There’s no sign on the building, indicating that it’s a Four Barrel location. Well, I take that back; there is a sign on the building, but it’s on the roof, conspicuously advertising the San Jose Sharks NHL Championship to the drivers on California Highway 101. The building is, however, unmarked at street level. It’s on a dead end street that butts up against the highway. When the door is closed it would be hard to tell from the garage across the street, except for the low-key/recognizably hip grey paint and exterior.
That’s the thing here. Low key, but obviously on trend. The new Portola Four Barrel is just off San Bruno Avenue, and has a really lovely minimal concrete and wood motif. The only chairs are stools, arrayed around the outside. Eventually a parklet will right just outside the open garage door. Already there’s new trees planted. This is part of a campaign to make this café green. Both in terms of environmental footprint, but also literally, like the color, green.
I talked to Nicky Koch, Four Barrel’s general manager, at the new space. The shop “is a different project than the other Four Barrel locations,” he told me. The neighborhood is markedly different, and the location itself is a major departure from the high-traffic, high-profile original Four Barrel cafe on Valencia, or The Mill, Four Barrel’s collaboration with Josy Baker Bread on Divisidero. “This is a neighborhood shop,” said Koch. “So far we’ve had almost exclusively people coming in who work or live in the neighborhood. This area just doesn’t have that much foot traffic.”
Just about everything in the shop was made by local artisans, except for the espresso and coffee brewing equipment, which includes a La Marzocco Linea, Mahlkonig EK-43 grinder, and multiple Mazzer Robur-E espresso grinders. Perhaps most notably, the elegant matte grey cup ware is a Four Barrel exclusive, created by Oakland ceramics studio Atelier Dion. Pastries are by Neighbor Bakehouse. While the space is relatively sparse now, the new Four Barrel will get monthly rotating art, and more retail shelf space is also coming soon.
As first revealed in this interview with Sprudge, Four Barrel founder Jeremy Tooker has big plans to make this shop a very real environmentally conscious neighborhood café. And it seems like you have to look at this as practically a neighborhood public works project – the previously unused corridor between the freeway and the neighborhood will eventually be converted into a park, and the new Four Barrel will be right there at the heart of it.
There’s a lot to love about this little café, and just because it’s off the beaten path now doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way forever. The beaten path changes; people make new paths all the time. By the time you get to Four Barrel Portola it might be neighbors with a new park, a playground, a composting toilet, an electric car charging station, and who knows what else. This is San Francisco. Just about anything is possible.