The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, an LA-based chain of coffee shops that has been brewing caffeinated beverages for a loyal California clientele since 1963, opened its first New York outpost yesterday to much fanfare. Los Angeleno transports traveled from all around the city to a relatively drab block in midtown Manhattan for their fix, filling the store for much of the day. Many fans, after all, have been hoping for Coffee Bean to open in New York for decades.
The city had always been in the chain's sights, according to Bob Kaufman, the company's VP of Business Development. He told the Huffington Post that he has been working on a New York outpost since he started his job five and a half years ago, but that he was picking up on groundwork that had been laid by countless predecessors. There are already many stores outside Southern California: Texas, Arizona, and China are all strong markets for the brand. There's even another store on the Eastern Seaboard, in Miami. (Though it opened just a year ago.) The reason Coffee Bean has taken so long to come to New York, he explains, is that its heads wanted to be sure to enter the highly competitive market in a serious way.
"Just going in and opening one store in the city, to see how it works, is no good," he explained. "You need to build enough stores to allow customers to fit a Coffee Bean visit easily into their day, rather than working their whole day around us."
To that end, the chain hopes to have four stores open in Manhattan by the end of the year, with five more slated each of the next several years. Kaufman refused to specify addresses, but he said that many of the locations were close to being announcement-ready.
All Manhattan locations will be owned and operated by one franchisee, New Amsterdam Coffee & Tea Co., LLC. There are plans, assuming all goes well at the first few New York locations, to gradually move into markets throughout the Northeast, including Brooklyn. The next city on the Coffee Bean docket is Washington, DC, where a store will open in October.
I stopped by the glass-fronted 1500-square-foot New York store in the evening, after it had closed to the public for a friends-and-family opening party. It looked somewhat unlike West Coast stores. Strange blown-up paparazzi photos of New York parties by Patrick McMullen line one wall. Dylan's Candy Bars, a New York favorite, fill the food bins. (Coffee, tea, and Ice Blended powder are the only provisions being shipped from California, said Kaufman. Food and dairy are sourced locally.) Walls and accents were purple and white where they might be beige and brown in Los Angeles. But the blonde, wooden, cubbied siding, polished stone countertop and TV screen menus were straight out of Brentwood.
Many visitors were ordering the Coffee Bean's signature frosty drink, the "Ice Blended," which predates the Frappuccino by years. Ice Blendeds are available in flavors from Mocha and Chai to Black Forest and Pom-Blueberry. Prices, which range from $4.25 for a small Vanilla to $5.95 for a large flavored one, are somewhat higher than those for a Starbucks imitation. (Among the Ice Blended orderers was actor Reeve Carney, who stars in the Broadway show "Spider-Man: Turn Off The Lights, reports DNAInfo. Coffee Bean is a favorite haunt of celebrities in LA; photos of starlets clutching purple-and-white cups are the stock and trade of magazines like Us Weekly.)
I ordered a large sugar-free Chai Ice Blended, hold the whipped cream ($5.95, 260 calories). The barista seemed not to know what it was at first, and had to go into the storage room to retrieve a bottle of chai syrup. It took almost 10 minutes to get my drink. (Two weeks of training can only cover so much.) But as I took my first sip, I was transported back to my first trip to the store, years ago, in Toluca Lake, CA. It was a great Chai Ice Blended.
The first Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf store in New York is located at 1412 Broadway, between 39th and 40th Streets. Here are a few photos from last night's opening; all are by Joe Satran/The Huffington Post.