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Ritual Coffee starts a sustainable caffeine revolution
July 16, 2014
When Eileen Hassi Rinaldi moved to San Francisco in 2003, she loved the city’s food, farmers’ markets and proximity to wine country. “But the coffee was so far behind what I was used to in Seattle,” says Rinaldi. “It was shocking.”
Rinaldi, who had worked in Seattle coffeehouses for years, set about revolutionizing San Francisco’s caffeine culture, and opened her own café and roastery, Ritual Coffee, in the city’s Mission District, in 2005. Unlike most small coffeehouses, Ritual buys coffee beans directly from the farmers in places like Africa, Central America and South America. The company also roasts its beans much more lightly than the Bay Area norm.
The response was phenomenal. “We opened on a Thursday and had a line out the door on Saturday,” says Rinaldi. “We were pretty much able to turn a profit right away.”
Spreading the coffee culture
Their early success allowed them to expand quickly. Ritual opened a coffee stand in Flora Grubb Gardens in the Bayview district in 2007, a store in Napa in 2008 and an innovative pop-up coffee stand in a shipping container in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley, in 2011.
It was Saul Nadler, Flora Grubb Gardens co-owner, who introduced Rinaldi to New Resource in 2012. “He raved about how much easier it was to work with a community bank, and how much personal attention you receive,” says Rinaldi.
Rinaldi approached New Resource for a construction loan, and set off a bidding war with her old bank, which had serviced a previous loan. But she was swayed to New Resource by “the ability to have relationships with people in the bank, and not just a different person at an 800 number every time.”
Rinaldi got her loan this year and is using it to renovate and expand Ritual’s flagship Mission District store—a project that should be completed by the end of the summer. The improvements are badly needed, she says. “The original store was set up for two to three employees, which we’ve completely outgrown. Hopefully, now we can get our customers their coffee even faster.”
Promoting sustainability, one cup at a time
One of the many things Rinaldi likes about New Resource is its focus on sustainability. At Ritual, almost all packaging is compostable, from their to-go cups and lids to the half-gallon organic milk cartons they buy from Clover Stornetta. The most glaring gap is coffee bags—a problem that New Resource senior vice president, Gary Groff, is trying to fix. Groff recently introduced Rinaldi to the owners of Alter Eco, also a bank client, and a consortium of other food producers who have created innovative food packaging that’s 100 percent compostable, in the hopes that they could create coffee bags, too. (Talks are underway—we’ll keep you posted!)
New Resource also supports SFMade, a nonprofit Rinaldi helped start in 2010 that promotes manufacturing in the city. (Groff is board chair of the organization.) Being in the city, however, has presented Rinaldi with her greatest business challenge: retaining employees who’ve lost their housing due to evictions caused by San Francisco’s booming real estate market. But she’s committed to staying, even as she contemplates opening a retail outpost in Los Angeles. “And lately, people have been asking me to come to Seattle,” says Rinaldi, “which I think is really funny.”
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