Cafe de Olla, once part of the Mission Economic and Development Agency’s incubator program, graduates into its own spot at 3388 19th St. on Tuesday.
It’s been a pandemic-like journey to survive and to do all the repairs in their the cafe’s new spot, so owners Eduardo Antonio and Francisco Camacho launched a GoFundMe campaign in January that has raised nearly $5,000 toward their goal of $75,000.
The pandemic was particularly harsh on Antonio and Camacho, because they opened just three months before the pandemic hit, and faced three months of closure and another eight months in which they operated out of a service window.
Despite these challenges, their staple, Cafe de Olla, traditionally made coffee in a clay pot with cinnamon, orange peels and piloncillo, has proven to be popular from the outset. So have their tamales and tlayudas, a large thin and crunchy tortilla covered in a spread of black beans, Oaxacan cheese, lettuce or cabbage, avocado, and meat.
They struggled through the pandemic, as they had not been in business long enough to take advantage of any of the federal relief programs.
For months, they did everything: Cooking, delivering food and operating the service window. Now, they have another full-time employee on the payroll. They have also expanded their menu to include espresso drinks, and will offer beer and wine in the new location. They continue to offer artisan Oaxacan chocolate and Cafe de Olla. They also continue to cater and make deliveries.
When the incubator program reached its end in early February, 2023, they began working on taking over Bissap Baobab’s spot at 19th and Mission streets, just across the street from the Cafe’s original location at Plaza Adelante.
As much as the pandemic provided financial relief to some entities, Cafe de Olla has yet to receive any city or state assistance. “In the beginning, it was because we had no tax history as a business, and we didn’t have payroll set up,” said Francisco. “But afterward, we are not really sure why we haven’t been able to qualify for help, because we fill in all the checkmarks.” One of the resources they have received through the City’s resource program is an architect’s design for their new storefront. However, they decided to pass on implementing the design given that they need substantial resources to transform the interior of the new space.
“It was sad and frustrating,” said Francisco of their bad luck in getting assistance.
MEDA agreed to forgive the rent for the stint the cafe was completely closed, but they still owe MEDA back rent for the eight months they ran a window service. Moreover, they had a lot of repairs to make when they moved into the new spot. So far, they’ve had to repaint, buy refrigerators, a new water heater, a new oven and stove, redo the floors, purchase tables and chairs; redo the coffee bar; redo the bathroom so that it is ADA compliant, just to name a few of the things that needed to be fixed or replaced.
Camacho and Antonio see this as a necessary investment in the future of their cafe. With a new kitchen, they won’t have to be running back and forth between their cafe and the commercial kitchen they were renting at Stable Cafe. Now, they will have everything in one location.
The money they raise through GoFundMe will go towards covering unpaid rent owed to MEDA and repaying the loans they took out to make improvements on the new spot.
“We are happy with what we can get, and we appreciate it”, said Antonio.
The new location has meant an increase in operating costs, not just because they’ve had to invest in remodeling the place, almost in its entirety, to pass the Health Department inspection, but because they have been closed and unable to make income until it opens.
“We are so grateful for our customers,” said Antonio .“We are not just a coffee place or just another restaurant; we are connected to the community and we want to keep it that way.”
The new place will serve beer and wine, along with an extended food menu; it will have a barista for the coffee bar, and extended hours of operation. “We are excited, but we also think of money, we just need to open right away,” said Francisco.
This week, they received good news of their inspection’s approval with the Health Department. Cafe de Olla will open this Tuesday, March 13, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.