Bank Building Sold to Coffee Company

Bank of America building, which is now up for sale

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

August 26, 2021

A family-owned coffee house company has bought the former Bank of America building at the corner of Morro Bay Boulevard and Monterey Avenue, announcing plans to turn it into a coffee roasting plant, coffee shop, bakery and restaurant.

Jon and Sara Peterson, a husband-wife team and owners of Scout Coffee, which has two locations in San Luis Obispo, were the winning bidders in the sale of the bank property, which closed in February 2018.

It had been dormant until the bank could build ATMs in town to continue to service their customers. Those were completed earlier this year, being built at the Sinclair Gas Station located at the Roundabout on Morro Bay Boulevard. Once those opened, Bank of America put the property up for sale in an unusual manner, as the bank wanted to see what bidders planned for the sizable property’s future, along with other specific questions it wanted answers to.

The Peterson’s told The Tribune that the Morro Bay store would be their fourth. They have two already opened in SLO — at 1130 Garden St., and 880 Foothill Blvd. They also are working on a third SLO location on the Cal Poly Campus, expected to open soon.

Jon Peterson told the Tribune that he heard about the property in Morro Bay from his banker, who knew they were looking to expand outside SLO.
It was 7 p.m. on the day before the real estate company officially started taking bids on the property. According to the Tribune article, they quickly worked up a bid and submitted it just before the 5 p.m. deadline. They won the bid and have already closed escrow on the property.

The article said they got a “preliminary go-ahead” from the City Planning Department before they put in a bid. Community Development Director Scot Graham confirmed that “go-ahead” was confirmation that their idea for a coffee roasting plant and restaurant was allowed by the property’s zoning.

But it isn’t an easy transformation, going from bank branch to coffee roaster and restaurant. Graham said they would need a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), “related to the roasting activity and likely a Conditional Development Permit [CDP] for exterior improvements they will likely be making.”

And although many people savor the aroma of fresh brewed coffee, roasting coffee beans emits a different odor. And just as barbecue restaurants have to control smoke and odors, they’ll have to deal with it, too.

“They will need to have odor filtration on their exhaust/emissions,” Graham said. But that would seem an easy enough fix when you have to put in all the roasting equipment, as well as a commercial kitchen.

And if the bank building isn’t already equipped with fire sprinklers, they will have to do that too. “I don’t know if it has sprinklers,” Graham said, “but it likely does because it was a bank.”

That issue will be handled by the fire marshal when he looks over the plans. In Morro Bay changing the use on any building over 1,000 square feet requires fire sprinklers be installed, if they are not already.

In the Tribune article, the Petersons said they want to put in roasting equipment to roast beans for all of their stores and will have yummy baked goods and other dishes like they offer at their coffeehouses in SLO.

The roasting area would be behind a see-through partition giving customers the added feature of watching the roasters at work.
One thing is sure the old bank building is large enough to accommodate their plans.

The property has an 8,451 square foot, 2-story former bank building, with 6,451 s.f. on the ground floor and 2,000 s.f. on the second floor. At over 6,400 square feet, it would be the largest restaurant in town and would be in direct competition with some nine other coffeehouses scattered around in town.

It also has the largest parking lot in Downtown, behind the building and the total area of the property is 32,135 s.f. (0.74-acres). It’s the largest property in the Downtown Commercial District and had been touted by the Chamber of Commerce as an “opportunity site,” a place that could lift up all the surrounding businesses, especially vacant properties on the same block of Morro Bay Boulevard, of which there are four counting the bank.

Chamber CEO Erica Crawford said they don’t normally comment on individual projects or proposals but, “That said, we are delighted to see some activity in the B of A lot which has sat vacant for many years. It’s great to see a locally grown company invest in our city and relocate its headquarters to Morro Bay.”

The Petersons told the Tribune they expect to hire 25 to 30 people to work in the Morro Bay store. Their other stores offer a lot more than just coffee with the company’s website (see: talking about the country-kitchen style furnishings, as well as baked goods and more.

“Scout Coffee,” the company website said, “has been making happy coffee since January of 2014. The combination of scratch made pastries, craft roasted coffee, and curated goods in a creative space makes stepping into Scout a memorable and magical experience.”

In the City’s recently updated General Plan, the zoning on that site was to be changed to a more flexible split zoning of “Community Commercial” and “Transitional Mixed Use.” That meant the sizable property could have a mix of commercial and residential development.

As for what other interest the City got from potential bidders, Graham said, “We have had some general interest from a couple of different folks about doing a mixed use project on the site — commercial on the front and residential behind/above ‚ [but] nothing too specific. I did run this concept by the Scout folks and they also had some interest in doing something more with the area in back, but we again didn’t discuss much in the way of specifics.”
Graham said as of Aug. 17 that plans had not yet been submitted to the City on the property’s redevelopment.

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