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Why a Credit Card Startup Reopened a 30-Year-Old SF Dining Destination

South Park Cafe is now open again — but under very new management

Inside the new South Park Cafe, where tables and a bar are visible South Park Cafe

Customers at South Park Cafe, a 32-year-old SoMa business that just reopened after a two year closure, wouldn’t necessarily know it’s owned by a hot credit card startup valued at $2.6 billion. Sure, it’s not the picturesque, low-key French bistro it used to be — but with trendy new decor made by local artisans and an all-day cafe menu with items like McFarland Spring trout and bread with house-cultured butter, it could be almost any other new, independent restaurant.

The only clue, according to a representative for the business, might be a “Brex” logo on the outside of the folder holding a customer’s bill. Cash is fine, though: There’s no need to pay with a Brex card, a piece of plastic tailored to startup founders. Brex, an alum of the startup incubator Y-Combinator that’s raised $380 million according to Crunchbase, is an only-in-Silicon-Valley meta-startup: It’s a credit card that offers rewards for the kind of expenses that others startups are likely to incur, like cloud computing software subscriptions, food delivery, and Uber rides.

South Park Cafe isn’t just for Brex users or workers (though the company is headquartered five minutes away). It’s for the community, owners say. The startup’s young, early 20s founders, Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi, say they used to meet up at cafes and restaurants like their new cafe, typically in the area of South Park — a quaint oval oasis of greenery in SoMa, a neighborhood otherwise dominated by largely industrial spaces and tech offices. Before they found their own office, Dubugras and Franceschi would meet up to discuss plans and deals over coffee. But with rising rents and other costs in San Francisco, food and retail businesses have struggled to keep up. South Park Cafe’s previous owners retired in 2017.

Anyone is welcome at the new South Park Cafe: No need to conduct a business meeting. Chef Peter Mosqueda (previously a cook at another startup, Stripe) serves caesar salads, lamb meatballs, and Four Barrel Coffee drinks — though you might not find avocados on the menu. “One of the weirdest things for me about California is people’s love for avocado,” Brex founder Dubugras tweeted recently.

But the second floor of 108 South Park Street, which opened earlier this spring, is definitely intended for business. It’s a members-only lounge for Brex cardholders. The space, according to Business Insider, is called the “oval room” after the oval office. It’s designed for startup founders to meet, relax, and conduct business.

Brex founders says they’re happy to reopen a San Francisco institution to serve the public —and they’re also in a fortunate position from which to do so. “We saw this as, how could we revitalize this for ourselves and for the community and make something that was awesome, awesome again without the worries of it being like a super profitable business,” Dubugras told Business Insider.

Could this kind of subsidized business be the future of retail in San Francisco? Maybe. But don’t expect Brex to start pitching its credit card to restaurant owners.

“We’re probably not going to go into retail next because that sector is not doing really well,” Dubugras told Business Insider. “We’re probably going to go into a growing sector.”

Four Barrel Coffee

375 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94103 415-935-0604 Visit Website