Emanuel “Manny” Yekutiel has always been busy before big elections. In 2012, he worked on Obama’s reelection campaign (and later interned at the White house), and in 2016 it was the campaign to elect Hillary Clinton. But ahead of Tuesday’s midterm, he’s been occupied with something new: Opening Manny’s, a 3,000-square-foot cafe, bar, bookstore, and civic gathering space at 3092 16th Street. After more than a year of construction on the corner of Valencia (in the former V16 Sushi space), Manny’s will greet its first customer on November 6th.
That timing isn’t just fitting, but intentional: Yekutiel envisions Manny’s as just the kind of place you’d want to watch election results roll in. It’s “a new physical place to go to become a better informed and more involved citizen,” he says.
In an era when most of us engage with the news alone (Yekutiel gestures to his phone) he wants to bring people together to commiserate and organize in real life. “There’s something necessary about an in-person connection,” he says.
It’s that need that brought more than 1,000 people together to help him work on the space, he believes — and what inspired donors to give more than $75,000 to the project on Kickstarter.
Nearby bookstore Dog Eared books will provide Manny’s with political reading material, stocking floor-to-ceiling shelves in a central bookstore space. Food offerings will be implicitly political, too, according to Kevin Madrigal, co-founder and culinary director of Farming Hope. His nonprofit — which provides transitional work in its gardens and training in the culinary industry to people experiencing homelessness and poverty — will handle the menu at Manny’s.
“When people buy something here, they’ll be supporting what we do [at Farming Hope], whether knowingly or unknowingly,” Madrigal says.
Farming Hope’s food — with an emphasis on its own produce and a dash of Middle Eastern spices a la Yotam Ottolenghi — will be available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Manny’s will also serve Baked goods from Frena, the city’s only Kosher baker, plus coffee from Ritual, tea from Republic of Tea, four wines, and nine taps of beer from nearby breweries like Barebottle and Standard Deviant. An evening menu will consist of hearty bar bites, and Farming hope and other organizations will host occasional pop-up dinners.
Manny’s bar and cafe space, which has room for about 35 people, is accessible from 16th Street. A back bar features tiles donated by Heath Ceramics, and a central bench is covered with cushioning and an Afghan rug Yekutiel picked up at the Alameda Flea.
Behind the cafe (and accessible by another entrance on Valencia) is a large event space with room for about 107. In that space, there’s more seating, two TVs (to be tuned to news), a large projector, and lots of board games.
While Manny’s itself is new, its idea is anything but. “For centuries there have been certain cafes, bars, and restaurants that have doubled as spaces for civic engagement, social justice, and activism,” says Yekutiel, “places to consume, react, and create the news.”
The first coffee houses in the Ottoman Empire and cafes in France fomented revolutions, he observes, while Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco and the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village kickstarted the movement for gay rights. Madrigal points to Mitla Cafe in San Bernardino, where organizers in the 1940s organized to sue the city for access to public pools — an action that helped set precedent for Brown vs. Board of Education.
So will the next revolution get started at Manny’s?
“It’s already happening,” says Madrigal.
Tuesday’s festivities will include music, food, and “flip the house” drinking games with host Honey Mahogany, a drag queen and activist. On Wednesday, when the midterm hangover has subsided, Manny’s will host an election recap with leaders of political organizations Indivisible, Sister District, and Swing Left.
In pop-up talks, Manny’s has already hosted Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and Jason Collins, an openly gay former Basketball player. More speakers and activities are already on the books.
To succeed, Manny’s will need to have some kind of activity almost every night — “Just like a movie theater doesn’t work if it’s not showing movies every night, or a sports bar doesn’t work if it’s not showing a game,” says Yekutiel.
But what that activity entails is flexible, from phone banking to watching documentaries to drinking beer and making art.
“At Manny’s, we want to expand the idea of what civic engagement means.”