SAP launches tech cafe at historic Palo Alto theater

HanaHaus at Varsity Theatre prepares to serve up Blue Bottle Coffee to local innovators

Seeking to breathe new life into a venerable downtown Palo Alto landmark, software giant SAP on Tuesday unveiled a product guaranteed to generate some buzz: a cafe geared toward local innovators in the historic Varsity Theatre.

With Gunn High School's jazz combo playing in the sprawling courtyard of the 1927 building and mugs of Blue Bottle espressos mass-produced by baristas in the building's lobby, HanaHaus hosted a grand-opening ceremony to give a few hundred techies and a few dozen dignitaries a taste of things to come.

The cafe, which opens to the public on Thursday morning, March 19, is taking over a building at 456 University Ave. that has been largely deserted since Border's Books shuttered its operation three and a half years ago.

Sanjay Shirole, global head of HanaHaus, said the vision of the venue is to go "beyond a great cafe." It's to create a place where people can "work, learn and play," with a "focus on innovation."

A brain child of SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner, the venue seeks to pair the culture of cafes with the area's culture of innovation. Blue Bottle Coffee has set up shop at the large lobby, which also features rows of tables and chairs for individuals and groups. A sprawling space on the open floor centers around a stage, which SAP wants to see used for musical events, TED-style talks, poetry slams and lectures, Shirole said during the ceremony. Work spaces are scattered throughout the 15,000-square-foot space, which also includes two small conference rooms on one side and a larger conference room on the other.

Shirole stressed that while the cafe is geared toward the innovation community, it is open for everyone.

Councilman Pat Burt recalled the history of the building as a theater and a nightclub before it was refurbished as a book store. He characterized SAP's new cafe as "the merging of the past and the future" and the rebirth of the beautiful building.

"It went from being a social and cultural center for the community to one that was intellectual and social," Burt said. "Now we're merging all those together – cultural, social, creative, intellectual. All those things are going to come together in one place and really have this beautiful building be born again."

The new cafe is, in itself, a pilot project. Shirole said Plattner's vision is to ultimately open similar cafes in other cities, including Berlin and London.

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