The Atlas Cafe opened its doors more than 27 years ago at the intersection of 20th and Alabama streets. And, despite the many changes that the Mission has been through, this cafe has remained pretty much the same, a neighborhood staple: A big but cozy room, full of windows and with a lot of natural light, a big bar and a backyard that hosts people from different generations.
A few months ago, Bill Stone, the man who started the Atlas Cafe, sold it to a new owner, Anthony Zabit, a San Francisco businessman and entrepreneur.
Stone, an energetic man who loves good coffee and the Mission, explains that “this is something I had been thinking about for a long time, because it was becoming harder to make a living with a single cafe.” Even though his intentions were clear, especially after the Covid-19 government aid stopped, it took him about a year and a half to find a buyer.
Sascha Hobrucker, a retired firefighter, took on the challenge of being the new manager of the Atlas Cafe. She and the new owner are both from the neighborhood, and have been regulars at the Atlas for many years.
“The Atlas wasn’t making a very good profit, but the new owner and its manager are trying to keep it alive, because he wants the neighborhood to have it,” Stone explains. He adds that he barely got everything paid for with the business transfer.
Hobrucker admits that “it is an incredibly tough time to do this, and I don’t really know how we do it. We are trying to provide good service, good food, and good drinks, and have a remarkably loyal group of customers, which is fantastic.”
When customers hear about the change in ownership of the Atlas Cafe, she says, “they speak about what the place means to them, and I’ve heard things like, ‘this is where I met my wife many years ago,’ and ‘I grew up here, and I now come with my kids.'”
Hobrucker says that she can relate. “It has always been my favorite spot to be. I used to come to the Atlas when it first opened. I brought my books and studied, from morning coffee through lunch and sometimes until closing time, listening to bands while enjoying a glass of wine.”
The cafe’s most popular items are coffee, wine, and beer on the drinks menu, and turkey avocado bacon, beetloaf sandwich, and pizza on the food menu. The coffee brand is one of the things that has recently changed. They now serve coffee from the local roaster Grand Coffee. “I walked around the neighborhood to find the perfect coffee,” says Hobrucker.
Jude Magnus is a 20-year-old barista at the Atlas Cafe. He lives in the neighborhood, and he says that people just love coffee. “On a normal day, I make around 50 coffees an hour.” After the change in ownership, Magnus explains that “we upgraded our technology a little bit, and it became easier to handle than before, as well as the prices have gone up a little bit. There are some regulars who aren’t big fans of that, and they had to leave.” Magnus understands. But it is the only way to stay open with prices going up in the area.
Oscar Novelo,56, has worked at the Atlas Cafe for the past 22 years. He joined the team right after he arrived in the U.S. from Yucatán, Mexico. “I don’t really see the changes that much, I was happy and I still am, and it’s a great place to work.” His job is behind the scenes, preparing tables, and cutting the cheese or ham for the sandwiches.
One of the things that the Atlas Cafe is trying to implement is turning the space into more than just a café, by bringing the music and art back.
For now, they have started by exhibiting 19 small pieces by local artist Kelly Nelson, that she describes as “studio-style modest nudes.” Although her art has been shown in different places around the Mission, where she has lived for 27 years, this is her first solo exhibit, and people can buy the art, too, if they wish. “I support places that I like to go, old places, sentimental places, having the stuff at the Atlas in my neighborhood is very heartwarming. I wish the future is wonderful for the Atlas Cafe, and I will do anything I can to help them. I love going there and having espressos or macchiatos, and just thinking.”
Nelson is a romantic of the Mission. “I don’t want to live anywhere else. I hear 10 different languages, I can eat different food every day of the year, I look out for my neighbors, and they look out for me.”
Former owner Stone still lives in the Mission, but now works full time for Compass, a nonprofit organization that provides family services. “I am a facilities manager, similar to running a restaurant logistics, problems as they come up, ’fixing things,’ overlap in the skillset.” He adds that “it’s great not to have to worry about making a profit or not.”
But there are things that Stone misses about his old job. “I miss not being the cool guy who owns a cafe anymore, and not having an espresso machine, because I love the technical aspect.” But on the positive side, “there was a point where I was just going to close the door, but I’m glad I didn’t have to do that, and I am happy that they are keeping it alive and doing well.”