PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA —
Silicon Valley is the tech industry’s epicenter, but what is the epicenter of Silicon Valley?
It might just be Coupa Café in downtown Palo Alto, Calif.
For the tech community, this café is a meeting place of the who’s who of Silicon Valley, where the likes of the late Steve Jobs of Apple, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founder Sergey Brin have all been spotted. Up-and-coming startup founders are able to buy their lattes with the digital currency Bitcoin before their pitch sessions with leading industry venture capitalists.
The café is so well known among techies that a cup with the Coupa logo was featured as a prop in the 2010 film The Social Network.
“I remember seeing Mark Zuckerberg sitting here and having meetings and people coming up,” said Eric Sokol, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University.
While Silicon Valley is famous for companies such as Facebook, Twitter and other billion-dollar empires built in cyberspace, some folks in the valley still believe real-world human connections can make a difference.
Just from frequenting the café, Sokol says, he became an adviser to a health care related startup and a new venture capitalist fund. Both came about when other patrons at the café overheard conversations he was having, he said.
That’s the kind of “crazy nest of connections” that can occur at Coupa, he said.
The Venezuelan-born Jean Paul Coupal founded the café with his mother and sister in 2004 with the hopes of bringing a bit of his homeland to Silicon Valley — Venezuelan coffee, crepes and Venezuelan arepas. The family puts its touch on all aspects of the business — Coupal’s sister and mother personally painted each of the eight cafés.
While the beautifully decorated walls and rich cuisine may be what initially attracted the tech community, the café’s tech focus has kept it in the vanguard of this café-saturated region.
In 2013, Coupa Cafe began accepting Bitcoins, a digital payment system, allowing customers to pay for their lattes and arepas with the currency.
“We want to be part of the technology,” Coupal said.
And there’s another perk: The café allows patrons to stay all day, which makes it attractive for entrepreneurs who are in the pre-office-space stage.
“A lot of the startups in the area come and they like to work at Coupa, coding all day,” Coupal said. “We’ve seen a lot of products that got developed at Coupa.”
With Stanford and other colleges nearby, the possibility of a life-changing chance encounter is not lost on local students interested in tech.
Now, there are eight Coupa Cafe locations. This one, the original on Ramona Street, is in a building from the 1930s.
“The food’s good, the coffee’s good,” Sokol said. “I wish I had stock, but I don’t in Coupa. And I don’t know, it just has the right atmosphere, the right mix of people. It’s got an energy about it, I guess.”
Cafe Coupa shows that being at the right place at the right time can change a café’s fate as much as a techie’s life.