There are massive changes taking place on the stretch of San Francisco’s iconic Market Street between 10th and 5th Street (affectionately referred to as Mid-Market). Just a few years ago, this small but historic area, was, to be frank, a wasteland populated by abandoned skyscrapers, dingy electronic stores, and not much else; a seedy border of the notoriously sketchy Tenderloin neighborhood. Now, with tech-giants like Twitter and Uber staking their claims to the city in Mid-Market, towering apartment complexes and high profile restaurants have joined up-and-coming cafes from roasters like Blue Bottle and Paramo in bringing a new face to the area. To say the least, it’s a whole new Mid-Market.
And we’re happy to announce the arrival of a new, hometown player into the Mid-Market fray as longtime North Bay roaster Equator Coffees will be opening its very first San Francisco retail operation here on April 1st. The sparkling new cafe from our partners at Equator (with a build-out by Boor Bridges) will be housed in the historic Warfield Building just adjacent to the looming marque of the famed venue. Equator Coffees has been around for almost 20 years primarily as a wholesale roaster and currently operates out of San Rafael with a retail café tucked away in the Proof Lab Surf Shop in Mill Valley, as well as a flagship in Downtown Mill Valley at 2 Miller Ave. To celebrate the SF opening, we sat down with Equator’s Director of Training and Education, Devorah Freudiger, to talk about what prompted the big open, the challenges of opening a coffee shop so close to the Tenderloin, and what we can expect from the new space.
What sparked the need to open a space in San Francisco?
We are so excited to plant our flag in San Francisco! Equator has been roasting coffee for 20 years but because of our wholesale focus it’s been challenging to stay relevant in the metropolitan consciousness of the Bay Area, and to be involved with the thriving Bay Area coffee community. Opening a retail store in the heart of San Francisco allows us access to a new audience and allows us to share our coffee story with a wider demographic.
How’d you guys end up choosing to go into a space near the Tenderloin?
Not just the Tenderloin, the iconic Warfield Building! As we move into retail we realize it’s important to seek out spaces and communities that are unique and thriving in their own right but that we feel could benefit from the community space a cafe brings. The physical space of this building is beautiful: large windows, marble facade, and so much history you can feel it in the walls. We actually looked at this space two years ago but taking on the Tenderloin as our first retail project was a little too much for us. Now that we have a beautiful cafe that’s running smoothly with a large staff in Mill Valley, we feel we can open confidently with a stable program.
What challenges have you faced, and what challenges do you think you’ll face in that location?
The Tenderloin is a hotbed for the issues we see all over San Francisco. New companies are moving in, often forcing out established communities. The Mid-Market project is pointed and deliberate gentrification, and we have to be conscious of our part in it. It’s a fine line to walk for us to be involved in “improving” an area by making a safe beautiful space for the community, and not compounding a situation that is edging out the vibrancy in the community. Instead of looking at these issues as challenges we see them as opportunities.
How do these concerns get addressed in the space?
We are keeping the price of our batch coffee very competitive for San Francisco, hoping to draw in people who might be intimidated by the price tag of boutique coffee. We will have a “suspended coffee program” where regulars are encouraged to pay for an extra coffee for someone who might want to come in but can’t afford a cup. We’ve reached out to local artists to help keep our space creative, notably Mona Caron who did a beautiful mural inside our space. We plan on using the space in the evening for community events. We have made a few hires from job-training programs working on rehabilitating people with histories that often prevent them from gainful employment. We want to educate a wide community about how amazing coffee can be, while listening to the communities we are joining to discover what they need from us as their local coffee spot.
And when will you folks open?
Construction is completed, we are in the space setting up, and training starts next week. So we will be open April 1!
Noah Sanders is a contributor to SF Weekly, The Bold Italic, and Sprudge.com. Read more Noah Sanders on Sprudge.