Architecture + Food = Stable Cafe
San Francisco's Mission District is known for its vibrant and often contrasting cultures—Mexican paleta wagons share the sidewalk with Twittering hipsters slinging crème brulée, produce markets sell tropical fruit and dried chiles beneath gilted Victorians, and murals line otherwise neglected alleyways. But it was far from all of this Mission buzz where architect Malcolm Davis and his partner, chef Thomas Brian Lackey, decided to turn a run-down building into a high-design home for their shared passions. On a retail-free stretch of Folsom Street, Stable Cafe has become a new anchor for the community.
The concept Davis and Lackey began with was loosely based on one Davis had once seen while traveling in England. "Sir Richard Rogers and his wife Ruth have the River Cafe in London," Davis explains, "We thought it was such a neat idea that the architect was working next to his partner, the chef, who was growing vegetables right there between the two businesses. Stable is a little humble version of that—they have the Thames and we have Mission Creek!"
A factory it is not, but the kitchen at Stable does much more than feed the cafe's customers. The expansive, sunlit heart of the building is an incubator for a number of small food-related businesses that use Stable as their commissary. Zoning required that the cafe comply with industrial preservation codes, meaning it had to operate production, distribution or repair on the site. Davis and Lackey viewed this as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. "Thomas Brian had been very interested in opening a commissary kitchen," Davis recalls, "He liked the interaction and creativity that comes out of a group of people running different food businesses in a shared space. It makes for a lively, kinetic kitchen experience." Today nearly a dozen culinary entrepreneurs make up the Stable Collective, producing everything from empanadas to dog treats and selling them in the cafe and elsewhere around the city.
It's been just one year since Stable first opened in their tucked away location, but in that time they've managed to bring the Mission buzz to them. With community support as a central tenet of their operations, they've organically grown a network of neighbors and friends who regard the cafe not just as a place to eat and drink, but as a venue that welcomes and embraces their ideas and invites collaboration for special events.
Stable Cafe, 2128 Folsom Street, San Francisco
Kitchen image: Jeannie Choe; all other images: Bruce Damonte.