Sandlin said during a recent event that brought area roasters together for a practice run for a national coffee competition. “We’re all coming together for a good time, that’s going to make our industry stronger. That’s what we strive to do here at The Crown.”
The Crown’s tasting room is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. It’s open for special events on weekends. Check the website for scheduled events and workshops.
Benjamin Seto is the voice behind Focus:Snap:Eat, where he dishes on food at restaurants and shops in the Bay Area, in his kitchen, and from his culinary adventures.