Tuesday, September 1, 2009

the build up to the buildout

It's been a busy time - lots getting done, lots to do. So much, in fact, that I started this post about a week ago, and am just getting around to finishing it now.

I've been working on furniture and interior decor quite a bit - sanding tabletops and putting together tables, scouring the salvage yards for the rest of the stuff I need. I found some old laminated beams that I think will make good sitting bars, also a couple old cast iron sinks that I think will become planters.

I've also meeting a lot of neighborhood folks. I've talked with neighborhood associations in the area, businesses up and down the Avenue, the senior center across the street, schools, and just people. I've been collecting letters of recommendation from anyone I can to submit to the city supporting the case for my beer and wine permit - I don't want to take the chance of paying several thousand dollars and getting my permit denied. Also, without being able to serve alcohol, it will be hard for me to sustain nighttime business, which frankly is one of the most important aspects of the Cafe - there are so few non-bar places in Oakland where folks can go at night to socialize, and I really want to be able to serve that need for the local neighborhood and for the city at large. Thanks specifically to SPAGGIA, the West Alcatraz Neighborhood Association, Triple Point Co-Housing, and Civicorps Elementary School - all of whom have already given me letters of support. Still more are coming.

And, by the way, the reactions I've been getting from the community have been really incredible - everyone I talk to is excited to have the Cafe in the neighborhood, and is really eager to help. This makes me more excited about what I'm doing, and confident that I'm on the right track - that people really want a place like the Cafe to exist and thrive.

On that note, a special shout out goes to Xtracycle (www.xtracycle.com) - makers of longtail bicycle conversion kits and rack systems. Their HQ is a mere three blocks from the Cafe, and when I approached them for support, they jumped in with both feet. When I told them I wanted the Cafe to be as car-free as possible, they offered me a Radish (http://bit.ly/XTGGe) to use in the Cafe for running errands, doing deliveries and such! I'm picking it up tomorrow (yay!), so I can actually use it during construction, and see how well it holds up under the abuse of hauling building materials and tools. They also donated a commercial fridge, which I'll use to store backstock of beer and wine. Totally awesome company, and great folks. I'm glad they're in the neighborhood.

I've also gotten great support from the folks at the East Bay Bike Coalition (ebbc.org), who have been connecting me with all sorts of useful resources, and brainstorming various ways for us to work together. I'm really excited to partner with them - their work for bike accessibility really meshes well with the Cafe's vision of bike-friendliness. More to come as we figure out details.

Alfie at eShutter Creative (http://eshutter.com) has been working on graphic design for the Cafe for a few weeks now, and finished a final logo, color scheme, and business card layout last week. I think they look incredible, and I hope you all agree. He starts on web design this week - the website (which I did myself in the very early days of planning the business) needs an overhaul. I'm looking forward to what we come up with. Should be rolling out in a couple weeks.

Online fans are over 200 now, between blog and twitter followers and facebook fans. Word is continuing to spread about the Cafe, and I've picked up some local bloggers and community groups as followers in the past couple weeks who I'm hoping will have good things to say about the Cafe when the time is right.

Of course, there's always a cloud under the silver lining...I'm stalled again at the City of Oakland. What I thought was a done deal related to occupancy and floor plan of the Cafe got kicked back at the last possible moment with a requirement to add a second rest room. At this point in the process, that's a really hard thing to do. Not only did I give away a bunch of floor space to trash storage during the early phases of occupancy discussions, I've bought furniture and equipment, and paid architects many thousands of dollars to design the most efficient use of the remaining space in the Cafe, and taking more floor space away will really hurt. It will cost additional design money, additional construction money, and take maybe a quarter of my seating area away. I'm working with my architect to negotiate our way through, but I'm not confident that resolution will go my way.

Also, banks suck. No need for details.

I realized a couple weeks ago that this process is a lot like making a baby - my influence over the finished product diminishes inversely with the amount of time spent. I've had a really strong vision for what the Cafe would be, and that vision has evolved over time. But, as with any project of this size, I rely on others for various pieces of the job, and they bring their own sensibilities to what gets done. This only gets more dramatic once we open our doors. We'll have employees who will be making food and drinks and interacting with customers. There will (I hope) be lots more customers than employees in the place at any given time, and they (you) will contribute much more to the atmosphere of the Cafe than anything I could do. Sure, the decor will be a certain way, and the menu will have certain things on it, but that's not what's most important about the character of a place. It's the people inside that really make it. And that's exciting. Especially if the folks I'm interacting with now become loyal customers - you guys are all pretty awesome, actually. Actually.

I can't wait to start construction. I can't wait to be open. I can't wait to meet each and every one of you over the counter, and see the Cafe grow up and crash its car and get drunk and married and have babies of its own.

Stay tuned - more soon.



  1. That's so cool about Xtracycle and their contributions. I'm so looking forward to seeing everything in a couple weeks. I feel like I already know the neighborhood.

    I hope you reach some acceptable (inexpensive) agreement over the extra bathroom. Politicians, can't live with 'em, can't ... Well I'll leave it at that ;-)

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