San Francisco's coffee scene's been in full-on explosion mode since the mid-2000s, bringing with it game-raising techniques and cafe design that have rippled across the entire nation. One might argue that the City by the Bay's achieved fancy coffee saturation by now—but anyone who knows coffee knows there's always room for one more.
We're excited to feature Pinhole Coffee‘s new cafe in Bernal Heights as the latest in our Build-Outs of Summer series. Info on the project comes to us from local coffee community veteran and Blue Bottle Coffee alum JoEllen Depakakibo. The cafe is slated to open in late summer.
As told to Sprudge by JoEllen Depakakibo.
Can you tell us a bit about your new space?
I'm currently building out Pinhole Coffee in the “Neighborhood In The Sky” of Bernal Heights in San Francisco, CA. I started out in the coffee world in Chicago at Intelligentsia in 2003 until 2006 when I moved to San Francisco and started working for Blue Bottle. I was employee number 8 (at least that was my payroll number). I wore a lot of hats in the company (barista, porter, manager, etc). In 2012 and 2013 I had an amazing opportunity to run their NY locations, and from that experience I knew it was time to open up my own thing.
Pinhole takes its name from photography, another of my appreciations. My brother Joey D in Chicago created my logo, and his wife Jen designed my business cards out of a thin strip of walnut–they have a pinhole that you can put over your camera or phone and it creates a pinhole image. I individually hole punch the cards each morning before I start my day.
The building I'm opening up in is from the 1890s. It used to house a butcher shop, and for years after that it was a junk shop, then abandoned until my landlord Lauren Haynes, the owner of Piccolo Plumbing, took it over. Coincidentally I had contacted Lauren to possibly take a look at the plumbing situation of a different space I was considering in the Lower Haight. On the phone she told me that she had a space in Bernal that she wanted to convert into a coffee shop, and I drove up there immediately and had that feeling of “this is the one.”
Currently we are building out the space with hopefully an August opening (hoping for no hiccups to slow down the process). I'm working with amazing architects Ben Frombgen and Joseph Armin of B Cooperative, and I knew Ben from my old Blue Bottle Kiosk (Hayes Valley) days…he used to work upstairs from that space and always connected with the baristi on a human level. In addition, we are working with an amazing contractor, Jason Kotas who knows our building well.
What's your approach to coffee, service, and people?
The intention for my cafe is beyond coffee. As grateful as I am to have been exposed to amazing coffees, equipment, etc. with the prior companies I've worked for, the most important thing that has come into my awareness is the importance of community and how people are an extension of knowledge beyond our own selves. It's a pretty powerful realization for me, we sustain each other…all the little pieces make up the whole. That's where I am right now, and I know I wouldn't be able to build this magical space without all the people mentioned above and for the community of friends, family, neighbors. Once we open that will continue.
As far as coffee service, I want to be a playground for different roasters, pastry chefs, etc. I'm starting off with Blue Bottle Coffee, Linea Caffe and Verve Coffee Roasters. My staff will curate the menu for the month and patrons will just chose their brew method. Batch brew from a Fetco, espresso drinks from a 1988 La Marzocco Linea rebuilt by my good friend Nathan Smith. Other brew methods I'm still figuring out–I'm obsessed with brew methods, which you can see on my Instagram, @ristretjo. We'l offer Chemex for couples because it's classic and I'm starting to really like the Kalita Wave and the GINO Not Neutral glass dripper for single cups. I am also an AeroPress fan, so maybe that'll be on a secret menu for those that inquire.
You strongly identify with a sense of place. How will you connect your space with its setting in San Francisco?
I'm passionate about historic preservation. This space will have many odes to ol' San Francisco and ol' Bernal Heights. I went to our Main Public Library where on the 6th Floor there is a pretty extensive historical library on all the different neighborhoods and districts. I read the whole file on Bernal. Apparently at the intersection of my space there use to be a turn switch for the trolleys that used to travel in that direction. There is an artist, Brian Goggin, who did a collection of sidewalk portal cover art called “Substrata.” One piece called “Switch,” located at Mission and Cortland, nods to our Cortland and Bonview intersection. From 1940-2005, SF used tokens for public transportation–they discontinued it after folks started hoarding them when fares started to go up (tokens were like forever stamps). I acquired a few of them and plan to embed them in my space to trigger folks' memories, or to introduce them to a time that once was.
Bernal Heights is special. It took me 8 years to discover it, but once I did it was like Pleasantville. Everything was so colorful and special. I think that's something to say in comparison to how the rest of SF is feeling, but it is good to know that there are still some magical pockets in this amazing city.