Peace, Love, and Coffee

A diary of the wonderful and wacky goings on at Coffee to the People, an independent coffeehouse located at 1206 Masonic Avenue in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, California.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

New Coffee to the People Website, New Coffee to the People Blog

Hi. Here is a further update for people who find us here at BlogSpot. Karin did a great job setting up our new website using SquareSpace (which is pretty easy to use and let us do a lot of set-up without a lot of fuss). In addition to the overall website, SquareSpace website hosting has an integrated blog set-up and allowed us to import all our postings from here, so for consistency sake, we are now doing everything through the website.

So, to get to the Coffee to the People website, click here: Coffee to the People website

To go straight to the new Peace, Love and Coffee blog, click here: Coffee to the People blog (aka, Peace, Love, and Coffee)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Hi all. Just wanted to let you know that we have relocated to a new website. Click here to be redirected to the front page.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Getting the Word Out

Okay, everybody. You've inspired me. Let's talk advertising.

As I mentioned in these pages before, I'm not exactly the business type. I've never studied marketing or budgeting. I am not a PR person. And I hate worrying about money. Still, as one of the owners of this small business, at some point I have to start thinking about how we can increase our business, especially during our lightest hours.

Up to now we've relied almost exclusively on word of mouth and foot traffic. During the first week we were open we handed out fliers and hung notices on door knobs, but that's about it. In many ways, this approach has worked well for us because it has provided a chance to grow with our customer base. If we had been inundated with customers during our first few months in business, I don't think we would have been able to provide the same level of service. We needed that time to work out the kinks in the system.

Now that we are ready to grow, however, it's time to start doing some "real" advertising. But where? How much? And at what price?

Taking a look back at our business plan, we originally identified four target audiences for CTTP: people who live in the neighborhood, tourists, students, and people who work from home (i.e. the laptop brigade).

So far, I think we are doing a fairly good job of recruiting customers from the neighborhood. Just by virtue of location and signage people are apt to try us out eventually and, if they like us, come back. However, there are still a lot of people who don't know that we now serve breakfast, soups, and sandwiches, so we need to work on advertising our food offerings. Our current plan for reaching this group is to place an ad in the Haight-Ashbury Beat.

We don't intend to put a lot of effort into advertising to tourists. For the most part, this group finds us when they are walking down Haight Street soaking up the local atmosphere. If we get lucky, maybe somebody will write something about us in a tour guide one day, but that's about all we can hope for.

One of our primary target audiences is students, but we have yet to do much to attract their attention. This point was (painfully) brought home to me a couple of weeks ago when I looked in my own school paper, UCSF's Synapse, and discovered that one of my classmates had written an article about places in SF where one can find fair trade coffee, but didn't include CTTP. Apparently, she didn't even know that we existed. Our current plan for reaching this group is to advertise in the campus papers at UCSF, USF, and SFSU.

Our final target audience consists of people who work from home and, again, this is a group we have yet to actively pursue. We have received a certain amount of free advertising from the websites that list free wifi hotspots so anyone who is actively looking for a place will find us, but I'm not sure that is adequate. I would like us to do more to reach this group, but I don't know how at a price we can afford. Some people have suggested advertising one or more of the city's weeklies, but those are expensive and not the least bit targetted.

What do you think? Does anybody have any brilliant low-cost marketing ideas that would help us get the word out to our target audiences? Are there groups out there that we should be marketing to that we haven't considered yet? Should we bite the bullet and advertise in the weeklies?

Any and all input greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Coffeeshop Campers & the Honor System

One of the first decisions any coffeeshop owner has to make is what to do about the people who hang out all day studying, using the free wireless, and lounging on the couches, but don't actually spend any money. Sure, they spend $1.50 on a small coffee from time to time, but they nurse it for hours and take up room that might be used for other, paying customers.

If you're not a coffeeshop owner you might think that this is no big deal. After all, it's not like the person is using up costly products. They aren't eating free food or drinking free beverages. It doesn't cost any more to provide ten people with wireless than it does to provide one. And, they aren't using up a bunch of dishes that then have to be washed.

But, from the perspective of a coffeeshop owner, this is a huge problem. Here at CTTP, we need to bring in on average $100 PER HOUR simply to cover our costs. That means, if all of our customers were people who stayed for three hours and spent $1.50 for coffee, we would require 200 people in our shop every hour we were open, 7 days a week, just to stay in business.

Fortunately, not all of our patrons are quite so thrifty. We have lots of customers who buy more than a small coffee and many of them just drink (or eat) and run. We even have a large contingent of people who get their coffee and food to go. Nonetheless, at this juncture, our paying customers are not making up for the money our other customers don't spend, and this is a concern for us.

We have looked around a lot at how other coffeeshops deal with this problem and, for the most part, we aren't impressed. One strategy frequently employed is to disconnect the free wireless. Another strategy is to require a minimum purchase for every hour spent in the store. Some places even cover their electrical outlets, so people can't plug in their computers.

We can't imagine using any of these strategies at CTTP because they are fundamentally at odds with the spirit of our shop. When we opened our doors we wanted to be a warm, inviting, and inspirational space where people could come to get their work done, hang out with friends, and drink great coffee. Putting restrictions on what people can do while they are here would undermine that mission.

Beyond that, CTTP is well aware that the people who come to our shop represent a wide range of socioeconomic strata. Some are students living off of loans. Some are professionals. Some are homeless. Some are middle class American tourists visiting from out of town. Some are parents. And some are seniors living off of fixed incomes. As a result, there is a great diversity in what our patrons are reasonably able to pay for our services.

Since the last thing we want to do at CTTP is restrict who can and cannot come to our shop on the basis of income, we are determined not to introduce a mandatory minimum. However, that doesn't mean we can't expect our better-off customers to contribute their fair share of our revenues. For now, we are working off the honor system, trusting our patrons to do the right thing.

Which brings us to the question, what is a reasonable amount for us to expect a person to spend at our shop? After some thought, it seems to me that if every student or senior spent $3/hr, every working person spent $4/hr, and every professional spent $5/hr, we would be a lot closer to meeting our monthly costs without placing an undue burden on our customers.

What do you think? Do you have any ideas for addressing the freeloader problem that are in keeping with the spirit of CTTP? How much do you think is reasonable for a person in your situation to spend per hour spent at the shop?

Postscript: Right after I posted this blog entry, I stumbled across a post by one of our regulars, Kevin Burton, on the subject of free-wifi in coffeeshops. He makes some terrific points about how businesses should stop trying to discourage laptop users and start offering them other useful paid services to defray overhead costs. I think this is a great idea, but I would like to hear some suggestions about how to do this at CTTP while still remaining accessible to our lower income clients. What kinds of services could CTTP conceivably offer that would be of value to the laptop brigades?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Blog Renaissance

Maintaining a regular blog can be difficult (especially when you are also trying to run a coffeeshop, go to medical school, practice law, and raise three kids). Still, we know we haven't been doing a great blogging job in recent months and we want that to change.

Ideally, we want this page to not simply chronicle events at Coffee to the People, but also provide a space where we can conduct a running dialogue with you, our customers, about how best to run our shop. Starting next week, we plan to post weekly commentaries on topics relevant to management of our coffeehouse. We hope that you will read these brief essays and respond with questions, thoughts, and advice of your own.

So, why might you want to take time out of your busy life to contribute to these discussions? Three reasons:

1. You want to improve the Coffee to the People experience for your own enjoyment. This is your coffeeshop and no one knows more than you about how to make it better.

2. You want to make sure Coffee to the People stays in business. People are always surprised to hear this, but despite the popularity of our shop, we still are not quite covering our costs from month to month. Your input will help us make the changes we need to make to keep our business afloat.

3. You want to open a coffeeshop of your own one day. Since we opened CTTP a surprising number of people have confessed to us a secret desire to open an independent shop of their own one day. We think that is great. The world needs more community coffeehouses. If you are one of those people, reading and contributing to this blog is a great way to begin cultivating your coffeeshop ownership and management skills.

Before we opened CTTP we did a lot of research about the coffee business. Nonetheless, with every day that passes we encounter a new problem or challenge that we didn't forsee. Often these problems are peculiar to life in the Haight, such as handling mentally ill, homeless, and drug intoxicated patrons. Other times, however, they are problems that are just a part of doing business, such as coping with unreliable suppliers, absentee employees, and freeloading patrons. We look forward to hearing your suggestions for dealing with these and other challenges over the coming months.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Soup and Sandwich Beta

It's finally here! After many hard months of taste testing, we have introduced our fresh sandwich and soup menu. Our sandwiches are big and tasty, with selections guaranteed to please omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans alike. They include:

Breakfast croissant with egg and cheese
Breakfast bagel with egg and cheese
Roast beef with horseradish
Black forest ham with cheddar cheese
Turkey pesto on a sweet roll
Vegetarian bruschetta, cheese, tomato, and avocado
Vegan hummus, red pepper, and cucumber

The soups change from day to day, but recent offerings have included:

Spinach basmati
Tomato tahini tofu
Clam chowder
Mushroom and barley

As with our coffee, we are committed to providing the best possible soups and sandwiches. To help make this happen, we are holding a "soup and sandwich beta" throughout the month of February. To participate, come in and try one of our soups or sandwiches and then email us about your experience. As a thank you, we will send you a coupon for a free beverage of your choice. Our hope is that your honest feedback will help us to make our sandwiches even better.

Thanks!


Friday, December 16, 2005

Happy Holidays

The holiday season is upon us, and it is an entirely different challenge as a shop in the Haight. Where most business thrive between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it seems like a low traffic period for Haight & Ashbury. Our current theory is that this is because people come here to shop for themselves, not others. The Haight is full of vintage clothing and shoe stores, and people don't tend to give vintage clothes or shoes as gifts. We still have our loyal, core group (thank goodness), but we have noticed a dip since late November. Hopefully things will start picking up again at the beginning of January.

We are making our first forays into retail sales by offering customers some of the same specialty devices we provide here for certain drinks (such as french presses, the teapots we use, and mate gourds). The french presses seem to be a hit. The mate gourds are apparently a bit adventurous as gifts. It is quite a different part of the business from the coffee/espresso/tea thing, which we seem to have down pretty well now.

Sadly, our celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Grateful Dead's first concert was not the success we had hoped. Still, it was fun to hunt down some rare live recordings, including a short 1968 concert from right here on Haight Street, and our open mic MC Diamond Dave had some great first-hand accounts of being here on the scene when the Grateful Dead got started. We are going to try to publicize better and do another Grateful Dead event in January.

Hopefully we will do a little better keeping up with this blog. Apologies to those who have checked in and found nothing over the past month.

And Happy Holidays!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Game Night?

A couple of customers have suggested that we start hosting a game night at CTTP. This sounds like a great idea to us, but we're not sure how to handle the logistics. To begin with, what day of the week should the event be held? Friday and Saturday nights are generally booked, but we could do it any other night of the week. The next dilemma has to do with hours. Sunday through Thursday we close at 8 pm. This means that if we start at 6 pm (realistically the earliest time in the evening people can be expected to arrive after work) that only leaves two hours for games. Finally, there's the question of what games to play. Should we just open it up to whatever people want to do on any given night or should we plan to host particular games on particular nights?

So there you have it. We want to host a game night, but we don't know how. All suggestions on this matter are welcome.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Riot Folk Convergence Update

Plans for Saturday's big event are shaping up nicely. A few bands and features have been added since our last post. The schedule thus far is as follows:

2:00 - 5:00 Riot Folk (Set #1)
5:00 - 5:45 Games in the Panhandle
6:00 - 6:15 Justin Clifford Rhody
6:50 - 7:20 Bookends
7:20 - 7:50 This One's On Me
7:50 - 8:10 Lia Rose
8:10 - 9:30 Riot Folk (Set #2)
9:30 - 10:00 Lava Lava with Spoonboy & Amina from DC

Also expected at some point are David and the Bear and Keith Knight (creator of the K Chronicles). Additional information about Bookends and This One's on Me can be found at Fall of the West Records.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Cop Vandalizes Coffee to the People

If you've ever been to CTTP, you know that we have a large wall in the middle of the store covered with progressive bumperstickers. They say things like, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism," ""War doesn't show who's right, just who's left," and "Ignore your rights and they'll go away." In the interests of building community, we invite visitors to contribute their own stickers to the wall as well. Recent additions by the public include, "Paint the tv black" and "There are no terrorists. We are being manipulated with hate." All in all, we have been very pleased with the response to the wall. People generally seem to understand the sentiment involved and don't post hateful or inappropriate speech. That is, until this weekend.

The first thing we noticed was the sticker which read, "Junior SFPD officer." That's strange, we said. That's not in keeping with the spirit of the wall. That's not representative of the beliefs of our customers. Besides, who, other than a child, would have a sticker like that? We shrugged it off and took the sticker down.

The next day an SFPD officer came to our shop and sheepishly explained that he had written on our wall. We looked and there it was. On the "Support your local revolution" sticker, he had crossed out revolution and written in "police".

Needless to say, we were appalled. For months people have been warning us about leaving our bathrooms unlocked because of the danger of vandals and telling us we should have bars on our windows and doors at night because of graffiti, but in the end it turns out it's the cops, not the people who consititute the greatest threat in our neighborhood.

So, why'd the cop fess up? It turns out that he was bragging about his escapades to his fellow officers and someone had the good sense to see this could turn into a public relations nightmare. His senior officer visited the shop later and apologized for the incident. He even took pictures of the defaced wall and filed a formal report.

Fortunately, the sticker cleaned up pretty nicely and you can't really tell what happened unless you look at it up close. Still, we plan to be much more vigilant when the SFPD visits from now on.

Monday, November 07, 2005

VOTE TOMORROW


Tomorrow is Election Day, and we encourage everyone to vote. If you happen to live around Coffee to the People, in our Political Action Center we have posted all the people running for office and their websites as well as a brief summary of all the propositions on the ballot (there are almost 20 altoghether).

Several of these propositions are very important: Prop 75 would restrict political use of union dues, Prop 76 would cut school spending and give the Governor increased power to make budget cuts, and Prop 77 would change the way our redistricting is done, which could in turn impact the make-up of our state legislature and our electors for Presidential elections. Prop 73 would require doctors to tell parents whenever a minor seeks an abortion. And these aren't the only major propositions. So even though people aren't running for President or even Congress, this is a very important election.

If you can't stop by the coffehouse, you can also obtain key information from the San Francisco Department of Elections and the Secretary of State Elections Division.

VOTE!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Riot-Folk Convergence!



On Saturday, November 19th Coffee to the People will host the 2nd Riot-Folk Convergence in celebration of the first anniversary of the troupe's creation.

The event will run from 1 pm until 10 pm and will feature all eight Riot-Folk members: Kate Boverman, Ryan Harvey, Tom Frampton, Mark Gunnery, Evan Greer, Anna Roland, Ethan Miller, and Brenna Shatjian. This will be the first time the entire troupe has been together since April. Activities for the day will include music, political discussions, and an hour or so of games in the panhandle of Golden Gate Park.

In addition, Riot-Folk will be joined by four other excellent music groups: Lava Lava (from Bloomington, IN), Bookends (from Santa Cruz), This One's on Me (from SF), and David Jaberi (from SF).

Although attendance is technically free, we will be requesting a sliding scale donation of $3 to $10 to benefit groups in Buenos Aires, Argentina fighting against the FTAA. Anyone who makes a contribution will receive a 10% discount on food and beverages they purchase at CTTP during the event.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween

Halloween snuck up on me this year, as Karin & I had a rare vacation last week hiking around Yosemite. By the way, I think Yosemite may have a park-wide contract with Seattle's Best. I'm not a fan. Anyone want to start a petition to get this national park to carry organic, fair trade coffee instead?

With the arrival of Halloween, we are heading into "specialty drink season" in the coffeehouse business. I think we are trying out two drinks today: a Monster Mocha and a Monster Matcha Mocha. Matcha is the traditional Japanese tea ceremony green tea that is made with crushed leaves that form a dissolving powder instead of leaves to steep. Mixing it with the chocolate creates a kind of chocolate mint flavor. We are employing orange and black sprinkles to dress the drinks up.

If anyone has any favorite seasonal coffee or tea drinks (whether for Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas), send your suggestions along and we will think about adding it to our offerings.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Harreit Miers - Fellow Blogger

Did you know that in addition to all of her hard work answering questionnaires, and then answering them again, that Harriet Miers also works hard to keep up with her very own blog? Harriet Miers' Blog

It is always good to know that if the whole Supreme Court thing doesn't work out, she'll always have blogging to fall back on.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Missed Connection

Earlier this week on Craig's List there was a sweet little posting about a missed connection here at Coffee to the People. The note was written on 10/8 and it said:

Coffee to the People on Masonic this morning - w4m - 30 (haight ashbury)

You commented on my dancing. We smiled a few times. Maybe next time we're there, we can have coffee together. Do you live in the neighborhood?

Let's see if we can help these potential lovers find each other. Click here to respond.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Sundays - Try something new

Karin & I try to taste everything we offer at Coffee to the People, if not before we offer it, then shortly thereafter. Sundays always make for a good day to try new things, especially a Sunday like today when the sun is shining and the temperature is perfect (very rare for San Francisco). Today's treat was the chocolate cupcake with icing. Small, but very tasty. This is the kind of little gem that takes you by surprise.

This got me to thinking that we could do a better job of letting people know about all variety of options we developed here to serve up coffees and teas. We must figure out a better way to advertise these options without inundating guests with signage.

For example, in addition to getting a "cup of coffee," at Coffee to the People you can get single cup brew of any coffee we offer for the same price. Very fresh. The only drawback is that it takes about three minutes, so you don't enjoy quite the same instant gratification. But isn't that what Sunday is for? We do all of out decaf one cup at a time using the pour over method, both because the demand for decaf isn't high enough to brew a half gallon at a time (we will not keep any brewed coffee for more than an hour), and because it seems to get better flavor out of the decaf.

My personal favorite is to get the coffee in a french press. You get 2-3 cups of coffee from our french presses (they are the 1 liter size), and french pressing the coffee is one of the best ways to get the full flavor out of the coffee. Again, that way you can get any of the coffees we have.

I do see people getting these once in a while, but I think if people tried it we would have many more people getting the single cup pour over or french press brewed coffees.

On the tea front, we offer two very unusual services that I have not seen at other coffeehouses, too. First, we offer pots of "blooming tea," which, as the name suggests, are flowering buds that bloom while they steep. We have these cool little glass pots so you can see the bloom unfurl while your tea steeps.

Second, if you like chai, have these chai bowls with metal strainer straws that maximize the extraction. It's a very communal, hippy thing because people often share and pass the chai bowl around.

Anyway, we do have a little menu board where we rotate items for emphasis, but I think there has got to be a better way to get people onto these options. Are is it the comfort of habit that keeps people with "the usual"? I'm thinking of starting a Sunday experiental thing, where we offer heavily discounted items to get people to try something new.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Dust Redux

Well, after our earlier false alarms, the roofing people actually did come this week and do the first half of their skylight replacement job. Talk about loud. The first morning was especially bad and drove a lot of our guests away. It had to be done, though. When we moved into this location, the walls under the skylight had bubbled up from water running into them from the broken skylight. Fortunately, having finally showed up the roofing crew was in and out in three days. More fortunately the skylight is not over our service area, so we did not have to shut down completely during that time.

But now the waiting begins while someone custom-makes the replacement. Meanwhile, our sunny living room is a little more cave-like (they temporarily replaced the skylight with plywood). I think they said something like six weeks. Ugh. Any suggestions on how to make that area more attractive (other than add more lights, we figured that one out) are welcome.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Sticky fingers

We seem to be having a rash of thefts around here. First it was the tip jar, then it was the poster, after that it was the floor mat, and now it's the Scrabble game. Of these, the only one that makes sense to me is the theft of the tip jar. At least that was worth something. But the rest?

I find the missing floor mat especially baffling. It was a big black industrial mat. Why would anyone want that for their home? And how did they take it without anyone noticing? And, it's not as if this was a victimless crime: Megan slipped and injured herself twice after the mat was taken!

If anyone out there has an old Scrabble game they would like to donate to the shop, we would be greatly obliged.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Do you Yelp?

I discovered this new website within the last month called Yelp. It is a community review website based in San Francisco. So far the site covers about 25 cites,* and if you live in one of those places it is very worthwhile.

So far, Coffee to the People has fared well. If you have been to Coffee to the People, and you really like it (say, maybe "5-star" kind of like it), then it would be great if you could post a review. Here is the link to our site: Coffee to the People on Yelp.

Of course, if you think our place is not so hot, you are free to say that, too. We are big supporters of the 1st Amendment.

*When I first posted this I thought they were only in five cities, but it looks like they more like 25 cites (and counting?). I think if your city is not listed, you may be able to start the directory for your city.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Warhol meets Fight Club?

My sister told me that earlier today a woman fell down on the sidewalk somewhere on Haight Street and scraped her face up a fair amount. She came into the shop for help. Apparently, all we have are bandages with Blue from Blue's Clues all over them. We provided some first aid, but she left looking a bit like a pop art piece. Part of me feels bad for her; part of me wishes we had a picture. So be careful out there on the street, and if you do take a tumble, be forewarned that help from us may end up making you look like a children's show display.

Friday, September 23, 2005

We really mean it!

So I was cruising the blog world, trying to get a sense of what people are saying about Coffee to the People, when I discovered that there is a small, but vocal crowd of cynics out there insinuating that the political orientation of our shop is some kind of marketing gimmick rather than an authentic act of progressive political activism (see mao, xcorpuscristix, fruitcakebear, et al). As somebody who has spent most of my life working on political causes that I care about (during the 1990's I interned for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, managed a congressional campaign, and worked for the Women's Campaign Fund; more recently, I founded the UCSF Mental Health Advocacy Group and I currently volunteer on a number of political issues from anti-war to mental health), I am a tad offended. Still, I understand that this is partly a sign of the times--Americans these days (especially young Americans) tend to be highly suspicious of political activism in any form and are quick to assume that it is motivated purely by greed or personal ambition.

Allow me to set the record straight. When my family and I opened Coffee to the People, my primary goal was to create a coffeeshop that would serve as a center for progressive political activism within our community. While Bob and Megan concerned themselves with the business end of things (i.e., ensuring we made good coffee and could afford to stay open), I focused on creating an environment that would inspire people to get involved in making their world a better place. If you come to our shop you will find that everywhere you look there are portraits of people who have changed things for the better through political action: Susan B. Anthony, Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez, John Muir, and many, many more. There are also inspirational quotations about the power of individuals and groups to effect change. My favorite is this one from Anne Frank: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." On the tables we have created collages of visual artifacts from important social movements in American history. For example, we have tables dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Suffrage Movement, and the Free Speech Movement.

Obviously, while words and pictures can set the tone for political activism, getting people to take real meaningful action requires a great deal more. That's why we try to offer people all kinds of ways to get involved in our community. To begin with, we offer only fair trade and organic coffee, giving people the opportunity to make environmentally sound choices in their daily lives. Second, once we make a profit (as of this writing we are still very much in the red) we will donate 1% to 1% for the Planet and 4% to Global Exchange. Third, we have a section of our store dedicated to educating the public about important political events. Currently, we are featuring a display in support of the Muni Social Strike. The display also includes information about how to contact your elected officials--all the way from the Board of Supervisors to the President of the United States. Fourth, we give 10 - 15% food and beverage discounts to progressive political organizations that want to use our shop as a meeting place (and we don't charge any kind of rental fee). Finally, we make our shop available for public forums on important political issues. Last month, for example, Jeff Ott spoke about the war on terrorism and the organizers of the Muni Social Strike gave a presentation encouraging people to get involved.

Call me an idealist, but I believe the work we do at Coffee to the People is socially and politically important. I also believe that we are an excellent model for how socially-responsible businesses should conduct themselves. For those who would question our motives and our effectiveness I ask, what have you done lately to make the world a better place?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The lawyer does some REAL work for a change

I'm one of the owners of Coffee to the People, but I don't work there, or I should say, I didn't before today. My sister Megan runs the place day to day. I'm one a' them fancy, high-priced downtown lawyer types... usually. But a sudden disappearance of one of our prized full-time employees left us down a person, so I donned an apron and did my first shift as a barista today.

Nothing gives you an appreciation for the work someone else does like trying it for yourself. For a literary reference, see the part of To Kill a Mockingbird about walking around in someone's shoes.

It was quite a morning. The first thing I thought when I woke up at 4:45 am was "Whose dumb idea was it to open the shop at 6 am in the morning?" But of course it was mine. I got into the shop at 5:15 am and got to work. Giorgio, one of our prized part-time baristas, was there and was very polite and patient, but suffice it to say I could use a little more training. We're a very laid back, hippy kind of place to the customers, but behind the scenes we run a tight ship.

I was in constant motion the entire time until I was relieved shortly after 9 am to make my way downtown to my "other" job. During my shift I spent most of the time working the register, and some of the time making drinks. I've used real equipment to make myself cappuccinos before, but never "professionally." My apologies to anyone who might have felt their soy matcha lattes, half-caf low-fat hazelnut mochas, and other assorted beverages were not up to our usual standards.

But the time flew, and I had a blast. Not that you'll see me behind the counter again anytime soon. I need more practice first. I may never look at my medium one-Splenda cappuccino the same way again.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

All organic parfait

We have been working hard to expand our food options at COFFEE TO THE PEOPLE. It is a lot more challenging than I expected to find quality organic ingredients at an affordable price. Our latest creation is a very tasty all organic yogurt parfait made with Stonyfield yogurt, bananas, strawberries, and granola. Currently we charge $3.95 for a 12 oz. serving, but I think that might be a little low, particularly when one considers the labor involved. Bob and Megan point out that other places charge about the same for their yogurt parfaits, but those aren't organic. I suspect people will be willing to pay a little bit more for our organic products because they know they cost more to produce. Still, it's very hard to know what that proper price point is.

Any feedback on this issue would be greatly appreciated. What do customers think is fair? What are other businesses charging for organic yogurt parfaits?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Hope it doesn't rain

So, as I feared the skylight hasn't been fixed after all. In fact, the people who are supposed to fix it never even came by to look at it. I'm not sure who I should be angrier at--the roofers for refusing to do the work they have contracted to do or our landlord for hiring these guys in the first place. The only good news is that our furniture is back to normal.

Cross your fingers and hope it doesn't rain. I have no idea when this work is actually going to get done, so we may all be getting wet soon. . .

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Pardon our mess

We have a lovely skylight over the living room portion of the shop. But it leaks. And while it's not raining now, we know that eventually the rain will come and all of the remodeling we did of that area will be destroyed. So, despite the inconvenience, this week we moved the furniture out of that nook to make room for the roofer--only, the roofer didn't show!

Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad if yesterday had been like most Mondays--slow, slow, slow. But instead the shop was jumping (probably because City College, USF, and UCSF are back in session).

Ideally we would have had this work done before we opened, but our landlord kept balking at the cost of repairing the skylight (every estimate was "too high") and he kept procrastinating until we had no choice but to open.

Our landlord has assured us that the work will be done by Friday (Saturday and Sunday are our busiest days so we can't afford to have the work continue over the weekend). I'll believe it when I see it.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Our first review!

I'm so excited. I Googled "Coffee to the People" today and found our first review. The review was posted online at Melbourne Cafe Reviews by John Martin (thanks, whoever you are) on the 22nd of August. We received a rating of 17 out of 20 and here's what he said:

Very cool, laidback, spacious. Small circular wooden tables painted pink. Comfy lounges in alcove. Orange and pink walls. Olive ceiling. Light floods in during the summer afternoon. People sit at laptops - one guy writes in a notebook. A sign is set in our table, "Not in our name. No ware on Iraq. No war on the world." Other
signs on walls - "Children should be seen and heard and believed," "Little by little one walks far," "It is only to the individual a soul is given."

I had a short black, $1.50. All coffees come in "small" (12 oz) "medium" (16 oz) or "large" (20 oz) and priced accordingly. Only fair trade coffee is used. My s.b.
was strong in flavour, good crema, good temperature.

Only had a choc chip cookie for $1.50. This was large, soft, fresh and good val. Snacks were also available, but we only came for a coffee.

You order and pay at the counter. You collect your own food and beverage. Costs as above. Excellent value.

Needless to say, we are very proud.


A couple of political jokes

I made these up. You will have to pretend someone funny is performing the delivery. Jon Stewart?

Joke #1: President Bush finally realized that Hurricane Katrina is a national tragedy on par with September 11. So he immediately declared war on nature.

Joke #2: Then Cheney had to remind him they declared war on nature as soon as they got to the White House.

Oh, since I am posting this on the Coffee to the People blog, I should say it doesn't necessarily reflect the views, or humor, of the coffeehouse. Although I think I still would have thought these jokes were funny even if I liked Bush. Which I am not saying I don't. But I don't.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Mousetrap (The game)

The other night Bob and I were watching Stella, a hilarious new show on Comedy Central, when we got an idea for the coffeeshop. In this episode "the guys" decide they need a new place to hang out, so they find a local coffeehouse and set up camp--literally. In the worst possible free-loader way, they drink instant coffee brought in thermoses from home, sleep on the couches, make "cinnamon milk" from complementary condiments, take baths in the restroom, etc. Having encountered all of these things in one form or another at our shop, we thought the show was hysterical. The part of the show that inspired us, however, was a scene in which the guys play the game Mousetrap.

Our original vision for the coffeeshop had always included games--chess, checkers, backgammon, dominoes--with tables large enough to make game playing possible. But it wasn't until we saw this episode of Stella that we really started to think about all of the game possibilities out there. The next weekend we went to toy stores in our area and started buying games by the cart-load--Boggle, Yahtzee, Parcheesi, Sorry, Chinese Checkers, Settlers of Catan, Mousetrap, and more.

So far, all of the games are a hit. Go into our store any evening and you will find at least one group of people relaxing in our "living room" (that's what we call the area with the couches and arm chairs and coffee tables) with a friendly game of one kind or another. What's surprised me is how rarely we see people playing chess (the classic cafe game) compared to how often we see people playing Mousetrap. Adults and children alike have been known to squeal with delight when they see Mousetrap sitting on our shelves. There's just something about that game that captures people's imaginations.

As it turns out, though, Mousetrap is a much better game in theory than it is in reality. As far as I know, no one has actually finished a game because it's so darn complicated. Still, they seem to appreciate that it's there, even if they can't actually play it.

If anybody has a recommendation for other games we should carry, let me know.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Marijuana Brownies

I've already mentioned our open bathroom policy and some of its troublesome consequences. This one is just amusing (and a little gross). There is a woman who sells homemade marijuana-filled brownies on Haight Street. (She doesn't say that's what they are and I haven't tried them myself, but why else would people buy them?) Anyway, she's gotten into the habit of using our restroom every time she needs to relieve herself. And here's the gross part--she takes the brownies with her into the bathroom! I know I've said our bathroom is clean, but come on.

So, next time you're looking to buy marijuana brownies in the Haight, keep this in mind.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Worried about our visitors from New Orleans

We keep a journal in the shop so people always have a place to express themselves when they're here. I love reading what they write. Hundreds of people pass through COFFEE TO THE PEOPLE every week and their intimate statements in our little brown book make me feel like I actually get to know them a little bit.

Today I was reading through the journal and came across an undated entry from the father of a family visiting from New Orleans. The essay contains no reference to Hurricane Katrina, so I have to assume that it was written before the terrible events of this week. I can only hope that this family made it out safely. In their honor, I am excerpting the entry here:

. . . I always write from the back of the journal. You do have a wonderful coffee shop (a peaceful, comfy spot away from the storm of everyday life) and I'm glad my 2 daughters found you. We are visiting from New Orleans. I love your weather--it is hot at home! San Francisco is a great city--very unique like New Orleans.

I am from the "hippie generation" so I'm enjoying "experiencing" Haight-Ashbury. I wasn't a real hippie--just pretended to be one.

This journal is really great. I loved reading it. It seems that many of the writers are sharing their views on life--so here's mine. After being alive for 53 years, married (to the same person!) 30 years, 4 children (2 girls, 2 boys), and having experienced much of life, I have found "the peace that passes all understanding." There is only one answer, one way. Believe me, I've tried everything (almost) else. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. He's also the light in a very dark world. Go to him. . .

The rest is proselytizing, but you get the point. Anyway, I'd just like to know how this family is doing. I'm glad we were able to give them some moments of peace before hell descended upon their home.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Riot-Folk Performs at Open Mic Night

We had a great open mic show last night. The event was hosted by WiseProof and other members of the Goddess Alchemy Project (www.goddessalchemyproject.com) who describe themselves as "poets of a new dawn, singers of a new song". The night featured some great singing, poetry, and political commentary. Among the performers were Diamond Dave Whitaker, Contajus, Charles Pitts, Riot-Folk and many more.

I particularly enjoyed Riot-Folk, who treated us to a trivia game in addition to their quirky tunes. If you're not familiar with Riot-Folk, they are a collective of radical musicians acting as an anti-profit record label/performance troupe. They are "participating in the resistance by writing and distributing music that teaches, provokes, heals, and inspires." You can download their music for free at
www.riotfolk.org. Rumor has it they may be coming to San Francisco for an extended stay. If so, we'd love to have them join us at COFFEE TO THE PEOPLE any time.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Somebody stole our poster

One aspect of COFFEE TO THE PEOPLE that makes me very proud is our unlocked bathroom policy. As far as I know, we are the only place in the Haight where you can go to the bathroom without asking permission first. It doesn't make our staff happy, but our customers love it.

The problem, of course, is that a lot of non-customers use our bathroom too. Even this wouldn't be so bad, except that because all the other places in the neighborhood lock people out, we're the only place to go. It's your basic collection action dilemma. If we all did it, things would work great, but when only a handful of places do it, it's a mess. So, during our busiest times we sometimes end up with a line to the bathroom.

On the bright side, despite dire warnings from everybody with experience in the business about what would happen if we unlocked our bathroom, ours happens to be one of the cleanest restrooms in the Haight. That's partly because Megan is very fastidious about this sort of thing, but I also have to give credit to the people of the neighborhood who seem to be behaving themselves. So far, the only graffiti is a single word ("lorax") written on the plunger.

Nonetheless, we did have a theft from our bathroom the other day. There used to be a colorful poster on the wall that listed simple things everyone can do to help build community. Things like smile at your neighbor, look people in the eye when you walk down the street, try to see life from the perspectives of others, etc. It wasn't especially valuable, but it was cute and I thought the sentiment was laudable. Alas, in an act of extreme irony somebody swiped the poster from the bathroom. I miss it. If you or someone you know has it, please bring it back. No questions asked.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Upcoming Events

Every Friday we have an open mike night at COFFEE TO THE PEOPLE called "Hold the Phone!" It starts at 7:30 and goes until we close at 10:00. Last week I was blown away by the quality and diversity of the performances.

This Saturday we will feature a special acoustic concert with This Is My Fist (www.thisismyfist.com), Love Songs (www.thelovesongs.com), and Abi YoYos (www.abiyoyos.com). The show will start at 7 pm.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Haight Street Fair

Enough about how it all started. Let's start talking about the wacky and wonderful goings on.

COFFEE TO THE PEOPLE had originally intended to open its doors in time for the annual Haight Street Fair so that we could take advantage of the free exposure (over 100,00 people attend the fair annually). Due to construction delays, however, we weren't ready on the day of the fair and so we were largely excluded from participating. Still, we did manage to pull together a little promotional activity in front of the store where we gave away free bags of chocolate-covered espresso beans. It was great to start meeting people in the neighborhood and we were able to generate some anticipatory exitement.

The event also gave us our first taste of some of the more peculiar aspects of being a business in the Haight. Two events were particularly memorable. The first involved a man dressed in a Star Wars costume and carrying a plastic light saber who wanted us to give him one of the balloons we were using to decorate the shop. Since we only had a few balloons and we needed them to draw attention to the store, we told him no, but that he could take as many balloons as he wanted at the end of the day. Apparently, this offer was not sufficient because he kept coming back and asking again every hour or so, growing increasingly demanding and angry until at one point he started cursing me for my stinginess. Shortly thereafter we discovered the balloons were missing, having been stolen while we were talking with some of our other visitors.

In another strange incident that same day, a rather scruffy looking man (scruffy even by Haight standards) paused in front of our shop, opened his backpack, and pulled out a giant bottle of propane and a cigarette lighter. Thinking we were about to be firebombed, I jumped back and demanded to know what he was doing. Fortunately, it turned out he was *just* filling his lighter. How's that for strange?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

How it all began. . . (Part 3)

Ultimately, COFFEE TO THE PEOPLE turned out a lot different from other coffeeshops because of my involvement. While I continued to let Bob and Megan worry about the coffee and the money, I worked on the theme. Since we had already committed ourselves to being a values-led business, the next logical step, I decided, was to carry that message into our decor.

The slogan for COFFEE TO THE PEOPLE is "Empowerment. In a cup." because we empower people by giving them choices that are environmentally and socially responsible. I wanted to make that message of empowerment and responsibility extant in everything we did, so I decorated the shop with posters of leaders of great progressive social movments from history--Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony, Mahatma Gandhi, etc.-- and inspiring quotations on the importance of social activism. To mix it up a bit, I also covered one wall with progressive bumperstickers. To help people become more politically involved, I set up a "community action center" where we post information about current events and tell people how to contact their elected representatives.

At first I was anxious about how people would react to seeing such a strong political message in a place of business, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It might not work everywhere, but in the Haight people seem to appreciate the sentiment.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

How it all began. . . (Part 2)

From the beginning, I tried to keep my distance from the coffeeshop enterprise, determined to be an owner on paper only. I declined coffee tastings and lessons in the art of cupping. I didn't want to hear about all of the different types of beans or roasters or brewing equipment. I didn't care about the relative caffeine content of coffee and tea. And most of all, I wanted to know nothing about the money--where it came from or where it went-- that was for someone else to worry about. But as time went on, no matter how hard I fought it, I found myself being sucked into the coffeeshop vortex.

One major reason I couldn't extricate myself from the process of building the business was because of the parameters I set on the project at the outset. I told Bob that I didn't want us to profit in any way from the pollution of the environment or the exploitation of workers. If we went ahead with the business, all of the coffee had to be organic and fair trade, and our employees had to receive a livable wage, health insurance, and opportunities for profit sharing. In addition, we had to give back to our community in the form of charitable contributions to progressive organizations. To his credit, Bob quickly agreed with all of these demands even though he knew they would make it more difficult to get the business off the ground. As a result, COFFEE TO THE PEOPLE became a values-led enterprise and I suddenly found myself in the role of guardian of those values.

The second reason I got so involved in the business is that I took nearly a year off from school following the birth of my third son, Leo. With no need to study I had more free time than usual and I started helping out with various projects. Eventually, theose projects metamorphosed into me handling all of the interior decorating of the shop (a laughable result since I know nothing about interior decoration beyond what I've learned from watching "Trading Spaces").



Friday, August 26, 2005

How it all began. . . (Part 1)

I never intended to open a coffeeshop. To begin with, I am not the entrepreneurial type. I hate worrying about money. I hate selling things. I never read the business section of the newspaper. I don't even like capitalism. Beyond that, I don't have the time to own a business. As a medical student and the mother of three small boys, the only time I expected to spend in a coffeehouse was while hovered over my books, studying. But my husband, Bob, had different ideas.

Bob has always had a strange entrepreneurial impulse that I can't comprehend. Apparently, being a high-powered litigator at a major law firm doesn't satisfy his need for new challenges. When he started his own online service for attorneys (www.megalaw.com) I thought that might be enough, but after that was up and running he started talking about opening a retail business--first a bar, then a pizza parlor. Fortunately, I nixed the first idea and other family members nixed the second. I told him the only type of retail business I would ever be comfortable with was books or coffee.

For awhile, as our family grew, Bob stopped talking about starting another business and I began to think he had wisely given up this particular dream, but it resurfaced when his sister, Megan, came to live with us during my first year of medical school. At the time, Megan was a recent college graduate having trouble deciding what to do with her life. She had spent some time working in coffeeshops, which she enjoyed, and she and Bob began to discuss the possibility of opening a place together. Eventually they worked out an agreement where he (we) along with other family members would provide the financing and she would provide the management.

For the next year they wholeheartedly threw themselves into the coffee business while I tried to quell my anxieties about the project. Megan went off to Starbucks for a year of intensive barista and coffeeshop management training and Bob began to learn everything there is to know about the world of coffee. Although I still wasn't keen on opening a business, at least it was only a coffeeshop. Besides, I liked the idea of helping Megan get a start in life.