Allegro Coffee Roasters on Gilman Street. Photo: Brandon Yung

Allegro Coffee Roasters, which has been roasting and selling beans inside the Whole Foods Market on Gilman Street since November 2014, will close on Friday, March 13, opening up space for Whole Foods to increase grocery deliveries and pickups.

The area once occupied by Allegro’s huge roaster will be used to “offer our customers an enhanced shopping experience,” said a spokeswoman for Whole Foods. She would not specify what would go into the space but Whole Foods has been expanding its online grocery business in recent years.

The café and nearby seating will remain.

An Allegro employee wrapping up a day spent roasting beans said the roasting facility employs three full-time employees, who were offered severance packages.

“It was a good gig because we got employee benefits and health under Whole Foods,” said the employee, who asked not to be named. “(Coffee) is a pretty volatile industry in the Bay Area.”

Allegro Coffee Company was founded in 1977 in Boulder, Colo., and was one of the first certified organic roasters in the country. Whole Foods purchased it in 1997 and began to offer Allegro’s coffee as its signature house roast. Allegro continues to operate as its own business entity from its Boulder headquarters.

Amazon locker in Allegro Coffee Roasters
Amazon locker at the Gilman Street Whole Foods Market. Photo: Brandon Yung

Amazon acquired Whole Foods Market in 2017 and the Gilman Street Whole Foods Market has seen changes since then. Workers wearing Amazon Prime lanyards roll grocery carts through the aisles, picking items out to be included in grocery deliveries. An Amazon locker awaiting customers to pick up goods bought from the online retail giant covers a wall next to the Allegro roasting area. The second floor of the building is devoted to online grocery delivery, according to another Whole Foods employee who asked not to be named.

Changes at other Whole Foods Markets around the U.S. indicate that Amazon may be emphasizing a business model catering to convenience.

In early February, a Whole Foods location in Philadelphia swapped an Allegro café for extra storage space for pick up or delivery. Stylish tables and midcentury chairs were exchanged for lockers and racks of shopping bags, according to news reports.

“Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, is no longer interested in having you hang out in that café,” Inga Saffron, architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote about the changes to the Philadelphia location. “Two weeks ago, the company ripped out the Allegro Coffee Company’s long white counter, tossed the stylish midcentury lounge chairs, and packed the space with as many refrigerators and shelving units as it could hold. Whole Foods’ high-ceilinged ground floor is now a storage area for the chain’s growing delivery business, and the big windows are obscured by brown bags of groceries.

Amazon is competing on its ability to deliver quickly and the problem for cities is that we want stores that, you know, are interactive, that are open to the community visually and physically.”

Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky told analysts on a fourth-quarter conference call that grocery delivery orders have more than doubled year-over-year, according to Market Watch. While only 10% of grocery customers regularly shop online for groceries, the online grocery market value has doubled between 2016 to 2018, according to Business Insider.

The outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States could mean a spike in online grocery deliveries., although it could also strain capacity. Instacart, which offers same-day delivery from places like Costco, CVS and Sprouts, has seen its growth rate increase 10 times over this week while the rate surged 20 times over in California, Washington, Oregon and New York, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Amazon, which offers two grocery delivery services, Prime Now and Amazon Fresh, said on Monday that demand for its delivery services has skyrocketed.

“Amazon on Monday warned customers that both services would have limited availability, meaning orders are being delivered more slowly than usual,” according to an article by Bloomberg News. “The company hasn’t reduced the number of people or trucks dedicated to either service, but it has seen a surge in demand that’s straining its delivery capacity, according to a person familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly about the issue.”

cafe inside a Whole Foods
Allegro Coffee Roasters café. Photo: Brandon Yung

While the Allegro roaster inside the Gilman Street Whole Foods is set to close, the café is planned to remain. The location’s signature roast, 924 Gilman, named after the famous nearby volunteer-run music venue, will be discontinued. The Allegro roasting employee added that even though the blend had a Berkeley-connected name, it was the same blend Allegro uses across all its roasteries. Just the names are different.

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Freelancer Brandon Yung likes to say he receives his education from Berkeley — the city as much as the university. As a former lead city government reporter for the Daily Californian, Brandon has reported...