Move Over, Borderlands Opens Its Cafe on Valencia

Borderlands Café on Valencia Street doesn’t have Wi-Fi, they don’t make sandwiches and the owner claims their espresso doesn’t compare to a competitor’s just blocks away.

“We are not about producing the perfect cup of espresso, if people are looking for that I highly recommend they check out Ritual,” Alan Beatts, the owner of the café said. “I can think of at least four delis that make phenomenal sandwiches.”

What they do offer is direct trade coffee from Ecco, imported English tea and a wide variety of magazines.

Plus the lack of Wi-Fi that creates an environment where people can actually talk to each other.

Formerly an upholstery store, Borderlands Café is a project three years in the making. Beatts decided to open a cafe because although his bookstore by the same name next to the cafe is doing fine for now, he doesn’t see bookstores as a viable business in the future. What he does see in the future is the possibility of merging both.

Before

Before

After

After

Even though Borderlands Café is not the first without Wi-Fi, Beatts is breaking away from the trend of shops installing it. Instead he is joining those who are turning vacancies that were once retail spaces into restaurants and cafés.

Dairo Romero, the community organizer for the Mission Economic Development Association and someone who studies such trends, said there is an increase of storefronts becoming restaurants and cafes.

Mission Street is seeing spaces that used to house furniture stores or galleries turn into restaurants while at least two on Valencia Street have become coffee houses, including Borderlands.

Mission Loc@l counted 11 coffee houses on Valencia Street this week, still ahead of 24th street, which boasts nine, many of which have opened recently.

Mission Street is playing catch up: What was once a furniture store is now Shama Café and even the new building for Romero’s organization, Plaza Adelante, will have a café.

Romero said he sees the opening of Borderlands Café as a positive thing but wonders how long this trend will continue.

“How many coffee houses can the Mission hold?” he asked. “Who knows?”

Two of Beatts’s employees, Jim Lively and Colin Johnson, also see the café as a positive. Johnson had been unemployed for six months before the café opened.

“Really, it saved me, “ he said. “I owed people money for being unemployed for so long – it was a gold mine.”

Lively, a sound engineer and longtime friend of Beatts, said he too benefited from the opening.

Work has slowed down and with this opportunity, he’s able to secure another source of income and a chance to interact with people.

“One of my favorite aspects of this job is that it gives me a chance to be social,” he said. “Most of my jobs for the past three decades have been solitary. “

Beatts, a Palo Alto native, said he doesn’t see Borderlands as just another coffee house.

Part of what sets him apart from others, he says, is the amount of space he offers. Beatts has room for 49 people in his 1500-square-foot cafe.

But that is not the only difference. He wants to create an atmosphere where people don’t come to work (though they are welcomed to do so) but rather one where they can meet people.

Coming up for Borderlands are more chances to interact via board games, more magazines and free movie nights.

“I want them to treat this like it’s their living room,” he said. “It’s nice to have a different place to meet people.”

It’s working so far. On a recent afternoon, scores of people were interacting, however, there were also people with laptops working and some using their smartphones.

Raoul Ollman, who works at Apple, said he has visited the café four times since it opened on Dec. 18 and enjoys the atmosphere.

“There is more of a vibe of contemplativeness where you can get coffee, relax and not feel assaulted by the environment,“ he said.

Beatts said he likes cafés with Wi-Fi and sees a need for them, just not his.

“A friend of mine compared it to bars – sometimes you want to go to bar that has TVs, sometimes you want to go to a bar that doesn’t, sometimes you want to go to a bar that has live music, sometimes you don’t, it all depends on what you are looking for when you go to the bar,” he said. “I think coffee houses are the same way.”

Beatts has already seen the fruits of his labor. At least two couples that have met at the bookstore he has run for 12 years next door have gotten married.

“That is a bookstore, a place where people don’t necessarily meet people,” he said. “I thought it’d be interesting to do that consciously.”

This is obvious for his customers.

“It looks like he put a lot of love in it,” Ollman said about the café.

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7 Comments

  1. Adam

    I discovered this new place earlier this week and walked in to get a hot chocolate. BUT, I walked out when I saw it was $4! I checked 1 block up the street & the same cup was $2-$2.50. I veriefied it all the next day.

    What is so special about the place to charge almost double for the same thing? Is it a way to keep the locals(Latins)out? Is just being trendy?

    An inquiring local wants to know!

  2. java uber alles

    Well, best of luck, and I appreciate that it isn’t exactly like all the other millions of cafes we have. I was getting worried for a moment, because I don’t think there was a cafe on that specific block, and I love being able to walk down Val and being able to get a cup whenever I want. Maybe we should turn every single business into a cafe, lest we should ever be more than twenty feet from a cuppa. Can we just change the name of the mish to Cafeville, and get it over with?

    How many cafes, bars, and restaurants can we squeeze in? The food bubble (and coffee bubble and bar bubble) is going to pop, of course, just like all the other bubbles. Then, we’ll wonder at all the empty storefronts, and wonder what happened to the shops which used to make and repair things RIGHT HERE. The self-employed local small business people chased out of town, because production, repair, and service jobs employ BROWN people, and the last thing I want to see when I have my ten dollar Tartine
    tart is a BROWN person. Oh, I know, my attitude is so 1999. Get over it, dude, have a cuppa!

  3. John

    I like this place. The price to rent an apartment is is high. As the owner says, this space is like a spare livingroom. So, yeah while 4 dollars for a cup of hot chocolate does seem too expensive, compared to the hundreds of dollars one would pay a month to have a spare living room it can be affordable and helpful. I believe with high priced small shared apartments there is a need for more social places in the Mission, not for the coffee, but as safe spaces to meet and be be friends, you pay the rent for the livingroom by the hour by buying chocolate, etc. The comments about trying to keep people out sound hurtful and off topic.

  4. Alan Beatts

    If you all don’t mind I’d like to throw in a comment here. I’m the owner of Borderlands and, given the reaction to the price of hot chocolate and so on, I thought some clarification might be in order.

    First off, yup, the small (12 oz) hot chocolate is $4 (which is much higher than anywhere else on the street). On the other hand, the same size brewed coffee is $1 (which is lower than anywhere else on the street). The reason for the disparity is that I can afford to sell the coffee at that price, because brewed coffee is actually pretty cheap, where as I can’t afford to sell the chocolate for much less than $4. I get our hot chocolate from Cocolux, which is a high quality chocolate company based in the East Bay. It’s very good but also very expensive.

    I’ve been considering offering a cheap cup of hot chocolate as an alternative by using Ghirardelli syrup, which will let me bring down the price a great deal. However, I’m not going to do what most of the other cafes on Valencia do, which is use Hershey’s syrup. Not that there’s anything wrong with Hershey’s but I’m really trying to use local businesses for my supplies when ever I can (which was part of the reason I started using Cocolux in the first place).

    One other thing I wanted to mention is that I really appreciate the concern expressed on the behalf of “self-employed local small business people” by one of the posters here. Since I am one of those people (I live about six blocks away from the cafe and I’ve lived in SF for almost 20 years now), it makes me very happy that people are aware how important it is to have locally owned small businesses that are run by people who have an investment in the neighborhood, use local suppliers, and hire local people.

    Regards,
    Alan Beatts

  5. chalkman

    nice place and even nicer people, I’m looking forward to when all the magazines are in and seeing what Alan comes up with for “entertainment”…..

  6. pammy

    Haven’t been to the cafe yet, but I will. Borderlands is a great bookstore (and I hope it does continue to thrive) with the best cat mascots in the neighborhood.

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