Famed S.F. Bakery Acquired By Local Coffee Powerhouse

San Francisco Business Times
By Annie Sciacca
April 20, 2015

A couple of the Bay Area’s top artisan food companies are joining forces.

Tartine, the popular San Francisco bakery that often sees long lines for its bread and pastries, is being acquired by Oakland-based Blue Bottle Coffee, and it has big plans for expansion.

After 13 years in San Francisco, Tartine will open locations in New York, Tokyo and Los Angeles, and its baked goods will land in Blue Bottle locations. Blue Bottle has 18 locations in the Bay Area, Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Tokyo.

The Tartine locations will sell Blue Bottle Coffee.

Tartine is now part of Blue Bottle Coffee, but the bakery will continue to operate as a separate company. Owners Chad Robertson and his wife Elisabeth Prueitt will continue to lead the company, with Robertson as CEO and Prueitt as executive pastry chef.

“I work best as a collaborator and have been looking for a true partner to move forward with for the last few years,” Robertson said in an email statement.

That partner turned out to be Blue Bottle CEO James Freeman. Having started Blue Bottle the same year that Tartine was founded, in 2002, Freeman has grown the coffee company to its current 18 shops. In 2012, Blue Bottle raised $19.6 million from investors, and last year, it raised an additional $25.7 million. According to recent Business Times' data, Blue Bottle had $26.2 million in sales in 2013.

“Blue Bottle's careful growth since the beginning has been interesting to watch,” Robertson said, adding that working with Blue Bottle recently in Tokyo was a “revelation.”

“They were very focused and professional and had an amazingly dedicated team standing behind their vision of coffee and the experience it deserves,” he said. “To grow my own Tartine family, my biggest concern was that I could not sustain this growth on our small scale and would need to bring more people in to work with as the endeavor becomes much bigger than Liz and me.”

Although on a much smaller scale, the move echoes Seattle-based Starbucks' purchase in 2012 of San Francisco-based La Boulange bakery and cafe for $100 million. La Boulange pastries and products are now sold in Starbucks.

The Blue Bottle-Tartine deal comes as both local companies face more growth.

In the fall, Tartine will open a large-scale commercial bakery in the Heath Ceramics building in the Mission, a spot where Blue Bottle already has a coffee shop.

Blue Bottle, meanwhile, confirmed to The New Fillmore blog that it might open a cafe in the Fillmore District in San Francisco and is eyeing the storefronts that formerly housed Tully's Coffee and Juicy News magazine shop at 2453 and 2455 Fillmore St.

Blue Bottle recently ventured into Palo Alto with a store inside community workspace HanaHaus, a move that followed its recent acquisition of Perfect Coffee, a startup purveyor of pre-ground coffee, as well as its April purchase of two Los Angeles coffee companies.

The Blue Bottle growth reflects a trend in artisan coffee expansion in the Bay Area and beyond. Fellow coffee company Philz is also plotting growth, following its own $15 million funding round that will allow it to grow throughout California and into other states.

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