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.

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.