San Francisco: A New (Very Green) Four Barrel Cafe In Portola

Zachary Carlsen is the First Tiger, co-founder, and managing editor poobah at Sprudge.com, and a former staff member of Four Barrel Coffee Roasters. The similarly be-titled Jeremy Tooker is the Founder and Dictator for Life at Four Barrel Coffee Roasters. These two industrious young men recently shared a coffee and talked over Tooker’s plans for a new, ultra-green neighborhood hub cafe in San Francisco’s Portola neighborhood.

It’s been busy for Jeremy Tooker and the folks at Four Barrel Coffee. Let’s review, shall we? The growing company celebrated its fourth year at their flagship space in San Francisco’s Mission District, which recently expanded to include a separate green storage space and offices; they’ve reopened their back-alley Caledonia Bar; this playful bit of sign banning on Instagram went viral; they’ve opened a new bakery and cafe on Divisadero, called “The Mill”; they’ve acquired De La Paz Coffee Roasters, with plans to build out a uniquely branded DLP cafe in the SOMA neighborhood; and they’re about to embark on their most ambitious project yet – a multi-purpose off-the-grid cafe and green space in San Francisco’s former Rose District, Portola.

leah-frontbar

Leah Fortgang pours a V60 at the Front Bar.

When I set up this interview with Jeremy Tooker, I knew I wanted it as an excuse to visit the  Four Barrel space on Valencia. I worked here as a barista for two years until last February, so going back feels like coming home to visit family. I had a Chemex made by Bradley Allen at the front bar space, and we shared it together in cupping bowls. I sat in the back area that overlooks the production area and watched Sarah Bouldin carefully monitor a roast of Ethiopia Wato. It’s Saturday afternoon and the whole cafe is full, the line is to the door, and between the three operating bars in the space there are a total of five espresso machines running, four french presses pressing, a Fetco brewing, four V60s dripping, and two Chemexes pouring. This is what a busy cafe looks, sounds, and feels like.

I overheard that Jeremy was planning this new cafe in Portola – this new eco-minded city-funded neighborhood hub – and I wanted to know more. This was our third time missing each other for this interview, because I kept losing Jeremy by mere minutes as he rushed to and from Divisadero.

We finally got together, and over americanos, he talked with me (and recording iPhone) about his wild new plans.

Jeremy Tooker

Jeremy Tooker

Wait, what’s going on?

It’s two lawyers. I think it’s two lawyers. There’s this group that they’re calling themselves – they don’t really have a full name yet – but they’re calling it the San Francisco Greenhouse Project and it’s two lawyers and a fireman who are all old college buddies, and we’re renting out the office to them, and they’re really awesome guys. They’re taking over the last vacant greenhouse lot down there in Portola which used to be the Greenhouse District, the Rose District – it was called that because all the roses in the city came from there at one point. They are taking it and restoring it… it’s like a nonprofit. And then they started telling us – I was talking with them about how to get the money for it – but I was like “that sounds amazing, this is what I want to do for a completely off the grid coffee shop”, and ideas just started spilling out of my head. They’re super excited.

What are the plans for the cafe? 

The shop’s only like 800 square feet, maybe 900 square feet, so the plan is – we’re going to open with that, and we’re gonna have all the pieces in there, the counter, this could be like a cart setup, and the condiment station, the retail shelving, and the ceiling piece is all going to be done by local fabricators – Luke Bartels, Gialdani, Dave H. of course – and then – the land next to it is what I’m excited about. It’s 300 ft by 30 ft and it’s owned by Caltrans but they are just going to lease it it to us and we can do whatever we want.

As long as we maintain it – very cool, so I wanna do solar panels, wind power, filtering our own runoff water, compost toilet, oxide bed, the whole sewer – the filtered water will hopefully supply the coffee shop as well as a water bottle station. What I’m really pushing for now is actually making an electric car charging station in the area, like a little cul de sac. I know those rapid charging stations, there’s only a handful of those in California – and it takes – rapid charging is misleading compared to gas, it still takes like 15 minutes, which is incredible what you can do in 15 minutes – but it’s perfect for our coffee shop because what else are you going to do? You’re not going to stand next to your car for 15 minutes.

And you’re trying to put a playground in it?

Yeah, the very end of it is for a playground. The neighborhood is super cool and I think this will be a serious event for the neighborhood.

What’s the neighborhood like?

It’s probably the least known neighborhood in the city. It’s like the last neighborhood before you his Daly City. I would say it’s middle class, maybe almost lower middle class neighborhood. It’s really affordable so a lot of people who live down their own their property, which is why I think there’s so much neighborhood pride down there, they’re all looking out for each other. All the neighbors are super excited. People ask “oh, when are you guys going to be open?” Every week we get an email or a phone call about it.

Do you have a projected date?

It won’t take very long, it’ll honestly take only two or three months to get going. All the pieces – it’s just very modular – we already ripped out the entire floor, did the plumbing, my contractor just did that on his own dime so he could just have a space to store all of his tools.

It’s like a cart setup. It’s a garage, so we can only deal with so much because it’s a cart. It’s very much Hayes Valley style but a little bit more indoor. And we’re trying to design this parklet that’s going on the other side. So our lane starts adjacent to our building and goes north, south, and next to the freeway and the freeway wall, so a little bit wider than our spot, like 40 feet wide, and down like 6 blocks the neighborhood got a grant from the city to turn it into a small park, with a stream and bridges and the thing, like a Pike park, so we’re right at the start of that.

Watch for more on Four Barrel Portola right here on Sprudge, or via your favorite local SF blog.