by Kurt Schlosser, geekwire.com
AT&T is tapping into Seattle’s historic coffee culture and its booming tech scene to create a first-of-its-kind experience for the global telecommunications company. On Capitol Hill, a neighborhood long known for its bars, cafes and hangout spaces, AT&T has found a home for “The Lounge,” combining high-tech retail, high-tech coffee and more.
In a 3,000-square-foot space that looks nothing like what you’d walk into at the local mall, AT&T is opening what it calls a “second living room” for residents of the neighborhood — whether they use AT&T as a wireless provider or not. The Lounge sits beneath six stories of new residences in a building at the corner of East Thomas Street and Harvard Avenue East.
It’s part of a larger trend of service providers and tech companies creating coffee shops and lounges where customers can hang out, aiming to create stronger relationships that generate more business for the company over time. Other examples include Capital One Cafés, Columbia Bank NeighborHubs, and Amazon Web Services Lofts.
At the new Seattle location, AT&T has partnered with Ada’s Discovery Cafe, a second location for the owners of nearby Ada’s Technical Books and Cafe. The sleek coffee counter features cutting-edge coffee technology, including two towering, Japanese Kyoto-style bots and a specially made “siphon-bot.” A real human with a made-for-Seattle resume has been brought in to manage Ada’s, too: Cole McBride won the 2018 U.S. Barista Championship in April.
AT&T showed off the space during a media preview on Friday. A soft opening is scheduled for Wednesday, and the grand opening is Sept. 29. Jeff Bradley, West Coast region president for AT&T, called The Lounge a labor of love and a first-of-its-kind not just from a retail experience standpoint, but as a benchmark for the entire wireless industry.
“It’s a collection of services that’s designed to change the way we can engage with consumers,” Bradley said, touting the way The Lounge will act as a workspace and gathering-and-events space, and how it was important to get the Capitol Hill “vibe” correct.
AT&T relied on Ada’s owners Danielle and David Hulton for a lot of that. They opened their first shop on 15th Avenue East in 2010.
“We started as a bookstore, so I am very used to talking to people about skepticism and getting them on board with a really exciting idea that I’ve had,” said Danielle Hulton, who named her business after the famed mathematician Ada Lovelace. “My background is in tech, so I feel like I know the pace that Seattle is moving. We like to play with what I call ‘slow and fast technology’ and like to experiment … .”
Hulton said she was confident in the vision that AT&T had for The Lounge and in its motivation in partnering with a small business, adding that she thinks the giant, Dallas-based company really cares about what it’s bringing to Capitol Hill.
The Lounge is not overwhelmed by product displays featuring everything from smartphones to headphones. The latest iPhone XS, for instance, is on display on a side table in an area that is designed to be reconfigured and accommodate guest speakers, performances, classes or movie nights.
A custom app for the space helps users navigate various features of The Lounge, including ordering and paying for food and coffee, and listening to the sound from two giant 4K TVs on one’s personal headphones.
Customers can also shop through the app, or from a large, wall-mounted touch screen, and pick up purchases on the spot after receiving a custom QR code which will allow access to a bank of lockers built into the wall. An AT&T employee behind the scenes feeds your purchase into the locker.
“We had two objectives,” Bradley said, referring to tech that hasn’t been used anywhere else by AT&T. “We wanted it to be complimentary to the rest of the experience, so we didn’t want to have a traditional retail space. The second thing was, it’s a technology sandbox. We’re learning … how do you connect our backend purchasing platform to be able to complete [these tasks] so should we want to deploy this into our traditional retail environments, we can. We now know how to do that, whereas three months ago we’d never done it.”
The Lounge will employ a handful of AT&T customer service reps, including a concierge-type person, and Ada’s will have a few people working alongside the champion barista, McBride.
McBride, who has been crafting fancy coffee drinks for 16 years, was lured back to Seattle for the Ada’s job after spending a couple of years in Las Vegas. He’s excited about the intersection of coffee and technology occurring in the space, and he appreciates the freedom to experiment that a small company like Ada’s allows.
“I think it’s really cool how [Danielle and David] are incorporating technology into coffee and they’re doing things that no one else in the industry is doing. No one else has built one of these, not that I know of, and I’ve never seen this in my life, which is really cool,” he said, pointing at bots at either end of the coffee bar.
Coffee and technology merging in one location in Seattle seems like just the type of thing any savvy corporation would want to tap into. And Morgan Collins, AT&T’s vice president for Pacific states, pretty much said just that.
“We chose Seattle for this concept because people here innovate. They’re creative. They’re early adopters to new technology,” Collins said, before adding that getting a good cup of coffee didn’t hurt the equation.