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Illy Coffee Looking to Open a Castro Cafe

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A cup chandelier at Illy's FiDi location. [Photo: Molly DeCoudreaux]

A former framing shop on Market may be at the center of SF's next formula-retail battle, as Illy, the Italian coffee conglomerate, aims to take the space to open SF's second Espressamente Illy cafe (the first location, on Battery Street, opened in 2011). The shop is currently in the neighborhood-notification period, and while it's only the brand's 9th U.S. location, it may meet with some friction given that Illy has plans to open Espressamente Illy locations in 200 major cities in 34 countries, and already has far more than 11 outside the U.S. The formula-retail law bars shops with more than 11 U.S. outlets from opening stores in the Castro district; some local politicians have argued for extending the 11-store ban to cover worldwide outlets as well. Starbucks and Chipotle have met rejections under the law already this year.

First, the plans: at 1,800 square feet, Espressamente Illy Castro aims to seat around 50 people at a communal table and single-origin slow bar. As with the other Illy location, legendary SF chef Joyce Goldstein will design the food menu; it'll have more variety than the FiDi outlet, including sandwiches, salads, frittatas, and small bites at night. Though it'll be open late, the cafe doesn't plan on applying for a beer and wine license: "What we felt was missing in the neighborhood were some non-alcoholic gathering places for people to socialize, and we want to provide that," says co-owner Joe Gurdock.

Other key aspects of the new location will include a retail component selling coffee, espresso machines, and espresso pods, as well as a coffee-cup chandelier made from the numerous artist-collaboration cups the company has created over the years. The latter will be constructed by French conceptual artist Daniel Buren, and based on his installation "Rainbow in the Sky." "We thought it was really beautiful and appropriate for the neighborhood," says Gurdock.

While he admits that "there are similar elements to both the [SF] stores," Gurdock believes the new location is not a formula retail cafe, and so shouldn't be counted as such. "It's not formula retail by the definition of the city. Formula retail has definitions: same menu, same look. Nothing that we do here will look like any store Illy's done, and that's by design. That's not because of the formula retail law?it has to do with what our community wants and needs, and what we think is unique and local." As bonafides, he cites the local ownership (he was born and raised in SF and attended Mission High School), Goldstein's participation, and the other location's support of local food vendors like Semifreddi's and Greenleaf.

If the new Illy cafe is able to pass through the permitting process, Gurdock says he hopes to open it in mid-October. We couldn't find any petitions regarding the project, so for now, it seems that the neighbors are OK with Illy moving in.

· Look at the New Espressamente Illy Cafe, Menu by Joyce Goldstein [~ ESF ~]

Espressamente Illy

2349 Market St., San Francisco, CA