Verve coffee shop opened its downtown shop at 1540 Pacific Ave. Tuesday morning, just in time to caffeinate downtown's holiday season shoppers.
Verve has its competition cut out for it, however, as the four-year-old local chain has opened its third shop a stone's throw away from at least nine established coffee shops just blocks away.
Verve's owners Ryan O'Donovan, 32, and Colby Barr, 34, say they feel they have the competitive edge to succeed on downtown's coffee saturated strip.
"We don't see ourselves as just another coffee shop," said O'Donovan. "We are a world-class wholesaler and retail outlet, as well as a high-end coffee shop."
Verve gears itself towards customers who seek a high-end product.
"There is room for all types of coffee shops," said O'Donovan. "We occupy our own niche, which is a highest quality, highest service experience. We pride ourselves on our excellent barristas. That, combined with our wholesale and retail operations makes us unique."
Verve has indeed carved a strong image for itself, and its business model has made a nationwide mark in the coffee industry, drawing attention from publications such as Sunset Magazine, GQ, Esquire, Men's Health, and the New York Times.
Verve roasts its own beans at the 41st Ave. location, and distributes them to cities all over the nation. The owners, however, are quick to emphasis that Verve is a local company.
"We love Santa Cruz. Thats why we are here. We could be anywhere we wanted, but we chose here," said O'Donovan.
The owners see the opening of the downtown location as their true entrance into Santa Cruz proper. Other locations are the first, at 816 41st Ave. and the second, at 104 Bronson, Suite 19 in the Seabright neighborhood.
"We have been in Santa Cruz for years but a lot of people still don't know us. You are not really in Santa Cruz unless you have a presence downtown," said O'Donovan.
Verve plans to cement its local and national reputation this spring when they will host the Southwestern Regional Barista Competition. Verve's barista Chris Vaca, 30, won second place in last year's National Barista Competition, a title which the owners said adds to the competitive edge of the new establishment.
Vaca was up against around 50 of the nation's finest baristas.
"It was insane," said Vaca. "I had 15 minutes to make three flights of four different coffee drinks."
Vaca's coffee was scrutinized by a panel of seven judges from every possible angle, including its taste, presentation, and efficiency.
Verve is open from 6 a.m.-11 p.m. daily, and has free Wi-Fi, but no power outlets, so computer table time can be limited to battery life. Santa Cruz coffee shops have become home offices for some people who buy a cup and stay all day. To combat the problem, Lulu Carpenter's across the street, gives 30 minutes of wireless for every dollar spent. A code on receipts gives customers access to the wireless minutes.
Verve has also teamed up with the Penny Ice Creamery, which serves its coffee an alliance which both establishments hope will make them stronger than the sum of their parts.
You don't have to walk far.
at 1522 Pacific Ave. has food and desserts to go with espresso.
at 1409 Pacific Ave. is a Berkeley chain that started roasting beans by hand in 1966 and inspired Starbucks. It has 193 outlets.
at 1335 Pacific Ave. was founded in 1971 and has 17,009 stores in 55 countries.
has two downtown locations, one at 1545 Pacific and one at 118 Cooper St. It was a bar before the 1989 earthquake and was reborn two years later.
at 1330 Pacific Ave. was started in 1978 and has three locations, in Aptos and Watsonville.
at 1101 Cedar St. was born pre-Loma Prieta in what used to be an old record store, Cymbaline.
at 1126 Pacific Ave. is next to the Del Mar theater and has a French touch.
at 418 Cedar St. is in a giant Victorian with lots of indoor and outdoor seating. Back before the 1989 quake it was in the courtyard behind Bookshop Santa Cruz.