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Nick Cho Is Opening An Anti-Gentrification Cafe In The Mission District

The upcoming August edition of San Francisco Magazine offers an interesting long read on Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters co-founder and outspoken coffee Twitterer Nick Cho (and features the above incredible photograph). Cho—a specialty coffee industry veteran whose social media presence is the spicy stuff of legend—pulls no punches in this well-rounded portrait from reporter Luke Tsai. Comparing cold brew to “getting kicked in the balls?” Check. “Ultra-light-roasted beans” akin to toxic masculinity? You betcha. The whole thing is strongly worth your reading time. In a world where mainstream coffee reporting still veers perilously close to the “duh duh” variety, Tsai’s feature stands out. We think it’s an early frontrunner for a 2017 Sprudgie Award nomination for coffee writing.

And within the article there’s a bit of news: Wrecking Ball Coffee, which Cho co-owns with partner Trish Rothgeb, are working on a new project in San Francisco’s Mission District. It’s going in to the Redlick Building, on the corner of Mission and 17th. With “the neighborhood’s already rampant gentrification,” this was a part of town Cho never planned on opening a coffee shop. But when the opportunity arose to do so with the landlord covering “all of the build-out expenses,” it was too good to pass up.

The cafe project is still in early stages, as per the article, but Cho and Rothgeb are theming it around a thought-provoking hook: this is to be an “anti-gentrification cafe.” Here’s more from the article:

Cho thought about it some more and decided maybe the best thing to do would be to embrace his discomfort and channel it into something positive. What if he opened a café that was structured in such a way that it would not further gentrify the surrounding stretch of Mission Street, instead actually providing something to benefit the Spanish-speaking and low-income people who live and work nearby? What would such a coffee shop look like?

The answer, at least in part, includes bi-lingual menus and staff, street-level menus, using Latino-owned Mission-based bakeries, offering “a few playful drinks that might appeal to Latino customers,” removing pour-overs from the menu (due to price point and fussiness), and bringing prices down in general by using “a different selection of coffee beans, or a slightly less expensive brand of milk.” According to the article, Cho “plans to give an ownership stake to one of Wrecking Ball’s longtime employees, a bilingual Latino, and have him help run the cafe—not because he needs a ‘Latino beard’… but because he feels like the guy would make the most of the opportunity.”

News of the new shop has drawn both praise and criticism from the Mission’s anti-gentrification camp, which is probably to be expected, and Tsai solicits community feedback as an integral part of the feature. The issue itself is a difficult one, but the article does a wonderful job of presenting the story—and Cho’s bold/complicated AF concept—in a balanced manner.

Perhaps the takeaway from this entire grand experiment won’t be the success or failure of it all, but it will be in the attempt to do something about this growing issue. Or as Cho states, “We’re not going to fix gentrification with one café. But we’re not going to fix gentrification if no one tries to do anything a little differently.”

Go read the article. 

Zac Cadwalader is the news editor at Sprudge Media Network.

*top image via San Francisco Magazine

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