News

How LA's Bar Nine is Applying a Japanese Manufacturing Concept to Coffee Retail

Originally appeared on DailyCoffeeNews.com

Written by Nick Brown

Three-year-old Los Angeles-based roaster/retailer Bar Nine has branched out from its Culver City headquarters to open a popup shop inside Amara Kitchen, one of the coffee company’s wholesale partners based in Highland Park.

Aside from being the latest evolution in a mutually beneficial relationship — Amara has also begun serving brunch daily at Bar Nine’s café — the popup shop represents an interesting exercise in café planning and workflow, inspired by the Japanese concept of jikoda (自働化), which was popularized by Toyota in the manufacturing world and can be loosely defined as “automation with a human touch.”

The popup shop has been designed and equipped to minimize loud noises from grinding and messiness from manual preparation, allowing baristas to focus more on hospitality and customer interactions — all while serving filter coffee and espresso drinks that meet Bar Nine’s quality standards.

To this end, Bar Nine is using pre-ground, nitrogen-flushed packets of coffee for batch brews, automation for tamping and grinding for espresso, and a single espresso machine where exact yields by weight are also programmed.

“Ultimately everything we do in design is about guest experience,” Bar Nine Co-Founder Zayde Naquib told Daily Coffee News just prior to last week’s opening. “We wanted the equipment to be easy to work on for our baristas and be very ergonomically sound, while utilizing automation intelligently for a more consistent coffee.”

The tools Bar Nine is incorporating for the concept are a La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machine with Auto Brew Ratio technology, including scales built into the drip tray, paired with a La Marzocco Vulcano grinder that allows for automated dosing and tamping. For batch brews, the Bar Nine popup team will be using a Marco Jet6, which Naquib described as having “an amazing amount of programming potential.” Drip and cold-brew preparation will involve the pre-ground packets.

“This is not a new idea in and of itself, but I think the presentation of high-end specialty coffee through this medium is unexplored and really interesting,” said Naquib, who founded the roastery with Jereme Pitts in 2013 before opening to the public in April 0f 2014. “Honestly the thing I’m most excited about is not the equipment, but the area we created for drink pickup, which is essentially a floating piece of marble that emanates from the counter. It really puts an emphasis on the reception of the drink from the barista in a warm and open way.”

Naquib described the jidoka application as a natural extension of Bar Nine’s roastery, where they are already putting the concept into practice. Its performance at the Amara popup may also potentially result in some new operational modeling for the Bar Nine café as well as in wholesale.

“The retail bar at Bar Nine is about evolution, so I imagine we will always be trying to refine and incrementally improve the way we approach coffee there,” Naquib said. “Much of the quality control we will be taking place at our headquarters in Culver City. I’m really interested in the concept of treating our main facility as sort of the central nervous system, where we can focus with our small team of doing everything we can to ensure quality, and see how we can repeat that out in the real world, first through our popup, then through partnerships with wholesale partners.”

In eliminating some manual tasks for baristas, Naquib sees additional opportunity to help staff develop a broader range of skills, always with the customer experience in mind. Said Naquib, “With these more automated set ups, we want to focus more in-depth on the things we think matter the most, namely palate development, breadth of knowledge, and a deep sense of service to our guests.”

The Bar Nine popup is now brewing daily from 8-4 inside Amara Kitchen at 519 N Ave 64in Highland Park, Los Angeles.