When you walk into Slate Coffee Roasters in Ballard, you get the feeling that something’s different.
Hmm, I think to myself…..Maybe it’s that there’s no menu and that there are no tables for me to gravitate towards.
The space is minimally rich – Yes, an actual cafe where less is more.
I plop myself up against their coffee bar where I am immediately given a sample of a pour over just served by Amanda, the sprouting company’s head barista. “Try this,” she tells me.
Slate’s mission: To engage each and every customer.
Never mind the glassware (they don’t serve coffee in traditional mugs or cups) or admittedly the slight discomfort of having to pay after you finish up your coffee, Slate wants each customer to maximize their coffee experience through greater interaction with them and other customers.
No doubt, after visiting café after café were people come to be alone together, Slate refreshingly alters my sense of balance – as if someone where dancing in my inner ear.
“When you first walk in, you’ll see in your direct line of vision – the espresso machine, the glassware… but you don’t see a register. We did that intentionally. We want to deconstruct preconceived notions when customers walk into the café,” Amanda said, as she worked on another espresso.
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I spent some time both at Slate’s brick and mortar store in Ballard and their Airstream trailer where they serve coffee near Madison Park, and felt like I was talking to old friends that I hadn’t seen in years. The Seattle coffee crew is friendly, but not in a disingenuous way.
“We’re about people connecting, sharing experiences,” Amanda says, explaining their point of view. “Coffee is the excuse for the experience – but we’re taking it one step further and also focusing on the coffee too.”
Slate has assembled quite a coffee team. All seasoned Seattle baristas and coffee professionals with a keen eye on customer service and changing the “fast food” experience that many coffee shops have emulated over the past two decades.
“This is our opportunity to engage with people the way we’ve always wanted to… you’re probably going to leave making a new friend,” Amanda added.
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While I have covered Slate Coffee before, I wanted to get a little more back information on their company. Here’s my conversation with Chelsey Walker-Watson, one of Slate’s co-owners:
How did Slate Coffee come to be?
Slate came from a love of family and coffee. Lisanne, our mother, and Keenan, my brother, knew that they wanted to start a business together in an effort to support each other and grow as a family. Keenan has long been passionate about home espresso, and after learning to roast coffee, he decided to turn his love into a profession. Lisanne and Keenan explored different roasters and retailers on the west coast, and then traveled throughout Europe seeking out well-established coffee businesses and more progressive roasters before returning to Seattle to launch Slate. My background is in retail management and leadership training in coffee, and I joined the business after returning from traveling and settling in Seattle.
How did you put your team together?
We actively sought out some individuals, such as Nik Virrey, whom Keenan had received amazing hospitality from at Zoka in Kirkland. Otherwise, our team members referred other coffee professionals that shared a similar vision for specialty coffee and hospitality.
What has been the biggest challenge of opening a new coffee bar and roaster in Seattle?
Our guests arrive to the Coffee Bar or Airstream anticipating a classic coffee experience, one in which they form a line and order a customized beverage tailored to the personal preferences. The greatest challenge has been addressing the preconceived notions of what coffee and espresso is and should be.
This often necessitates a very assertive style of hospitality and that we lead our guests through our menu, as otherwise our simple offerings and bar environment can feel unfamiliar. With a true sense of hospitality, overall we have been able to create a comfortable atmosphere in which our guests experiment with a newfound manner of enjoying coffee. However, we are now hosting many people that have been referred to Slate by their friends and family, so they arrive understanding that their experience will be unique.
What on God’s good earth gave you the most incredible idea of getting an Airstream (trailer) to sell your coffee from!
Serving coffee in a culinary context can easily become pretentious, so experiencing coffee with a sense of fun is central to the guiding spirit of Slate. How great is it to brew coffee food-truck style? We also loved the idea of drinking coffee sitting at a bar and chatting with friends, just as we would at our local cocktail bar or pub.
What will 2013 and 2014 look like for Slate?
We shall see…for now, our plans are to continue to establish and grow the Coffee Bar, wholesale and online presence. We will keep SCS posted on new developments!