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Coffee Break: San Francisco's The Mill

Although we usually focus on completed projects, it is equally interesting to check in during construction to see how a space develops. Things that our memories smooth over post-construction, like frustrations and changes in plans, are still rampant. That never-ending argument over where to put the couch just isn’t funny yet. To capture this oft-forgotten phase, we checked in with San Francisco coffee company, Four Barrel, a few months before opening The Mill, their second cafe. Four Barrel founders Jeremy Tooker and Jodi Geren have already seen success at their nearby Valencia Street location, and locals are eager to see how the new spot will match up. Resident baker Josey Baker shares what will be different, what inspires him, and why he can’t wait for the Mill’s opening in July

Jeremy Tooker and Josey Baker
Four Barrel's Jeremy Tooker and baker Josey Baker said the space wasn't quite ready for a photo op, so they took one of themselves.

Why did you pick this location on Divisadero for a new cafe?
Jeremy wanted to open a second location and found this amazing spot on Divis (736 Divisadero Street). He went around the neighborhood and spoke with a lot of people to see how a cafe would be received. In response, people also mentioned that they would like to have a bakery, so he approached me to see if I would like to run a bakery in the space and I hopped on board. As we’ve been working in the space and talking about it, everyone has just been amazingly supportive. We feel like the community trusts us to make a positive contribution to their neighborhood, and that is just great.
How are you planning the space?
We are focusing on running two businesses under one roof (Four Barrel Coffee and Josey Baker Bread). Even though we will work symbiotically, we are still two separate entities. Originally, we wanted to have distinct production areas, but as time went on, we realized that not having any hard boundaries made the most sense. We want the shop to feel cohesive and that requires an open layout.
As of now, what are you envisioning?
You will see a big pastry case in the front, with espresso machines on either side—like a classic cafe. However, we will have the Toast Bar (an area set up where customers pick from an array of homemade breads, jams, and butter) on one side and a space to sell Four Barrel coffee and products made onsite on the other side. All of the production space will be visible, so you will be able to see everything that is going on. Jeremy would also love to have bees on the roof so we can start making honey as well. We have all kinds of ideas, but these are the ones that are nailed down.
Are you worried that people will think this is a redux of the Valencia site?
Even though the Valencia Street cafe setup has proven to be very successful, we don’t want to just copy and paste the same thing in a new area. I mean, that would be the path of least resistance, but it is also boring and not creatively fulfilling. It feels presumptuous to not work with a space, to not let the space have input.
So, when you say you want to work with the space, what does that mean for you?
We want it to be comfortable and authentic; we don’t want something that’s super-hip or super design-y. Jeremy, Jodi, and I are designing it ourselves, but since we aren’t architects we are working with Oakland architecture team F/36 to help put our ideas on paper. It will be new, but it will still feel like us.
Could you be more specific?
We are still working on a lot of the details, like right now the space is just filled with piles of dirt so it’s hard to imagine. One thing we have found that we really like is this company in Texas that makes stamped ceiling tiles out of steel.
What are you most excited about in the new space?
Well, it’s amazing because I’ve never designed a bakery, but I know how a bakery works, so this is an opportunity to put everything exactly where I want it. For example, we are ordering this old-school flourmill from Austria, and I had to sacrifice space for it, but I think it is the right choice. It means I will hopefully be able to create relationships with California farmers and produce California flour. Overall this is a dream come true: I get to do the work I love while hanging out in an awesome coffee shop.

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