Red Berry Coffee Bar changed hands last week when a local fan of the artisan coffee shop stepped up to take over the business. Los Altos resident Stacy Savides Sullivan presides over Red Berry as the new owner, but founder Jeff Hampton is sticking around to help her learn the craft of coffee culture.
Sullivan said she hadn’t been pursuing a destiny of serial small-business ownership, but when Red Berry announced its impending closure in August, she didn’t want to lose the community resource she’d enjoyed thoroughly herself.
In addition to the eponymous coffee bar, the 145 Main St. space has included enough tables to provide some work space upstairs and out front, and many local residents scheduled small meetings and meetups over coffee, using Red Berry as that “third place” outside the home and office that now – during COVID times – seems like a distant but fondly remembered, dream.
“Bottom line, our family and friends just would not want to see Red Berry close down,” Sullivan said. “It’s been a go-to place for our family and friends in terms of meeting with people, hanging out, studying, enjoying it as a second office at times, enjoying the great food and coffee – that was it.”
Sullivan, who has worked at Google, now Alphabet, in people operations since 1999, focuses on the organization’s culture but said she likes to seize on opportunities to try new endeavors in her own life as well. She opened the Sweet Shop on Los Altos Avenue as a family-friendly neighborhood hangout in 2009.
“Running these small-scale enterprises, in general, I think they are really different than working in high-tech, but there are so many similarities around creating and providing an awesome culture and atmosphere where customers feel welcome, and high-quality products,” she said.
Hampton said he will be working with the coffee bar as an adviser, and customers will see many familiar faces on the premises. In addition to the current staff who are sticking around, a former barista is returning, Hampton said.
“We’re pretty happy about it; we were right at the edge where we thought we might have to shut the place down,” Hampton said of having been found by Sullivan.
He said a new round of lease negotiations this summer were the final “why now?” to depart the business he had begun in 2014.
Hampton and Sullivan are actively recruiting a new manager who can be the day-to-day anchor of fancy espresso on Main Street. Sullivan said that finding a counterpart she can fully trust to run the coffee bar is her priority for the near term, perhaps even someone who has already worked in Los Altos.
Preserving the vibe
Red Berry uses a rotating variety of coffee roasters, many local, to supply beans for its single varietal espresso and pour-over coffees. Sullivan said her intent is to continue Red Berry as she has loved it, not changing its essence but being open to gradual innovations in areas like food in the future. She said she’s “not a coffee guru,” more an appreciative audience for a deftly steamed oat milk latte, but that’s why baristas handle the technical prowess.
Because local coffee roasters rotate their beans through the shop, Red Berry’s baristas get constant feedback and skills sharing from the coffee savants who come through with the beans. Training staff on what parameters to use with each new bean provides the coffee roasters with assurance of a quality end product, and provides endless experimentation with critical feedback for the baristas, Hampton said.
“That’s always one of the things I like most,” Hampton said of surprising new customers. “A guy comes in off the street and has a cappuccino and the look on his face ... is absolutely gorgeous.”
New to Red Berry’s style of indie coffee? If you already enjoy drinking fancy coffee, try the Gibraltar at Red Berry. The 5.5-ounce drink pairs espresso with a small amount of milk that has been steamed to a lower temperature than in a cappuccino or a latte, bringing out the full-fat sweetness of the dairy. If you’re a novice in the world of artisanal espresso and would like training wheels, Hampton suggests a vanilla latte – comfortingly familiar, but at Red Berry made with not-too-sweet house-made syrup and those intriguing, often local, beans.
“It’s a tough time to start a business; I’m going into it with my eyes wide open. We’re in the red right now like most people, and I hope we can have the strong business that starts to come back after COVID,” she said. “It’s not a good time to buy a business, but I’m always up for a challenge – and this is a positive thing to do during a really rough year.”
For more information, visit redberrycoffeebar.com.