On my way to eat lunch at the Google Visitor Experience Cafe, my Apple Maps app gave me the wrong directions. There’s either a glitch in the machine or my iPhone didn’t want me to arrive at the competition’s headquarters.
To reorient myself, I turned off my phone, looked at the street signs and parked in the Shoreline Amphitheatre lot across the street from the campus. From the parking lot below, a stairway, an escalator and an elevator point visitors toward the Gradient Canopy.
Beneath the sloping roofline, windows face out from every quadrant. The building’s façade is nestled, if not humbly then seamlessly, within its surrounding geography. Adjacent fields in the Bay Point Regional Shoreline park are less manicured than the sprawling grassy knolls and tree-lined walkways on campus. Energetic squirrels dart across the open spaces, traversing the boundary between commerce and what remains of the untamed regions of the Bay Area’s wetlands.
Throughout my visit, the bien habillés walked in groups, or in pairs, along the smooth concrete trails from one location to another. Men on scooters also zoomed in between the pedestrians, never colliding with them. Indoors and out, the place pulsed with activity. But it didn’t feel like a shopping mall where mob rule takes over.
Younger employees gave tours to their families, summoning up the atmosphere of a Parent Day in college. The salutary presence of nature acted like a sedative on each passerby. The only sign of anything argumentative occurred between two leashed dogs briefly infringing upon each other’s territory.
To arrive at the cafe, visitors first encounter the storefront. It’s Google’s reply to an Apple store. The interior of the store is less sterile than Apple’s, more whimsical and Dr. Seussian. Blond wooden cupboards and shelves are built into curved walls overflowing with gadgets, screens and information. Dozens of employees stand at the ready to guide wealthy citizens through the maze and toward a purchase. The collective aggression of the salespeople is veiled by the friendliness of their matching, pastel uniforms.
The cafe is next door, outside and around the building’s next curve. There’s no public throughway to it from the store. Gaining access to it reminded me of attending the now defunct “America Sings” attraction at Disneyland with its revolving proscenium—when one song was sung the ride rotated into the next era of American musicianship.
Designed with marble countertops, subway tiles and a lovely overhanging archway at the entrance, the cafe radiates a feeling of calm. The menu is modest, with offerings that might have been found in an American cafeteria from the 1950s, but updated by a Silicon Valley chef.
There are salads, sandwiches, small bytes [sic], coffee and pastries. And an acknowledgement that many of the ingredients are sourced from local businesses—bread from Acme, cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, coffee from Progeny.
I read on 9to5google.com that the cafe items are moderately priced, “to cover the operating costs.” Google’s looking for profits at the store and not from the cafe. For an iced tea ($3), a little gem caesar salad ($8) and an artichoke and pepper sandwich ($10), I paid just over $20, which might be a record for the cheapest lunch I’ve ever had in Silicon Valley.
Both the salad and the sandwich were very good, and much better than the average deli. Eating outside on the patio, taking in the greenery and the blue sky, I felt like I was dining out in a peaceful oasis, a vision of someone’s realized utopia.
Google Visitor Experience Cafe, open Mon to Sat 9am–6pm and Sun 9am–5pm, 2000 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View. [email protected].