When Austin Ferrari was in eighth grade, he visited his brother in San Francisco. They stopped at a newly opened coffee shop in the Outer Sunset for a latte and a large piece of cinnamon toast. Ferrari departed the small, personality-heavy coffee shop, returned to his home in Cincinnati and wrote Giulietta Carrelli, the owner of the popular Bay Area mini-chain Trouble Coffee, a letter expressing not only his love for her space, but his intention to follow in her footsteps. “I told her what an inspiration she was to me,” Ferrari says, leaning over the faded white and blue countertop that delineates his microscopic seating area from his nearly as small kitchen. “I knew I wanted to do something like that. I wanted a coffee shop, maybe even multiple ones, yet I wanted one with a story and a soul,” Ferrari smiles then, a big shit-eater of a grin that cuts across his youthful features, “She changed my life with her toast and coffee.”
Today, Ferrari is a co-owner of Potrero Hill’s Provender Coffee, a speck of a space on the neighborhood’s culinary main drag, 18th Street. The space, sparse but warm, just barely fits a handful of customers on a smattering of blue and white stained stools that overlook the family-oriented neighborhood. Just down the street, early-morning parents stand guard over strollers at Farley’s, a longtime Bay Area coffee shop that’s dominated Potrero Hill’s coffee scene for years. Ferrari hopes to bring a new perspective to coffee in the neighborhood, one buoyed on well-prepared Sightglass Coffee beans (for the moment) and a food program cooked almost entirely in house. He wants Provender to be a place that “brings out the glow in people” and steps away from the attitude and snobbery often times present in specialty coffee. The goal here is simple: make a great cup and offer some tasty provisions. In his words, “it’s coffee, don’t overcomplicate it!”
The small space, the simple menu of delicious food and pasty options, and Ferrari’s near omnipresent knowledge of the neighborhood regulars (not to mention his ability to keep up patter with just about all of them)—these things reflect well on Trouble Coffee as a source of inspiration. Ferrari himself is infectious, a good-natured kid, quick with a smile, ready to talk up his extremely delicious iced coffee concoctions, or rip a shot off his two-group La Marzocco Linea Classic. The shop is just barely open, yet somehow already feels like it’s been there for years, and maybe you just walked past it a few times but just never noticed. We sat down with Ferrari to chat about the neighborhood, San Francisco’s competitive coffee landscape, and a whole lot more.
How did you end up opening Provender?
A good friend of mine (Aran Healy of Ruby Wine) told me that the store next to his was getting ready to close. The owner wanted to sell within a month. We wanted to go for a chic, small coffee spot that was similar to a Victorian-style space. We spent a week on design, name, and ideas for the space, wrote it on paper, and went for a structure. We started in January and opened in July and we couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
What were you guys hoping to bring to such an established neighborhood?
We’re hoping to bring another lovely addition. We want to be a new home for our guest. We aren’t here to be millionaires, we’re here to have fun. Making coffee, making food, and making friends. People in coffee can be snobby and they can be dicks sometimes. Our philosophy is to keep it simple.
What’s it like operating right down the street from Farley’s?
We are giving people something totally different. We’re small and unique and we highlight a specialty coffee roaster. Farley’s isn’t terrible, but it serves a certain crowd and that’s fine. People will come in and actually say that Farley’s does better business than us, but c’mon, half of those people are just soaking up the Wi-Fi network while drinking one cup of coffee. Well, that’s at least how I look at it.
What kind of food do you offer?
The food is meant to be simple, but with a twist on just your neighborhood lunch. Instead of offering a dry turkey sandwich with provolone, we like to roast a signature leg of lamb and pair it with chermoula, cucumber, and olive tapenade. We think San Francisco is more than into it. As I said, simple, but delicious grub.
What’s next for you guys?
We’re still figuring out the kinks and finding out what works best where and how. After that though, I’m looking into more spaces. I won’t say where, but I can tell you now, this is just the beginning from me.