Interior Local 123.#2_JDelaney
Local 123 on San Pablo Avenue is being bought by Highwire Coffee. Photo: Janet Delaney

Highwire Coffee is buying Local 123, the popular West Berkeley café opened by Frieda Hoffman and Katy Wafle six years ago at 2049 San Pablo Ave. (at University). The deal, which also includes Local 123’s coffee trailer at Flowerland Nursery in Albany, closes on Saturday.

Hoffman said she is excited about the sale as she believes she has found the perfect people to take Local 123 to its full potential.

“They will honor what we’ve been doing, with our focus on quality coffee,” she said, speaking of Highwire’s three founders: Rich Avella, Robert Myers and Eric Hashimoto.

Photo: Janet Delaney
Local 123 co-founders Frieda Hoffman (left) and Katy Wafle photographed at the café in 2010. Photo: Janet Delaney

Hoffman, who owns 95% of the business (Wafle was bought out last year), said she had been looking for a buyer for a while.

“I have been talking about doing other projects and I would like to not be tied down to this space,” she said Monday. She said 2014 was a “pretty great year,” and it felt like the right time to move on. She will likely stay on board for a transitional period before leaving for good. The Local 123 staff have, she said, been “welcomed into the Highwire family,” and no-one is expected to lose their jobs.

Avella at Highwire said they had been looking for a second location and were flattered when Hoffman approached them just after the new year. He said he loves the sense of community that Local 123 has created, as well as the space itself, and the café’s well curated choices of coffee and food.

“We have admired what she has built and are excited to be picking up the baton from her,” he said.

Highwire currently runs one retail operation out of Market Hall in Rockridge and roasts its coffee in Emeryville. It also has a significant tea business. Recently it launched Howling Wolf, a cold nitro-brewed coffee which it plans to offer on tap at the Local 123 location. Avella said they are also working on developing tea on tap.

Plans for the San Pablo Avenue café include opening for longer hours and offering small plates and drinks in the evenings. The café has a beer and wine license and has held pop-up dinners and many other events there over the years, such as workshops and art openings. It has even hosted weddings of people who met at the café, Hoffman said.

“We have a wonderful community here and a different wonderful community around Flowerland,” she said. “That to me is everything  — it’s really about people.”

Local 123 has been roasting its own coffee for the past year, but Hoffman put in her last order for beans this week as the café will start serving Highwire on Sunday.

Avella said the transition will be gradual, with new signage with the Highwire name coming in when it’s ready.

Highwire by dopub:CC
Highwire’s coffee shop in Rockridge’s Market Hall. Photo: dopub

“We don’t need to close and change everything,” he said. He added that he’s been really impressed with how the Local staff have taken the news. Hoffman made an announcement at a barista latte-art throw-down held at the San Pablo Avenue space on Friday. A notice about the deal has been posted on the coffee shop’s window.

Highwire’s three founders met while working at Peet’s. Four years ago they bought Peaberry’s, which operated at the Market Hall location, and launched Highwire there six months later. Their approach to coffee, Avella said, straddles Peet’s style of roasts with “strong body and girth,” and the preference of third-wave coffee makers, such as Four Barrel and Blue Bottle, who tend to focus on origin character and acidity. “We take from both schools and seek to achieve a balance,” Avella said.

Hoffman describes the Highwire founders as “coffee rock stars,” and said she is excited that they have the resources and know-how to take the business she founded forward.

“It’s the right fit,” she said.

[Editor’s note: Berkeleyside updated the headline after publication to clarify that the Flowerland nursery itself was not part of the business transaction.]

Local 123 finds it feet in West Berkeley and beyond (7.20.12)
New show of two local artists opens at Local 123 café (11.7.11)
In West Berkeley, a café opens, a community blossoms (7.16.10)

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...