Monday, March 30, 2009

Designing Kitchen

For many years now, I've been a big fan of traditional style coffee bars. Very linear designs that incorporate everything (including the kitchen sink) into them and now that it looks as though we might embark on another journey, I've been seriously thinking about them again.

Until just the other morning.

In a perfect world, you'd have cheap rent (sub $8/sq ft), lots of space (2,000+ sq ft) and the kind of volume you'd find on Main Street in Disney World's Magic Kingdom. But in the real world, you have real rent ($20+/sq ft), small spaces (600sq ft) and varying volumes. Add the downturn of the local economy and Hell has been delivered in a Hand Basket.

While sensible minds reduce their spending and shore up their defenses, the smart minds have been going to the US Congress and asking for "bailout money." And luckily for them, they've spent the last 25 years generously making campaign contributions and supporting both the Republican and Democratic parties.

Sad to say that I'm not in the "smart minds" group. Nor am I in the "sensible minds" group. Which means that I'm stuck in the ether somewhere in-between on the road to grand riches or financial ruin. Good thing I passed on that Ferrari last year...

As I was sitting around the house the other morning drinking a quite delicious french pressed Ethiopia Bonko "Black Sun" from Cafe D'Bolla and an "I am in Paris" almond croissant from Patisserie Poupon, it hit me: why am I so focused on linear coffee bars? Why? Is the linear design really that conducive to hospitality? Is that how we welcome people into our homes and our lives - by separating them with a 33" deep bar?

What I (and I think many people) enjoy is sitting around the kitchen with friends and family. Talking story, cooking, eating, drinking and even working. Kitchens are warm spaces filled with conviviality and sharing. Bars are places were creepy, cheesy guys hit on drunk women.

My home kitchen is quite spacious. It's bright and airy and tends to be the social center whenever people are gathered. The kitchen is the ideal place to welcome friends and hang out. The dining room is too formal. The living room is too detached. In the kitchen, everyone just spills out all over the place. By the stove, buy the fridge, in the breakfast nook - it's organic, it's relaxed. More importantly: it's comfortable.

Within just a fleeting moment, the question became not how to cram a linear espresso bar into the space, but rather: "how do we design and build a kitchen into a coffee environment while still meeting all of the foodservice standards and regulations imposed by the city?" Part of the reason for such a linear design is to separate the customer (public) from the work area but we want to welcome them into the work area - just as you would in your home kitchen. We want to eliminate the walls and barriers to make it open and friendly.

Oooh, it's one thing to merely design and build a great kitchen. But how does one achieve that same level of comfort and family while adhering to the regulations of the government? That's the tough proposition, and over the next few weeks, I'm going to be exploring just that conundrum.


One Little Seedling said...

Sounds like a fun challenge and I'm sure will help you come up with something innovative and different. But it no doubt sounds like an interesting challenge. I'm totally intrigued to see you're end results.

This is where your film industry knowledge kicks in. Limited funds/dynamics brings greater creativity.

Andrew and Jeff said...

I've recently been reading your blog and have enjoyed your detailed look into the world of coffee..I still have a ton to learn! I look forward to your updates on your latest quest..I may end up "borrowing" some ideas

Andrew and Jeff said...

I just recently started to read your blog and have enjoyed your detailed look into the coffee world...You have certainly found your passion! I look forward to your quest on this little project...I may end up "borrowing" some ideas...

Spronomy said...

As you alluded to, there's a couple criteria at odds with each other in bar design:
- Speed
- Hospitality
- Familiarity

The linear bar design lends itself well to speed and familiarity. There are no customers in the way, and a well designed bar will have a flow to it where drinks start at the register and end being served moving in one direction. Additionally, a customer coming into a linear bar knows what to do. They've experienced this same setup at McDonalds, Wendy's, Starbucks, ice cream stores, etc. This is also the drawback, as we're not fast food but our bar design alludes to that idea.

Intelligenstia's new location in Venice looks to completely change coffee bar design (, but how many small shops will be able to afford the risk and cost of such a setup?

I haven't seen or heard much from a Venice style shops, I don't know how many are around and how they're doing. This could be a way to add hospitality to the mix, but more staff would be needed to go between the tables and making drinks.

Are there any shops currently open that are pushing a design different than the current bar setup? One that comes to mind is Choke Motorcycle Shop, with a vintage Faema e61 and moped parts strewn about. Not sure if it adds hospitality, but definitely looks at a 'coffeeshop' in a new light.