Thursday, March 18, 2010

life goes on, and we build more stuff

Until just about an hour ago, I hadn't been keeping up with online comments to the blog (or anywhere else) lately - I've been busy actually running the Cafe. We hired a couple new folks (stop by and say hello to Rosy and Even), and are hiring more again. Business continues to grow, and the addition of new events (game nights on Sundays, craft nights on Thursdays), along with our Wednesday movies and First Friday parties isn't hurting. Inside the Cafe, it feels like we're doing all the right things.

But then, I did read the comments. And there are still a lot of people posting who don't like what we're doing. And I guess that's how it will be.

I'm still surprised at the vehemence of people who think that they have the right to have unfettered network access and a seat for as long as they want it for nothing more than the price of a cup of tea. They don't. Cafes are for-profit businesses, and will make decisions about the services they provide to their customers at least partly based on their revenue impacts. If I thought I'd make a lot more money by catering directly to laptop users, I might install more outlets, put in a faster internet connection, add printers, sell subscription wifi - whatever. Lots of Cafes do this already. Instead, I made a different decision, by limiting the available outlets, and restricting laptop use on the weekends to try to create another kind of environment. I believed that there were enough people who would appreciate this to support the business. This was done consciously, and is achieving the desired effect. If it weren't, I'd change it.

Enough dead-horsing. I don't want the entire online conversation about the Cafe to be about our laptop policy. It feels like time to move on to some other things. are some other things:

We just finalized the calendar for our next art show. On April 2 (the first Friday in April), we'll be having a little party for the opening of Dave Glass's exhibit titled 'Oakland: Study in Contradiction'. for more on that. Great photos from Oakland in the 70s and 80s, along with great music, etc.

We're launching our craft night THIS VERY NIGHT! I asked customers and fans what sort of activities they'd like to see in the Cafe, and got lots of great suggestions. Craft night is the one that I got from the most people, and the one that people went out of their way to track me down and talk to me about. So, it's on. Come check it out. I'd like to add some workshoppy-sorta things as we go forward, so if you're interested in teaching or participating in a particular workshop, let us know. We'll do our best to accomodate.

We're also starting to think pretty hard about doing music on a more frequent basis than just monthly. This is a bit challenging for us because of the layout of the space, but we'll figure something out. If you're playing music or want to recommend someone to play here, please tell us so.

We're also shifting our menu out of winter things and into spring ones. We've got a really delicious roasted asparagus soup on today, and have swapped out strawberries for pears in our fruit palette. We're experimenting with more syrups, and have turned out pretty great cucumber and mint ones this week. We're also making fresh limeade along with our fresh lemonade.

I've also been noodling on extending our hours on Monday and Tuesday (and maybe Sunday too), now that the sun is up a bit later. Stay tuned for more.

And, we'll be a morning energizer station for EBBC's Bike to Work Day:

Speaking of which - now that all you cyclists are out on the roads in the nice weather, stop by and say 'hello'. Maybe I'll actually see you out on the road someday soon.

Gotta run and pay the bills.



  1. Roasted Asparagus soup - that's sounds scrumptious!

    I'd love to teach a craft class ... but you know how far away I live :-)

  2. Straw man.

    You are WILLFULLY misrepresenting the argument; nobody is claiming that you, as proprietor, have no right to enforce a wifi or laptop policy on the financial grounds (people paying for a cup of coffee and staying all day). Of _course_ you have that right, as long as it's made explicit and clear to patrons what the policy is.

    What people are objecting to is your sanctimonious, hypocritical puffery about laptops/technologoy/lalalawhatever keeping people apart. Or whatever, I've never actually gotten a clear sense of what your problem actually *is*, so I can only conclude you're just out for publicity. Fine.

    But, at the end of the day, even given this it's your coffee shop -- or it will be until your business craters and (heaven forfend) "another WiFi shack" opens up in your place.

  3. I find the Actual Cafe quite wonderful.

    We have to bear in mind that if you try something new there will always be those who find fault. The negativity that you are hearing is a useful diagnostic: if you were doing something dreary and familiar, you probably wouldn't be getting such negative feedback.

    That's not to say that all negative feedback is encouraging. One always wants to be open to new ideas. It's just my hope that the folks at Actual Cafe will not be discouraged by the outpourings (perhaps well-intentioned) of people who are perplexed by something new.

    I look forward to a day when there is a sister cafe in Berkeley called the "Theoretical Cafe" (since Berkeley is a rather theoretical place).

    Best wishes to all....

  4. it simply tells us how bad the bay area has become...when ONE cafe possibly wants to be a social cafes of the original trieste in north beach know where actual social movements were possibly started? but no this is the new bay of condos everwhere and expensive everything...too many yuppies...maybe its too close to emeryville though? emeryville is a fake town crafted...i mean anyone who would want to live in emeryville has got to be a yuppie? or someone who likes starbucks anyway...

  5. I'd been recommended your cafe through someone on Facebook and I went today. I did a little research before (looked at your site, the Yelp reviews, and read this blog), and was a little surprised at the automatic condemnation of laptops and the Internet in general. I was a bit intrigued, especially since your cafe was recommended as a writing spot.

    I've been several so-called laptop-hostile places, but that still manage to have a decent friendly writing vibe about them (any Borders Cafe, go figure, is a very writing-friendly spot, as is Caffe Trieste in Piedmont). This, though, was the first I've been to that had a downright hostile vibe to it. There's something very uncomfortable about the layout of the whole cafe, the hard chairs, the long communal table, the stark walls, the harsh lighting, the too-loud music that makes conversation and ordering a chore, the concrete, the "closeness" of everything that makes sure you're going to get bumped *hard* at least once, and bump others in turn. The employees weren't particularly helpful and the patrons worse on this first visit of mine.

    For all the talk of how laptops are ruining cafe culture, what seemed worse was the lack of etiquette that many of your customers seemed to have regarding something more menacing: the cell phone. All but one person who shared the "communal table" with me when I was there had no compunctions whatsoever about whipping out a cell phone and inflicting their boring solo conversations on anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby. Alas, that happened to be me, and that happened to be me not using your wireless network while I used my laptop to write my novel. Was there socialization at this big experimental table? I suppose so. But it wasn't the sort of communication you intended to occur, and worse, it made me do what you seem to consider a cardinal sin: whip out a pair of headphones and listen to my own music on my laptop. Oddly enough, I got a few strange glances when I did so.

    It’s funny, because I’ve been trying to narrow down what exactly it was that bothered me so much about your cafe. The communal table could have been fine, but there were too many chairs packed in too close to each other, and no one who sat at them seemed to be anything but caught in their own little worlds. The employees seemed courteous enough, but when I needed a fork when I picked up my sandwich, all I got was, “Forks are at the bar” without even a finger-pointing in the right direction. Since there are at least four “bars” with seating, it took me a while to find the silverware, especially since it was hidden behind the coffee fixings and two big bussing tubs. The music, at first, though it was loud and obtrusive, was quite decent before someone decided to play rap instead of the alternative rock that was on the speakers when I came in. The decaf coffee I had from the thermos had a decent flavor, but it was quite watery. The food was quite decent, but expensive. None of these things would make or break the place, but there was something that seemed a little bit ephemerally wrong, and that discouraged creativity. A coldness, if you will-- an almost institutional vibe. None of this brings back the old “cafe vibe” that people claim to be missing now that many customers use laptops.

    It’s a shame, because I actually like unusual social experiments, and if your cafe had that kind of warmth that I find in abundance, oddly, at any Starbucks or Borders Cafe or Panera or the wifi-free and tiny-table cursed Caffe Trieste, I’d probably come back just to bask in the creative vibe, and maybe write on actual paper on a laptop-free weekend. And that’s a shame, because the Bay Area doesn’t exactly have a lot of good inspirational spots for the amateur writer.

  6. leeloo - sorry you didn't enjoy your first visit. i hope you'll give it another chance. i agree that cell phone users can be intrusive. not sure how best to handle that yet. i'll speak to staff about being a bit more helpful about locating utensils, and see if we can make them a bit easier to find generally.

    if you do decide to come back in, ask for me. i'd love to chat with you about your comments.