Ten years ago today we opened our coffee kiosk on 315 Linden Street, which was at the time a pee-smelling dead-end alleyway adjacent to the wrecked Central Freeway. Loring Sagan, the architect who owned the building, more or less dared me to open a coffee cart, thinking that the improbable waits for his coffee at the Ferry Plaza farmers market would shrink to almost nothing, given that the Hayes Valley of 2005 was more sketchy than sought after. It had the uneasy peace of a place people tended to hurry past if they didn't live there or understand the charm, which was, admittedly, not exactly on the surface.
The day before we opened, I roasted coffee all day and then met my wife, Caitlin, in Hayes Valley for a takeout dinner and a night of organizing. We had passed all our inspections, but there were some serious details to work out: Where do we put the cups? Do we need a broom? A tip jar? We bought a dessert to get us through the evening—a disappointingly gritty lemon tart—and finally made it out of there around midnight.
My Peugeot station wagon didn't sputter or shudder or rattle on the Bay Bridge; it just lost all power and glided gently to a stop. I don't usually think about omens, but as you might imagine, I thought this was a bad one. That my improbable run of luck (plucky farmers market coffee guys!) could be coming to a close. The symbolism of giant semi trucks leering at us, then crushing us, was too obvious to ignore.
The tow truck eventually came, of course, and dropped us off at a point precariously located on the Oakland/Emeryville border. We made it home, slept briefly and then back to the alley for opening.
And how we opened! Regulars from the farmers market for whom I had been making drinks since we started on the Ferry Plaza—Jen, Ed and Norma, Spike and Lance, Thom—all came to see what we were up to. At the end of the day, I was elated to find that we had made slightly over two hundred bucks! I had a hazy, intuitive idea of the concept of "break even," and I realized that we were probably not there, but I thought that I would plug away for a while and see how long we could continue to pay our bills.
I'm not sure when it happened, but as the months rolled on, more and more people started showing up. The original three baristas settled into a stride, and we built a business. I was back at the roastery roasting, bagging, and delivering, and I noticed more and more people when I would drop off coffee. People started talking about the odd little coffee cart to their friends.
It had to be May of 2005 when, nursing a macchiato after a coffee delivery, I noticed a couple pausing thoughtfully in front of the cart. The gentleman sipped his cappuccino, looked sincerely at his partner, and murmured, "I really like this place." His partner turned, somewhat surprised, and responded pointedly: "Why?"
His answer: "I'm not sure."
Which is as good of a general summation of the ambiguous affection we've been engendering there for a decade.
So there we are. A delightful, improbable run on the alley. Thanks must go to Loring, who helped me dream it up, to all the staff who have made drinks with kindness and professionalism, to our guests who made it a success instead of an interesting short-lived art project. And, of course, to my lovely wife Caitlin and my son Dashiell.