[Photo: Patricia Chang]
Last month, one-time Ecco Coffee owner Andrew Barnett, with the help of Commonwealth's Anthony Myint, opened Linea Caffe on the corner of 18th Street. Pairing his own particular vision of espresso with the waffles from Lt. Waffle and salads from Greensalads.org, Barnett's new spot has quickly developed a dedicated following. Eater caught up with Barnett at his freshly opened café to chat about the highs and lows of opening a brick and mortar, the soul of The Mission, and sprucing up 18th and San Carlos.
What prompted you to open up a brick-and-mortar? I finished up my work with Intelligentsia in 2012 and I asked myself, "What do I want to do next?" I wanted to do all the work I loved with coffee before Ecco was acquired – I wanted to work with the best coffee growers, I wanted to source their coffee and roast their coffee and have a little place where I could make the espresso that I dreamed of. My colleagues in San Francisco are doing very interesting things with coffee, but no one is doing what I dreamed of. I wanted something really pared down like Una Pizza Napoletana. They don't have soups, or salads or main courses – just pizza. I wanted to focus on keeping it simple, on making good espresso and serving it to everyone.
You've been open for almost a month, how's it been so far? It's been great, really positive. People are very enthusiastic and we've got this great positive vibe. I'm fortunate to work with some of the best in the world of coffee. We've worked hard to put together this amazing, all-star staff full of nice people with no egos. We just love good coffee and serving it to people.
What was your approach to the food and how are people reacting to it? You know, I wanted to put together really good food. I didn't want it to be an afterthought – crappy scones or whatever – I wanted it to be something delicious. Anthony Myint has really done that. This isn't a 5-star dining approach, it's informal and fun, but I can't think of another place in the city that you can walk in with 10 bucks and leave with a fantastic cup of coffee and an amazing, freshly made, Belgian-style waffle. For five bucks you can get an amazing waffle made to order for you by Anthony Myint. That's pretty amazing.
What's it like being in such a central location? I couldn't have dreamed of a better neighborhood. It's this fantastic convergence of old and new. It's exciting. You don't have everything assimilated or gentrified. You've got the dirt under your fingernails and you've got the excitement of the new settlers. This area is very soulful. You've got Mission Street, which is almost Central American with its sounds and smells, and then you've got Valencia with all the great restaurants and new development. There was this worry when we first opened that the locals wouldn't like us, that we'd come across as another upscale coffee bar, but it's been great, the community has be really supportive and it feels a little bit like we're a lynchpin between the two streets.
You guys only serve espresso, no drip coffee – how are people faring with that? There's a little bit of disappointment. I'm not trying to be everything to everyone though. This is our vision. We want it to be limited. Maybe someday we'll offer Chemex or even open a second little bar, but for this we want a limited vision that we can simplify and make really wonderful. You can try to do too much and we don't want to do that. We want to do a couple things the very best we can.
After a month, what have you seen as the most challenging aspects of running a brick-and-mortar? A lot of it is just dealing with permits and opening stuff. You're always worrying about the smaller stuff – vandalism, things breaking, plumbing. There's this certain kind of chaos that goes with opening a new place, but I love it. I really didn't know it was going to be this fun.
What's it been like being on this little stretch of 18th? When we first got this place it had been covered with newspaper for years. When we finally took that newspaper down, it was like being in a fishbowl. Everyone wanted to know what was going on, what we were doing – it was much larger than I expected. We've also dealt with a lot of vandalism. We've been spray painted a couple of times and our sign got knocked down and broken and you know, when it happens you go "bummer man" but then you just clean it up and hope that someone senses that you're going to get cleaning up this stuff and leave you alone.
Any particularly good anecdotes about this little corner? I looked out the window the other day and saw a man urinating on the side of the building. I was like, "Sir, you can't do that," but he pointed down to a little pile of grass and weeds that he'd put down to pee on, looked at me and said, "I'm just trying to water the lawn."
What are your plans moving forward? San Carlos is a beautiful street, but it sort of dies at the corner. There's a lot of concrete, people just bury their garbage at the base of the trees. My vision is to make this part of the street beautiful for the people who live here and the people who sit or walk past here everyday. Each day I'd like to make it a little nicer, you know, I want add places for people to sit and park their bikes. I'd like to remove some of this concrete and maybe work with the Friends of the Urban Forest to get some native plants here, maybe even make a little place for dogs or something. We just want to add something to the neighborhood and the coffee bar is just one part of it.
~ Noah Sanders