Meet Blank Street Coffee, D.C.’s newest java chain fueled on high-volume espresso machines, micro-sized stores, affordable cups of Joe, and plenty of private equity dollars. The mint green brand’s first D.C. outposts debut on Tuesday, October 18 in Dupont Circle (1250 Connecticut Avenue NW) and Shaw (1847 7th Street NW), with ambitious plans to balloon to 10 area stores by the end of 2023.
The pandemic-born startup that began as a tiny electric cart in Williamsburg is now a bonafide coffee conglomerate, with 40 tech-savvy stores across Brooklyn and Manhattan; a cluster of new locations in London; and one in Boston.
Drip is a medium roast “Speed Dial” blend of Brazilian and Nicaraguan beans, and blended drinks include pistachio and pumpkin spice lattes. On the food front, Blank Street Coffee sources from D.C.’s Fresh Baguette (sweet and savory pastries) and Green Almond Pantry (focaccia).
Coffee costs $2 on opening day, with all proceeds going to local nonprofit partner D.C. Central Kitchen. Hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Two more will debut at the Wharf (605 Wharf Street SW) and Logan Circle (1807 14th Street NW) soon.
Eater DC asked Blank Street’s co-founder Vinay Menda to spill the backstory behind the fast-growing business.
- What made you want to expand to the D.C. market?
When we were thinking about where to bring Blank Street next, it became obvious that D.C. loves coffee. Even though D.C. is a bit smaller than our NYC home base, we saw that the demand for coffee D.C. was very similar. Beyond that, many of our team members attended college in D.C., so it’s a city that we feel connected to and excited about.
- How do you decide where to open a store next?
We’re starting with five initial [D.C.] stores, and hope to have over 10 locations in the DMV by the end of next year. When looking at new locations, we always look for high foot traffic areas so that we can bring Blank Street to as many people as possible.
- Explain how you’re able to keep prices lower than other coffee competitors.
Offering a limited menu with quality items in convenient locations, we’re all about simplicity, and this allows us to serve great coffee without the premium. Starting at $3.50, our small latte is roughly 25-percent less expensive than what other specialty coffee brands charge in D.C.
- What is the look and vibe of each location?
Our stores are designed to make the daily coffee run quick and easy. We intentionally keep square footage tight [around 700 to 1,000 square feet], because we realize that most people are grabbing their morning coffee while on the way to work or before running errands.
- What offerings make you guys stand out of the crowded coffee market?
We’re regularly evolving our menu to incorporate seasonal drinks and unexpected recipes— from Mike’s Hot Honey Latte and Pumpkin Spice Lattes in the fall, to Candy Cane Cold Brew in the winter, and Honey Rose Lattes and Sunrise Cold Brew in the spring. Made fresh-to-order with no powders or mixes, these drinks reimagine your favorite latte or matcha.
- What is the science behind those Eversys machines?
These are super-automatic coffee machines that are programmed to follow the same recipe and deliver a consistent taste experience at all locations. The machines pour perfectly every time, and Blank Street’s baristas can keep the conversation going without compromising on speed of service.
- How have your humble origins out of a 50-square-foot electric cart helped you adapt and rethink the future of coffee shops?
We opened our first location in Williamsburg at the height of the pandemic [in 2020] with a simple goal in mind: to make it easy (and safe) for people to treat themselves to a daily cup of coffee. That was a hard ritual to keep in NYC in the early days of the pandemic, due to many coffee shops closing and consumers not feeling comfortable being indoors to order. This smaller format allowed us to save money, and instead invest in things like higher coffee quality and barista wages while keeping the competitive price point.
- How does efficiency benefit your employees?
Focusing on small format, tech-forward stores enables the company to fair pay, training and growth opportunities for baristas. Each store [in D.C.] will have five employees, and by integrating technology, baristas can focus on the things that matter: cutting down on work behind the counter and providing customers with a great experience.