The Italian maker of espresso machines opens its first cafe, in Seattle, to play host to a rotating cast of coffee roasters from around the U.S. and beyond.
When espresso-machine company La Marzocco put out the word that it was hiring baristas for its first cafe, which opens in Seattle on Saturday, applications came in from as far away as Peru and Japan.
Not bad for a brand that many haven’t heard of. But as unknown as the brand may be to the broad public, it excites a passionate following among coffee specialists — some of whom have even gotten tattoos of the company’s logo.
“When I saw people with La Marzocco tattoos, that was one of the telling points,” Joe Monaghan, president of La Marzocco USA, said of the company’s decision to open a cafe.
U.S. headquarters established: 1978 in Seattle
Current U.S. headquarters: 1553 N.W. Ballard Way, Seattle
Price of home espresso machines: $4,500-$8,200
Price of commercial espresso machines: $8,300-$26,200
Sales: About $100 million globally
Cafe & Showroom location: 472 First Ave. N, Seattle
Source: La Marzocco
The La Marzocco Cafe & Showroom is located in radio station KEXP’s new home on the Seattle Center grounds, and both it and KEXP hold their grand openings on Saturday.
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The 89-year-old company, founded and headquartered in Florence, has a long history in Seattle. Its U.S. headquarters is in Ballard.
It’s built a loyal fan base among baristas, many of whom were trained on La Marzocco machines. Starbucks used La Marzocco machines for years before switching to automatic ones in 2004.
Several years ago, Monaghan and others in the company noticed an increasing number of tourists unexpectedly showing up at its manufacturing plant outside Florence, hoping for tours, and more people stopping by its Ballard showroom, wanting to hold cuppings, trainings and other events there.
“I was surprised,” Monaghan said. “People really wanted to connect with our brand. … That’s when I started thinking we should do something.”
The move comes at an interesting time. As the Florence-based company opens its first cafe in the city, Seattle-based Starbucks is planning to open its first cafe in Italy next year.
Kent Bakke, CEO of La Marzocco International, said there had been some talk initially of opening the cafe in Florence.
On the other hand, said Bakke, who began distributing La Marzocco machines in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1970s, “we have coffee history here.”
The company has played a role in the evolution of coffee consumption in the United States.
“They’ve been one of the leaders in moving the U.S. toward a cafe culture as opposed to a coffee culture,” said Ric Rhinehart, executive director of the industry group Specialty Coffee Association of America. “We’ve been coffee drinkers in the U.S. since our inception. It’s been in the last 30 years or so that we’ve become more of a cafe culture where Americans look for cafes as a place to meet, to work, as a safe space to interact.”
More recently, La Marzocco’s bottom line and brand recognition have been boosted by the so-called Third Wave coffee movement, which emphasizes the bean, the quality of roasting and skill of preparation.
The company says it logged $100 million in sales globally last year. Its biggest markets are the U.S., Australia and the U.K.
More than a year ago, the company launched a line of home machines, which sell for $4,500 to $8,200.
Those machines, along with the commercial ones, will be on display at the cafe and showroom.
The cafe occupies about 1,100 square feet in the open and airy public gathering space in KEXP’s new headquarters.
One wall displays the history of the company and its commercial machines while another showcases the home machines.
An ever-changing roster of roasters, cafes and other such companies will each get a month to showcase their specialties as part of La Marzocco Cafe & Showroom’s “Roasters in Residence” program.
Portland-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters is first up. Others to follow include G&B Coffee of Los Angeles, Buna of Mexico City, Campos Coffee of Sydney, Australia, and Intelligentsia Coffee of Chicago.
The cafe and showroom is “not part of a grand scheme to create retail coffee bars,” Bakke said.
“For us, it’s an opportunity,” he said. “The way we’re curating the coffee there brings us closer to coffee customers and allows them to have feedback with us. We’re sharing our culture and learning how our customers — especially within different generations — how they view coffee and interact with the coffee bar.”