Coffee Roaster Keeps it Eichler-centric

Jonathan Baran has turned a love for coffee into a homegrown, partly home-based business, focusing on clientele who include friends and people who live in Eichlers. Photos by Paul Davies.

In the early 1960s, when Joe Eichler’s tracts in the East Bay city of Concord were new, young moms would gather for daily coffee klatches to pass the time and get to know each other while imbibing canned Hills Brothers or Folgers coffee fresh from the percolator.

Fifty-plus years later coffee is still fueling community in the Concord Eichlers.

But now the coffee is 'single origin.' Rated at least 86 on the Coffee Review scale, its small batch roasting computer-monitored “to a high degree of accuracy.” And it doesn’t come in a can.

Instead, the man behind Atrium Coffee delivers it personally -- to your very own atrium. Jonathan Baran’s Atrium Coffee is “a one-man operation,” he says, with coffee sourced from an Oakland wholesaler, roasted in small batches two weekend days a month at a coffee cooperative in Berkeley, and packaged up in his Eichler home in the Concord neighborhood of Rancho de los Santos.

So far, Atrium Coffee is focusing on people who live in Eichlers.

The coffee roaster himself often delivers the beans, often handing them off -- where else? -- in the atrium. Customer Ahmad Varoqua is a strong supporter of Atrium Coffee


“All my customers are Eichler owners. I’ve been selling to friends and family in Concord and Walnut Creek. Just yesterday I got my first order from a person in a San Jose Eichler,” he says. Atrium Coffee has also gone to people in Eichlers in Palo Alto and Sunnyvale.

“I’ve been roasting coffee for myself for the last couple of years on a fancy popcorn popper, really,” Baran says.

He wanted to rent time on a real roaster, “But I couldn’t afford to roast coffee just for our own house.”

“So I asked my neighbors, ‘Who was interested?’ and a lot of hands popped up. In Concord, we’re pretty far away from the coffee Mecca of San Francisco, or the coffee places in Oakland and Berkeley. It’s suburban out here, and it’s changing. But we really don’t have a lot of those options.”

“The people who live in the Eichlers are a selective bunch,” he says. “They like the [modern] style. They already live in mid-century modern homes and have mid-century modern furnishings. They like the finer things. It was really just people pining for finer coffee.”

Baran has also built a customer base by talking to neighbors on the street and hanging ads on doorknobs.

Jonathan Baran designed the simple logo himself, based on an iconic Eichler roofline.

Ironically, perhaps, Jonathan, his wife Michelle, and young son Niko don’t live in an atrium model, but a Claude Oakland designed 'gallery' home instead. Nor does their home have the A-frame-like steep gable seen in his company logo, which he created himself on his iPad.

The name and logo just came to Jonathan, who in his full time job is a video journalist turning out stories for Fortune magazine.

“The A-frame has a forward-facing profile that is very distinctive,” he says of the gable-fronted model. "And the ‘A.’ That really stuck in my head. So I thought I would make the ‘A’ the first letter of the logo.”

(Baran’s is not the only Atrium Coffee by the way. Unrelated businesses by the same name can be found in Temple, Texas, and Glasgow, Scotland.)

Baran has been in the coffee business only since last fall. But he's started scouting potential locations for a café, finding one “that is obviously in the mid-century modern style.”

“It’s something I would love to do,” Baran says. “It’s something our community needs, a place where friends could gather together. I don’t see it happening in the next month.” He adds of himself and his wife, “We both have our own jobs and enough on our plates as it stands.”

Baran roasts between 40 to 50 pounds of beans a month, and spends about 40 hours a month on Atrium Coffee. “I’m a micro-roaster, or a nano-roaster almost,” he says.

He brags about the quality he obtains using technology available in Berkeley. “You can really dial in the roast the way you want it, to get the highest degree of quality, and the flavor profile you and your customers prefer.”

Baran pours beans into a coffee bag.

“I think it’s better than Peet’s and the large commercial roasters,” Baran says of his product.”It’s not super dark, oily, over-roasted coffee.”

“I won’t buy anything less than an 86 [on the coffee scale],” he says, citing two of his recent roasts. “The Ethiopian was 92, the Rwanda was 88.”

“Also, it’s a personal touch. I’ve scaled up from roasting for my wife and I to roasting for the neighborhood.”

Market research is important, of course. Baran talks to neighbors about what kind of coffee they like, and gets input from Michelle, whose taste in java differs from his.

“It’s an opportunity to meet new people like my wife and I, who have the connection of the Eichlers. It’s a conversation starter, too,” he says.

It was the friendliness of the neighbors that really attracted Jonathan and Michelle to Los Santos. They were living in San Francisco, looking for a starter home, and finding the city, Alameda county, and Berkeley too pricey.

Then Baran heard about the Eichlers in Concord, about 15 miles east of Berkeley. “I told my wife, there are Eichlers out here. There are Eichlers within our price range.” The first one they saw needed too much work, but the neighbors who crowded around them when they came to look sold them on the neighborhood.

“They were super friendly. One little girl said, "I found a baby squirrel." Michelle and I fell in love [with the neighborhood)],” Baran says. “We already loved the style in the neighborhood, and these wonderful people are here too.”

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