The history of the Mission weighed on Anand Upender as he toured his soon-to-be apartment on York Street, a six-bedroom house where he and five friends would be moving in.
Though he was only replacing tenants who shared his background — a group of friends who were writers, counselors, and techies — Upender wished to be conscientious to the neighborhood. He wanted to know: “What do you do to give back?” Community engagement? Volunteer work?
He knew some of the neighborhood’s history of gentrification, of how the working class Mission has endured and been changed by successive waves of newcomers. Professionals began arriving in the 1990s and then late in the decade, the first Dotcom Boom hit and sent housing prices soaring in ways that pushed many low-income Latinx residents out. From 2010 to 2020, the neighborhood’s Latinx population fell by 14 percent.
He and his roommates didn’t want to be “the kind of transient young people who move through cities” quickly, never alighting long enough to look around and become involved.
That’s why he asked how he could give back.
The former tenants, also a group of six friends, said they chose a combination of donating to charities and volunteering at a food bank.
Upender decided his community engagement would take a different form, more in his style: He’d open a neighborhood coffee pop-up in his garage. He bought ceramic mugs from Community Thrift and Salvation Army on Valencia Street, purchased beans at L’s Caffe on 24th Street, and moved the espresso machine to his garage. As Upender learned from his Indian grandmother — what connected folk better than food?
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In September, Upender knocked on the door of Eddie Machtinger, 54, and Willie Ablao, 52, and invited them to the first iteration of his York Street Coffee pop-up. I’ve just moved in, he explained, and want to meet my neighbors.
“We came, and it was really sweet and neighborly,” Machtinger recalled. Slowly, more neighbors stopped by.
Terri Massin was one. The 70-year-old has lived on York and 25th Streets for more than three decades, and one morning last September noticed the young Indian man running a coffee stand in his garage. Massin had already drank a coffee that morning, but curiosity compelled her to have another.
“I love coffee, and they were so friendly,” Massin said of the first pop-up. She learned that she couldn’t take a cup of coffee to-go — a rule Upender enforces to ensure folk stick around and actually get to know each other. “I love that concept of, ‘we want you to stay and talk to us.’”
Soon, Upender started hosting coffee in his garage every other Saturday. “The pop-up is my outlet for collaborating in the city and engaging my neighborhood,” Upender said. “There’s something here about fully engaging with everyone around me that feels necessary — to be living and building community.”
By noon one Saturday, at least two dozen people had shown up. Most were twenty-somethings, but there were also older guests and a mix of York Street and non-York Street residents. Folks stay for hours and make lasting friendships, enjoying delectable cups of coffee. One girl made her “entire social circle” from these events, she once told Upender.
The coffee is donation-based – pay-what-you-can.
Does the pop-up give enough back to the Mission? Upender tries. The event uses beans from local groceries or coffee shops like Grand Coffee, and collaborates with other small entrepreneurs or businesses. One pop-up was at Evolved SF gallery on 24th Street, and another featured Whack Donuts!, the city-based, Black-owned business that sells donuts regularly in the Mission.
On some Saturdays they fundraise for charity. On July 9, York Street Coffee teamed up with Bird and Bear Coffee and a community member Dan Swann and raised $2,000 earmarked for abortion access. Another is planned with the creative women collective The Ruby on 23rd and Bryant streets on August 5.
Still, his role in the Mission is something Upender wrestles with. He hails from Maryland, and up until last year, worked as a UX designer. He made enough money to be able to quit his tech job to switch career paths and “fully commit” to food. Upender knows that’s not a financial decision everyone can make.
He now works part-time at the Mission-based food nonprofit La Cocina, Farming Hope at Manny’s, KitchenTown, and the pop-up. When I ask if he feels this recurring coffee pop-up is enough to mitigate his “transient-ness,” Upender rubs the bridge of his nose and pauses, thinking hard.
“I think I still always wonder if the pop-up is like a supportive or hurtful force to the neighborhood,” Upender said.
* * *
Some in the neighborhood wondered that, too.
Transplants, at times, “act like they can do whatever they want,” said 69-year-old Richard Segovia who lives in the Latin Rock House at York and 25th streets. It’s the home dedicated to Mission Latin Rock stars like Carlos Santana, and presently operates as a free music center for local kids. From his large window, Segovia could see folk lining up outside Upender’s garage for coffee.
Segovia was suspicious. He had watched the coming and going of many a new tech neighbor.
Segovia’s mother was born on Treat Avenue in the Mission in 1919, and he moved into Latin Rock House 59 years ago. He remembers when Harrison Street had four lanes and the Potrero Center shopping mall was Seals Stadium.
He has watched his Irish and Russian neighbors on York Street get replaced by Latinx residents, and then yuppies, then “Mexican yuppies,” he said. Then came the hipsters and their coffee shops, and now the techies and their coffee shops — Segovia believes the Mission has enough coffee shops already.
So Segovia stopped by Upender’s York Street Coffee, as the garage pop-up would later be named, to investigate.
“They’re good people and not doing anything wrong,” Segovia said, but he remained skeptical. “What do the coffee shops on 24th Street think?” Did the money ever go to neighborhood institutions like Brava Theater or Mission Cultural Center for the Arts? Was Upender adding to the community, or ignoring what was there?
Weeks later, Segovia decided to follow up with Upender on a Zoom call. Segovia nodded approvingly when Upender said he donated money toward reproductive rights, but asked: “What about these places here, in the Mission?”
Not yet, Upender said, but he agreed with Segovia that he should invest back here. Mission nonprofits would be next.
“Your heart is in the right place,” Segovia said. “It’s not about the amount of money, it’s about putting your foot in the right direction.”
To the elder, that direction is back in the Mission.
“You guys have music parties, right?” Upender asked. Maybe for a Mission fundraiser, they can team up? Segovia agreed. They’ll plan it at Pop’s Bar.
And if anyone gives Upender trouble? “I got your back,” Segovia assured him. * * *
There are some things coffee can’t fix. “York Street Coffee won’t “be able to recreate, for people in the Mission, what has been lost. But they’re doing their best,” Machtinger said. Upender and his roommates are “doing their part, in a determined way.”
“It’s far better than the alternative, which is a bunch of tech kids hanging out with each other and not paying attention to it at all,” Machtinger added. “Now it’s something we look forward to.” After 20 years in the neighborhood, he and Ablao are meeting new friends at the pop-up.
Though York Street Coffee can’t fix the loss of neighbors and the separation that some new neighbors maintain, Massin believes Upender’s enterprise does fulfill the need for community connection. At one Saturday pop-up, Massin made a new friend at the pop-up — her 39-year-old neighbor, Melanie West.
The pair hung out with Abbey Cliffe, a pretty twenty-something who rocks a pixie-cut, and discussed matters important to the block: “Did you hear about the warehouse down the block that’ll turn into condos?” “Have you ever seen that woman who calls herself the Duchess on York Street?”
Upender took a break from cooking chili crisp in his garage, and sidled up to join the conversation. He has seen her. And she stopped by the pop-up once to introduce herself.
York Street Coffee is having its next pop-up on Aug. 5 in collaboration with The Ruby SF. Funds go to the National Network of Abortion Funds. Find wine from Lula and Brown Estate, and ice cream inspired by Jennifer Ng’s Ice Cream Travel Guide.
5:30 to 8:00 p.m. York and 25th streets.
Clarification:This article has been updated on August 1 to reflect that Farming Hope is at Manny’s, and not the same as Manny’s.