Today we are in beautiful San Francisco, meeting Andrea de Francisco, a proud owner of Cafe St. Jorge. Andrea has always dreamed of running her own cafe and bakery one day, and at the end of 2012 finally decided to quit her full-time management job at The Grind Cafe (a very busy San Francisco establishment with over $1 million in sales) to pursue her dream. Now, several years later, her business, Cafe St. Jorge, is one of the city’s most cherished shops.
As Yana, Cafe St. Jorge’s regular customer puts it, “it seems like Andrea has taken note of everything that other coffee shops in the city do wrong and has corrected all of their errors in a space that just makes sense in every way.”
CoffeeShopr: Thanks for being with us today Andrea! You funded Cafe St. Jorge through Kickstarter, which is still quite an unusual source of startup capital in the coffee industry. Please tell us more about the campaign and what you think made it successful all the way?
Andrea: Hey, sure! I was really interested in doing a Kickstarter campaign for two reasons, the first being for marketing reasons. I think Kickstarter is a great way to get your name out there. I was very lucky to use Kickstarter at its height, I am not quite sure it would be as effective if I did the same thing today.
I sent it out to everyone I know and then some more. I reached out to people that I had not talked to in years and also family friends. They always say that your biggest supporters are “family, friends, and fools,” but I actually found that my biggest contributors were people I least expected. Using Twitter, email, blogs, Facebook, all social media you can possibly think of helped get the word out. I also sent a press release out about Kickstarter to various San Francisco publications, which really helped. I was able to spread news of the cafe to the Portuguese community, friends, family, and the neighborhood in a personal way, which brings me to my second reason I chose to use Kickstarter.
I feel like Kickstarter lets people feel like they are part of the project. By contributing to a campaign like Kickstarter, people are able to feel like they are part of the reason the thing exists, which is a pretty cool feeling.
Besides being lucky with the timing of Kickstarter, it was also successful because I made Kickstarter a job. I responded to every e-mail and made sure to make it an interesting, as well as a personal campaign. I made sure to post regular updates with how the progress was coming along and photos. I also followed through with every single person to make sure they got their reward (although, there are a few people that STILL have not picked up their reward from the cafe).
I made Kickstarter a job. I responded to every e-mail and made sure to make it an interesting, as well as a personal campaign.
CoffeeShopr: That’s great! For those who are interested, you can take a look at Andrea’s Kickstarter campaign here.
Cafe St. Jorge has obvious Portuguese flare and authenticity. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it?
Andrea: I grew up shuffling between Portugal and California. Both my parents are Portuguese. In the ‘70s, my parents were living in Angola (a Portuguese colony) and fled to the United States because of the Civil War. It was too dangerous to continue living there. My father had hard time adjusting to life in the United States and went back to Portugal in the ‘80s and my mother remained in California. I was only two when I started essentially living in both countries, eventually spending my school year in the States and my summers in Portugal with my father. That has a huge impact on you.
I am very proudly Portuguese and wanted to share my love for Portugal with others. I am a dual-citizen and on multiple occasions almost moved to Portugal permanently, it is even still in the cards. It is hard to leave San Francisco, I love it so much, so I thought perhaps I could bring a bit of Portugal to San Francisco and share my love with others. I named the cafe after my favorite Acorean Island and birthplace of the majority of my family.
CoffeeShopr: We know you quit your full-time job to pursue your dream. Where did you work before?
Andrea: I worked at many businesses, restaurants, cafes, and bars prior to opening my own place, most notably, The Grind Cafe, merely because I was there for over six years. I also was on the opening team at Straw (while still managing The Grind and running a bakery on the side), which made me realize that I could definitely open my own place. My boyfriend, and now husband, also helped me realize my potential and really pushed me to finally quit and start my own project.
CoffeeShopr: How does owning Cafe St. Jorge compare to managing The Grind Cafe for someone else?
Andrea: Owning your own place by yourself cannot compare to anything else. You cannot turn to anyone else when something breaks down or you are having HR issues, you have to turn to yourself.
My experience managing The Grind helped immensely with knowing certain ins and outs of the business (i.e. vendors, ordering, etc.), but there are so many things you do not learn or experience until you do it on your own. Most my days are filled with solving problems I have never come across before.
Coffeeshopr: What do you think makes Cafe St. Jorge special and unique compared to other coffee businesses?
Andrea: I think we have a really special staff. I am so lucky to have such incredible people working for me. Besides just being awesome human beings, none of our staff is pretentious in a way you find in many other San Francisco cafes.
I think that we can say that we offer a different experience with our unique twist of being Portuguese, but I think it really is about the experience.
We also don’t cut corners. I work hard to try and bring the best experience and product to my customers, even if that means that my margins are lower. All our milk is organic and even our espresso is organic. I don’t advertise that, but it is something that I think is important.
I work hard to try and bring the best experience and product to my customers, even if that means that my margins are lower. All our milk is organic and even our espresso is organic.
CoffeeShopr: We think you should absolutely tell your customers about it because it’s something that shows just how much you care. Please name three most important things to building cafe “super-fans” – people that flock to Cafe St. Jorge day after day?
Andrea: I think (and hope) we make people feel special. I, as well as the rest of the staff, know our neighbors by name.
Andrea: We listen and we are not just another business serving just another cup of coffee.
Also, our chia bowls are like no other. I have people raving about them, and I am getting e-mails on a daily basis asking how we make it.
And lastly, I would say our delicious coffee. Thanks to Stumptown, we are really able to offer something particularly special and I am very lucky that they agreed to work with me.
That would be my guess as to why people keep flocking back, but maybe it is our ridiculous Jeff Goldblum stickers… (laughing)
CoffeeShopr: Yes, definitely the stickers… Just kidding… So, we can say that it is all about making people feel special, listening to what they say, and serving out-of-this-world food and coffee. How did you come up with your menu?
Andrea: I honestly just wanted a menu full of stuff that I personally love and would want to eat everyday. I wanted some delicious healthy “Californian” options, but I also wanted to represent Portugal. We don’t have a full kitchen, so we are a little hindered, but we make it work and get creative. I listen to my customers and what they want and with that the menu does evolve.
I listen to my customers and what they want and with that the menu does evolve.
From a business owner perspective, when developing a menu, I think it is important to have crossover on your menu items. You don’t want to keep a pantry or fridge full of items that you only use on one menu item…
CoffeeShopr: Absolutely! What about your approach to coffee? Why Stumptown?
Andrea: One of the most important things for me when I decided to open a cafe was to not just have good coffee, but great coffee. I did some research and picked a select few roasters that I was interested in and I interviewed them.
The second I met with the Stumptown guys I knew it would be a good fit and we would be great partners. They act like a small company and are not pretentious at all and just really wanted to provide the best product out there. They seem to really care about what people want, as well as quality and make sure that their coffee is still approachable.
Many roasters are focusing on single-origin coffees and focusing on beans that are described as “lemonade, tea-like, etc.” That’s great! But, I did not want to forget the people that like their “dark” coffee and drink coffee for the ritual behind it. Stumptown offers coffee for everyone; they have a French Roast as well as amazingly delicious single-origin coffees that do indeed taste like grapefruit and melon.
Stumptown is also great because they offer constant education. They have full-time trainers that frequent cafes to ensure consistency and quality. Besides having Stumptown trainers come to the cafe for frequent trainings, I also have a lead barista who makes sure the other baristas are putting out quality product. I also continually educate myself about our coffee and work with every employee on the coffee bar.
Image by Jorge A. Novoa, cropped
CoffeeShopr: Awesome! This is indeed one of the ways to build “super-fans.” You also have a “bottomless” mug option with a message that reads “please, stay a while.” Is it a profitable thing to do, or is it just a component of Cafe St. Jorge’s hospitality?
Andrea: The reason I did it is because I want people to feel welcome and to feel like Cafe St. Jorge is their third-place (outside of home and work).
My favorite mornings are the morning where I am able to sit down with the San Francisco Chronicle over a delicious cup of coffee. I continue to fill it, even if I don’t drink the whole cup, but just to continue keeping it warm. It is a nice morning ritual. At home, you are able to get up and continue filling your cup, keeping it warm. I wanted people to feel that same way at the cafe.
At home, you are able to get up and continue filling your cup, keeping it warm. I wanted people to feel that same way at the cafe.
Image by Jorge A. Novoa, cropped
CoffeeShopr: Sure, especially with the cafe decor that gives off a cozy, comfortable vibe.
Andrea: Yes, the white and light blue Azorean paint scheme is a running theme in the cafe. We have it on menus, boards, mug and postcards. I wanted to create a really authentic experience. I want people to feel like they are walking into a cafe that could potentially be on the ocean in Portugal and not of gritty Mission Street in San Francisco.
CoffeeShopr: We know you don’t stare people down even if they’ve been on their laptops for a few hours. So for a coffee shop, WiFi or no WiFi, and how do you make sure people don’t abuse it, but still feel welcome at the same time?
Andrea: The WiFi versus no WiFi is always an interesting debate. We rarely have issues with people overstaying their welcome and our customers are generally awesome enough to understand when we are busy and need table space. A customer when we first opened suggested that we put up signs on tables with a single person on a laptop saying, “Please share my table.” Now we have other signs that also say, “I’m nice. Sit with me.” This helps with table space.
CoffeeShopr: Your customers seem to love these signs. Some of them mentioned that’s how they got to know their neighbors in Bernal Heights.
One of the things you do is consulting both existing and aspiring coffee shop owners about opening and running their own business. What is one thing they tend to ask most?
Andrea: People usually come to me with just an idea, so the first thing people usually ask is, “Where do I start?” or “Should I do this?” I help people try to figure out what they want to do in a clear and concise way and then figure out if it would be potentially profitable and worth their time. Many people do not realize that starting a business is a lot of hard work, often times more effort than people want to put forth. Also, starting a business can be overwhelming, so I help people simplify the process step-by-step and look at it as a process and not some big scary thing.
Many people do not realize that starting a business is a lot of hard work, often times more effort than people want to put forth.
I also help a lot of existing business owners with their systems and organization. I try to get business owners to think in a way where they could have their business running without them there all the time.
CoffeeShopr: We have to ask about the chalkboard writings outside, they are hilarious! Who comes up with them?
Andrea: When we first opened the cafe, I was working 18-hour days 7 days a week, so I did a lot of the boards in the beginning. I got inspiration from a lot of “Today in History” or various random things on my mind.
Today, I am at the cafe a lot less because I have a great staff and I let them totally be creative with the signs. They love it! We are a goofy and misfit family and I think that it shows in the best way possible.
I like to think that it drives more customers in, but I doubt it. We do it for our own enjoyment and hope others enjoy it too.
CoffeeShopr: Thanks Andrea, it has been such a pleasure! Your achievement is an example to us all. Readers in San Francisco, if you haven’t already, make sure to stop by Andrea’s place. Até mais!