One of the biggest names in the Bay Area coffee business is handing over the keys of his downtown Mill Valley shop to a fast-emerging Marin coffee company.
Arnold Spinelli, who started Spinelli Coffee Company in the early 1980s and sold it to Tully's in 1998, is selling his LaCoppa Coffee Company shop at 2 Miller Ave. to Equator Coffee, the San Rafael-based roastery that opened a small shop at the Proof Lab surf shop in June.
LaCoppa, which Spinelli operated as Bonita Coffee Company in the early 2000s, is closing its doors at 6 p.m. Monday for good, with Equator set to open there in January after a few months of renovations, according to Equator co-owner Helen Russell.
"It's an iconic location," Russell said of the shop at Miller and Throckmorton avenues. "We feel very fortunate to be a part of it."
Russell said the idea of Equator taking over at 2 Miller Ave. originated in May, when Spinelli told her that he was considering selling the business and hoped to pass it on to Equator. Russell, Equator co-owner Brooke McDonnell and Spinelli have been friends for 15 years.
"When I arrived in San Francisco on June 22, 1989, the first coffee shop I visited was Spinelli’s on 24th Street in San Francisco," Russell said. "I then made my way to Mill Valley and lived on Throckmorton Avenue visiting what was then the (Mill Valley) Coffee Roastery on a daily basis."
"This is an amazing return to our roots," she added.
Spinelli could not be reached for comment.
Equator launched in a garage in Corte Madera in 1995, later moving into a 5,400-square-foot warehouse near Davidson Middle School in San Rafael. The company has been primarily wholesale, with more than 250 customers that include chef Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and Tyler Florence’s El Paseo in Mill Valley. For the fast few years they’ve also been operating in San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 2 at Napa Farms, which features other sustainable purveyors from Marin and the North Bay.
Russell and McDonnell began kicking around the idea of opening up their own retail shop two years ago, Russell said.
“We’ve kind of flown under the radar and there’s been this explosion of coffee companies,” Russell told Patch earlier this summer. “We need to pop our heads up and the only way to do that is retail.”
In June, they opened at Proof Lab, going for a “beach shack meets modern day coffee bar” vibe with copper fixtures, Red Elm furnishings, plenty of surf elements and their giant Bengal Tiger mascot painted on the front of a bright red building.
When Spinelli mentioned the possibility of buying LaCoppa, Russell and McDonnell seized the opportunity.
After the deal, for which terms were not disclosed, was finalized, Russell and McDonnell signed a 13-year lease for 2 Miller with building owner Saga Perry.
"As our friend Arnold passes the torch to us, we remain committed to our joint legacy of quality, sustainability and social responsibility," Russell said.
She said they hoped to have a pop-up espresso cart set up near the front of the shop during renovations at 2 Miller, and they're encouraging people to visit Equator in Tam Junction in the meantime to get a feel for the company. Russell and McDonnell were at LaCoppa on Saturday handing out cards for a free cup of coffee at Equator.Russell said customer feedback about the change has largely focused on LaCoppa's longtime employees, particularly manager Ismail Hernandes, who has been a part of the coffee operation at 2 Miller for 18 years. She said LaCoppa's Mill Valley employees have been offered positions at the Equator shop at Proof Lab or their roastery in San Rafael.