Last week, coffee lovers were surprised when Birmingham-based Revelator Coffee Co. announced its intent to purchase Octane Coffee, the local chain founded in 2003 by husband-and-wife team Tony and Diane Riffel that sparked Atlanta’s love affair with coffeehouses. Currently, Revelator operates two locations in Atlanta and seven more around the Southeast, with a roastery in Birmingham. Octane has four locations in Atlanta and two in Alabama. By merging, the companies hope to streamline operations to “produce better quality at a better price,” says Revelator owner Josh Owen.
But what does that mean for longtime Octane fans? Initially, things will stay the same, but after about a year and a half, the shop and its products will fall under the Revelator brand. “The goal is to create consistency, and our coffee programs aren’t that different,” Owens says. “The bags and names will change, but the cup of coffee shouldn’t change that much.” The roasting will be centralized in Birmingham, and both batch and pour over will continue to be offered in store. Owens says the two companies’ coffee blends are similar enough that connoisseurs likely won’t notice much of a difference in taste.
As for food and alcohol, consistency is once again the name of the game. “Right now, both companies work a lot with local vendors. We want to be able to produce enough of the food in house as makes sense,” Owens says. “We’re looking for a central kitchen. We want to make it a meaningful experience so even if you don’t like coffee, you can come enjoy food and drinks. We’re in the midst of hiring someone to lead the beverage program.”
Despite the promised improvements in consistency, Octane fans may still be concerned about the upcoming changes to their favorite shop, not to mention confused as to why the seemingly out-of-the-blue sale happened. To shine a light on these questions, we sat down with Tony Riffel to discuss the shift:
Why did you decide to sell Octane? It wasn’t anything we were looking for or even contemplating. When Josh approached us, we realized we had a similar vision. We both had Atlanta/Southeastern presences with retail, roasting, and wholesale. We started looking at what it would be like to be on the same page instead of competing.
But you just expanded to Midtown, and Octane has been doing so well. What made now the time to sell? [My wife and business partner] Diane and I realized it’s probably not healthy for us to always work together as a married couple. It started to make a little sense. There weren’t a lot of redundancies between the two companies, but combining back-of-house systems makes it a really viable operation.
As a family business, were the long hours part of your reason to sell? I’d be lying if that wasn’t factored in. We’re looking forward to taking a nice vacation and decompressing for a brief period. We’ve never taken more than a few days off at a time.
What (if any) role will you play in the merged company? I’m staying on in an advisory capacity indefinitely. I want the transition to go as smoothly as it can, so customers don’t feel like things are changing abruptly. Nothing will change right away.
Octane locations have a vastly different look than Revelator. How will that work once the brands merge? There may be some updates to the interiors. Our Westside store is in dire need of an update at some point, but I don’t think the stores will try to emulate Revelator. Their stores are beautiful and a little more curated. Ours are comfortable, and people enjoy hanging out there.
How will you prevent Octane frequenters from feeling like their favorite neighborhood coffee shop is gone? The way to prevent that is nothing is changing [right away]. Ownership is changing and backend stuff. Day one will have the same people and menus. The changes will be methodical, and nothing that will upset the day-to-day business. I think the vibe will stay regardless because of the neighborhoods they’re in. There are no plans to do drastic remodels.