Wednesday, September 30, 2009

dusty, inside and out

It's been an exciting couple weeks. So exciting, in fact, that I haven't been able to find a free hour to sit down and write about it until now.

First, and best: we finally managed to get building permits last Thursday (not even a week ago). The city finally agreed that a single rest room was adequate, and everything past that was just paperwork, payments and formalities.

We broke ground on construction last Thursday as well. By the weekend, all the demolition had been done - concrete cut and trenches dug for new drain lines, sheetrock and framing torn out where needed. After one full week of construction (at the end of today), lots more is done. Framing of almost all interior walls is done. All the drains and sewer lines are installed and being tested. A whole lot of electrical stuff is done - most lights are wired, some switches are installed. Our first inspection is tomorrow (Health Department review of the rough plumbing), and more inspections will happen over the next several days.

My day is now full of various errands - running for construction supplies so I can keep the crew productive all day. When the crew goes home for the day, I'm working on countertops and other furniture. Emails and phone calls I try to squeeze in the early morning. And lots just doesn't get done every day. Which I'm pretty used to now.

I still haven't quite adjusted from the shift from waiting, negotiating and arguing and into doing. It feels a bit surreal now, watching the thing I've been imagining for so long starting to become really tangible - in concrete, iron, copper, and timber. It also reminds me that there are lots of other things that I now can't put off any longer - menu decisions have to be made, distributors selected, equipment ordered or bought. And hundreds of other little things that I can't even really think about right this second.

On the decor front, there's been some progress on counters - the laminated beams that I found at Heritage Salvage cleaned up really well with just a bit of sanding, and I've got one cut to size for the front window, and am in the process of finishing it and mounting it on legs. I hope to have it completely done by early next week. No pics yet, but I'll post a whole album when I've got it done.

Benches started with a bunch of busted up tongue-and-groove cedar boards I found at the ReStore in East Oakland - they cost me about $20 for 75 feet or so. Gerard and I spent a couple hours on Monday night cutting them into clean four-foot lengths, then gluing them together in three-board planks. I picked them up yesterday, gave them a light sanding, and have a couple coats of Varathane already on them. They're taking very little work, and are coming out really nicely. A bit rough around the edges, which I like, but also with lots of character. More pics to come.

Also, I posted pics last week of the newly-refurbed storefronts in the building next door.
There was a fire in the building a while back, and there's been a crew working on rebuilding the facades of the buildings for months now. I've had a few looks inside myself, but it was still a little surprising to see them finally unveiled when they took down the temporary plywood that had been covering them for all this time. They're covered in sort of classy-looking black and while porcelain tile, which gives the whole block a nice lift. One of the two spaces is an old take-out restaurant, so I'm hoping for another food place to move in. More options in the neighborhood is good for everyone, I think.

And, speaking of options, the cafe at the corner of 65th and San Pablo which, by the way, is called Tribu, is showing signs of imminent opening, adding to the cluster of restaurants and cafes stretching from Hollis to San Pablo on 65th, which will hopefully encourage people to venture off Hollis Street when they're looking for something to eat or drink in the neighborhood.

I had a nice moment at the end of the day on Friday, when I was sitting outside the Cafe at sunset, taking a break after the construction crew had left for the day. I watched people strolling up and down the block, checking out the newly uncovered storefronts, walking dogs, riding bikes. There were a couple schoolkids chasing each other down the sidewalk, laughing. And I had a vision of an evening not too far away, with folks sitting inside and outside the Cafe, enjoying the last bit of afternoon sun, feeling relaxed and safe and friendly. And I thought that this neighborhood is well overdue for that particular sort of love.

More soon (or as soon as I can manage, anyway)...


Monday, September 14, 2009

Can't we all just get along (with a single bathroom)?

Last week was another busy one, although the one big blocking problem is still blocking. I had a brief glimmer of hope on the City of Oakland front late last week, when I got an email from the Chief Building Official asking for some clarification on the history of my situation, which I provided. Unfortunately, this was followed by five days of City furlough, including the infamous Admissions Day (, and a two day workweek, during which I'm pretty sure nothing actually happened at the City, on my project or any other. So, it's back to the water on stone game starting today.

On the bright side, I have been using the extra time productively.

My tabletops are done, and they look pretty cool, I
think (judge for yourself). Certainly, they're a step up from the condition I got them in (below). All that's left to do is mount them on table bases. Next up is seating bars, which will be a bit hairy, since I'm cutting them out of 4"x 18" laminated beams, which are really heavy. One bar is 14' long, and the chunk of beam required probably weighs a good 300 pounds. I'm sure I'll figure it out, but I may need a bit more help with them than the tabletops. After the bars are done, I've got to make benches for the two booths by the front window, and my service counters (which will also be big and unwieldy). Fun stuff, especially since I have no real idea what I'm doing.

I also hired a contractor this week - Black Creek Builders. They're local kids that have really impressed me with their diligence at working through the bid, and their flexibility with their approach to the project. Hoping the actual work goes as well as the negotiation has. Oh, and that I can actually get permits and start work someday.

And - Sparkle Motion is almost ready to be unveiled. I've sort of alluded to it a couple times before, but since I've been working on it forever and it's been slow going I haven't been talking about it directly. I'll write a full post on it as soon as it's all the way done, but the short story is that it's a human-powered (bicycle driven) video jukebox. I was sort of inspired by the old penny-arcade mutoscope ( when I started the project: crank the handle, see a movie. In the case of Sparkle Motion, it's: pedal the bike, see a movie. It's made of a bunch of salvaged electronics, lumber, a salvaged bike, and some circuitry I had to build. I've also been collecting interesting and weird short video clips to play on the machine - I've got a pretty good collection, but I'm always looking for more. If anyone's got short (less than five minute) videos that you think would be cool played from a Gilligan's Island/Rube Goldberg/Fat Albert-style jukeboxy-kinda-thing, send 'em my way (Valladares - I'm talking to you!).

I've got a few more letters of support from neighborhood folks for my beer and wine permit review. Thanks to: the staff and residents of Sister Thea Bowman Manor and Percy Abram Jr. Senior Housing, Forthrite Printing and Brooks Jewelers. Still more coming.

I've also been having tons of fun on my new
Radish, thanks to the kind and generous folks at
Xtracycle. It's been really useful for hauling tools and materials. In fact, I've only had to use my car for the Cafe one time since I picked up the Radish, to carry a sheet of plywood. I'm told that I can get plywood on the Radish, so I'll try again next time I have to haul some. It's also really good at carrying coffee, as you can see.

I had a nice ride in the Solano Stroll parade yesterday with a bunch of Xtracycle riders. One of the guys who came out is a home inspector, and had a 9-foot ladder lashed onto one side of his bike. He was riding circles through the parade, and managed not to knock anyone down, which was pretty impressive, I thought.

I also made it to the Walk Oakland Bike Oakland ( Bike Love festival and swap meet. Ran into all sorts of folks, including the Cycles of Change bike shop guys. We're all talking about ways to partner on bike-related events and such in the neighborhood.

Stay tuned for updates on the rest room and construction schedule as soon as they break.

And, thanks for all the love!


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 ( - 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 ( 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 (, 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 ( 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.