The Richfield doesn’t seem like it should be a coffee shop, and it doesn't look like one. Instead, it comes across as more of a…Cubist mushroom, as opposed to a place you might imagine food and beverage emanating from. It’s tiny, a handful of tables pushed in against a pencil-thin kitchen and coffee area. And what's more, the Richfield is a solid distance from what you might refer to as “off the beaten path”; it’s in the Inner Richmond, but not on Irving or even off Irving, or Clement or any of the main streets—but rather on a concrete island between the bustle of Geary and California Street.
Even when Eugene Kim, owner of Snowbird Coffee, first threw open the doors, customers would drop in and wish him good luck on staying open. Previous tenants—a Hello-Kitty-themed cafe, at some point a gas station—hadn’t done so well in the sliver of a space, but Kim had high hopes for what he thought of as an underdog. The name, The Richfield, is a nod to Sylvester Stallone’s inspiration for Rocky, a fight between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner, where, for one small moment, Wepner knocked Ali to the mat.
“For that brief moment, a nobody was on top of the world,” Kim says, and because the fight took place at the Richfield Coliseum, he thought the name fit his space. “It’s our nod to the underdogs,” he says, “the believers.”
On one wall, the phrase, and the shop’s philosophy, has been painted: “never surrender if you want to be a contender” complementing the scattering of boxing memorabilia—a pair of jump ropes here, boxing gloves there—that helps to define the space. Like Kim’s Snowbird cafe, the space is meant to be a community gathering spot, and when I was there, dogs and kids tore around through the legs of their parents, while others read or worked on their computers. The Richfield offers a small—but delicious—food program. Kim roasts his own beans under the Snowbird Coffee moniker, and does them up with a two-group La Marzocco Linea Classic EE, Bee House ceramic cones, and a Mazzer grinder.
We sat down with Eugene Kim to talk about opening two cafes in a year, the most unusual thing he’s seen at the cafe, his food program, and more.
How did you end up opening two coffee shops so quickly?
We really had no intentions of opening a new location so soon, but just like Snowbird, the opportunity kind of organically presented itself. If you’re a business owner in San Francisco, you know how difficult it is to find a good deal on a location. So when you see a good deal, you hop on it.
Tell us a little bit about the food program.
A student from San Francisco State [Jeremy Balagey] started coming by to see if he could interview us. I guess he showed up one morning and told our employees to let us know that the interview was online. I came in later that day and one of our guys told us that he’d come by and left some cookies. I took a bite of the cookie, and I was blown away. I was extremely blunt with him, I felt like the interview video was pretty bad…but the cookie was quite possibly the best cookie I had ever tasted. Coming from a background in the creative arts, I know how difficult it is to prove to someone you could do the one thing that you want to do in life, when you don’t have much to show for it. I went out on a whim and asked him if he would be interested in handling the food at our new cafe. I remember him saying that he just knew that he could do it. I knew by the look in his eyes and the tone in his voice that he was serious about it. I took a gamble on someone that was super passionate about cooking, and it’s been great so far.
How is it operating in this part of the Inner Richmond?
I think the most difficult part is that our space is on an island. It’s cool because we don’t share walls with anyone else, but we also don’t have any other businesses on either side of us to drive foot traffic. It’s pretty difficult, but once we made our presence known in the neighborhood, the word slowly started spreading. We’re at a good place now, and it’s cool because about 80% of our customers are regulars from the neighborhood.