When the first Andytown Coffee Roasters opened in the Outer Sunset at the ailing intersection of 43rd and Lawton in 2014, it was a quiet revelation for the neighborhood. A few blocks away, Judah Street and the reserved, beachside hipness of Trouble Coffee, Outerlands, and the General Store, were bustling, but Lawton and much of the area felt stagnant: a gas station, a few crumbling businesses, a large Chinese Baptist church, faded homes worn down by salt spray and mist. “There weren’t many reasons to go to that corner,” says Andytown cofounder Lauren Crabbe.
Crabbe and fellow Andytown cofounder Michael McCrory didn’t arrive in the Outer Sunset on white horses looking to change, or save the neighborhood, but rather as two longtime coffee industry folks with the want to open a coffee shop in the part of San Francisco they called home. They eschewed investments, got a small-business bank loan and borrowed some money from friends and family. Andytown was born.
Three years on, Andytown is a certified hit, a destination coffee shop with a seaside feel, a roaster, a signature drink, and some of the best pastries in town. On any given weekend, a line of local coffee pilgrims—with dogs and babies in tow—spirals out the front door. The community has embraced the beachy shop—members of the Sunset Baptist Church next door pop in after services and Crabbe and McCrory are staples of the neighborhood. New businesses have popped up—a high-end market and a surf shop—and the area feels alive despite the seemingly omnipresent gray skies and mist.
“Our goal was just to have a shop in our neighborhood that had good freshly roasted coffee and good customer service,” she says. “It ended up having a big impact on our tiny community.” Now, with the opening of their new cafe on 47th and Taraval—as well as a roastery and cafe up the street on 40th—Crabbe and McCrory are hoping to help revitalize another chunk of the place they call home with tasty coffee and pastries.
“You have nothing between Noriega Street and Sloat,” Crabbe says, talking about the dearth of coffee on a cold morning in the Outer Sunset, gesturing south toward the oceanside suburban sprawl. We’re just a few streets from Ocean Beach, on the edge of the Outer Sunset, walking between Andytown’s new cafe on 47th and the roastery a few blocks east. This close to the ocean, Taraval Street is a seam of businesses in an unending field of houses. The Riptide is here, still serving beers and good times after a devastating fire a few years back. As are Brothers Pizza and Sweet Passion Bakery, all legacy businesses that have rooted the community for decades, drawing their own lines from around San Francisco and beyond.
And then there are seemingly abandoned shops that open once a week, clinging to the scattered remains of whatever business they used to draw. The ceiling of unbroken gray clouds casts a grim mood, and as we walk she points out abandoned vacuum-cleaner shops and shuttered businesses. It feels a lot like 43rd and Lawton before Andytown set up shop there.
“There was a lot of blight on Taraval—old businesses that had been closed for years,” she says. “A lot of these abandoned shops have stories that involve human trafficking and drugs.” When the couple started to consider expanding their popular cafe, they looked around at other neighborhoods, places they could afford such as SOMA, West Oakland, and Richmond, but it didn’t feel right. “It just seemed too dishonest to our brand, to what Andytown was meant to be,” she says. But Taraval felt just like home.
The new cafe on 47th and Taraval is somehow even skinnier than the original location: It’s shaped like a toothpick with an olive on the end, long and lean with a tiny seating area up front and the beginnings of an outdoor garden in the back. You’ll still be able to get the cafe’s signature cold drink, the Snowy Plover, a shaken mixture of espresso, brown sugar syrup, sparkling water, and a dollop of Bailey’s whipped cream. The baked goods are still delicious—the farl with white cheddar is a particular favorite—and the employees still manage to smile their way through even the longest of lines.
The company’s expansion is more apparent at the roastery on 40th, housed in a large warehouse space. Two roasters—the small Probat that used to sit in the original shop and the newer, more industrial Loring Kestrel S35—are the centerpieces of the space, with a small rectangle of a cafe in the front. This is the headquarters of Andytown 2.0, the center of their expanding wholesale business.
Although even there, standing next to the gleaming silver of the Loring Kestrel and all its notions of expanse, the owners’ community-centric vision is still evident. Shelves line both walls in the front area, where Crabbe and her team curate a selection of local and regional artisan wares. A crew of employees gathers on the cafe’s furniture, with styrofoam boxes of takeout from Kingdom of Dumpling up the road open in front of them. “We’re never going to be what we were in the beginning,” Crabbe says. “But we can expand responsibly, be a better, bigger version of what we wanted to be.”
Just outside the door, old Taraval still lingers: empty businesses, rundown facades, an eerie sense of commercial abandonment. “Let me say this,” Crabbe says, when the subject of gentrification comes up, “I don’t think a fancy coffee shop is the cure for blight.” But on the other hand, she doesn’t think that the “G word” (as she calls it) applies to what Andytown is doing. “Gentrification assumes that you’re replacing a culture,” she says, again gesturing to the lonely stretch of Taraval. “We’re trying to add culture.” A subtle difference, but one you can feel here in this part of San Francisco, a city that’s changing so fast around us all.
A new coffee shop has opened kitty-corner to the 47th Street Andytown cafe. Across the way, a record shop is starting its buildout while other storefronts have butcher paper and scaffolding, surefire signs of new consumer life. And for now, Crabbe is happy to be giving back to the community she’s grown to call her own. “People deserve good products, they deserve nice things,” she says. “In this neighborhood, most people drive their cars to Daly City or to the Mission. That’s not right. We want to be that for people.”
All photos by Peter Cochrane
*Update June 13th 2017: This story has been updated in parts with additional context.