A fast-growing NYC coffee brand fuelled by espresso and millions of dollars in venture capital funding wants to crack London. Blank Street Coffee, which now has 29 locations in NYC split between small cafes and pistachio-hued carts, will start brewing in Fitzrovia near the University College London campus on Gower Street, before expanding in the area and into Marylebone, according to Bloomberg.
Co-founder Issam Freiha, who started the company with Vinay Menda in summer 2020, grew up in London and aims for it to be the brand’s “second-biggest” city. Its growth in NYC has been predicated on four main things: quality coffee; cheap coffee; diminutive locations; and $60 million in funding. According to one NYC coffee drinker, the expansion vibe went from “how cute, coffee carts!” to “that’s a lotta coffee carts!” in double-quick time.
Menda told Bloomberg that “we’ll serve high-quality specialty coffee, and our prices will be cheaper than Costa Coffee and either the same price or cheaper than Pret a Manger.” Taking Pret as the example, that’s around £1.60 for a filter, and £3.25 for a flat white, which is in fact only marginally cheaper than a flat white at, say, one of London’s best coffee shops, and will at times even be more expensive. A flat white at Costa is currently £3.15. This is distinct from NYC coffee pricing, where speciality drinks can run into the $7 - 9 range (£5.30 - £6.90) before tipping, and where the relationship between “everyday” coffee and “speciality” is less fractured than in London.
Blank Street makes these prices possible by using super-automatic espresso machines. These are souped up versions of what many home (or office) coffee drinkers might know as “bean-to-cup,” where the press of one button produces anything from an espresso to a latte. Made by Swiss manufacturer Eversys, they are highly regarded in the speciality coffee world but are yet to truly crack the market, with significant value (and to an extent, unrealistic romance over a worker who is more often than not ill-compensated for their work) attached to the figure of the barista paying microscopic attention to coffee preparation. It also rents buildings with tiny footprints or uses trucks, which significantly reduces rental costs.
More soon on the arrival of Blank Street, and their position in London’s coffee culture.