Paul Odom, whose family owned Seattle's Coca-Cola franchise, was in his early 20s back in 1992, when he launched a coffee company named Fonté. The timing was perfect: although Starbucks had been around for a while, the specialty coffee phenomenon had not yet taken wing. He hired a full-time Master Roaster, Steve Smith, and committed Fonté to serving a variety of exacting clients (top hotels, famous chefs and restaurants worldwide) with small-batch, custom-roasted coffee beans.
Along the way, Odom built a sales organization to serve his trade customers, then a website for retail orders. Couple of years ago he added an ambitious downtown café (in the building that houses the Four Seasons Hotel) as well.
Now, you can imagine that a 2,000-square-foot space would be pretty expensive, and that there's almost no way to make the rent pulling lattes, no matter how good. What to do? First order of business: add a wine bar and pay as close attention to your selection of wines as you would single-origin coffees. Then add a garde-manger of cured meats and cheeses. Since there's not enough room for a full kitchen, keep the rest of the menu simple but high quality.
"Nobody does a café like this in Seattle," Odom says, glass of Prosecco in hand, "but you can't pay the rent if all you serve is coffee." He's particularly thrilled with his specialized selection of charcuterie.
And yet, in Europe, this is what a café is all about. "We needed to look at this space as more than just a coffee roaster."
Odom has had a sales team in New York for the past four years. One additional assignment: find a spot for a Fonté Café and Wine Bar in the Big Apple. He's not discouraged by the relative lack of success encountered by Seattle's Via Tribunali on the Lower East Side. He won't comment, on the record, about what they did wrong, but says, "We're going to do it right. There's so much more we can do."
Originally published on Eater.com.