In Cole Valley, amid its tree-lined streets, cute shops, and brunch destinations, Dan and Ella Streetman sell coffee not from behind a storefront or via an app, but out of their garage. A coffee roaster, a Behmor 1600, tumbles beans and churns out thick aromatics on one side of the space. On the other wall sits a coffee grinder by an empty box from Zappos. On top of the Streetmans’ Subaru are post office mailers, taped to the gills and stuffed with coffee.
The (garage) doors for the business, called in Bird and Bear Coffee, opened in June of 2020. Streetman had been working in the coffee business for about 17 years, he says, first tasting coffee when he started college, where he fell for it on the spot. First, he worked at a “little, tiny cafe” in College Station, Texas, then as a coffee buyer for Irving Farm New York. For the last three years, he’d been doing business-to-business sales for Sightglass Coffee. That ended in March when the pandemic began, and Streetman was laid off.
“I started talking with my wife and we said ‘you know know what, we’re just going to do our own thing,’” Streetman says. Initially, he and Ella (that’s his co-owner, co-founder, and wife) planned on building an online business, roasting beans they’d source in their garage and at East Bay co-roasting collective Pulley Collective, where small businesses can rent roasting time by the hour. (“It’s like a WeWork for coffee,” Streetman says.)
Their Cole Valley neighbors kept asking what they were up to as they passed by, Streetman says, so he began to open the garage door while he worked. Now, with the garage door rolled above, customers can walk up to the masked Streetman for just-roasted bags of specialty coffee. (He’s not permitted to serve prepared beverages or food, so Streetman just sells the bags.) Depending on the day, a table next to Streetman sports homemade cards made by Paint House. It feels like the most grown up lemonade stand you’ve ever seen.
One advantage he has, Streetman says, are the relationships he’s built over his career. While working with other coffee companies, for example, Streetman met coffee farmers Iris, Lourdes, and Ana Isabel, three sisters who inherited a coffee lot from their grandfather. Now the women provide the beans that go into Bird and Bear’s “Honduras Hermanas Alvarado” blend, a pound of which fetches $15.
“It’s been cool to rekindle relationships,” Streetman says of the families and collectives they’ve called upon to provide Bird and Bear’s eight varieties, blends and single origin coffees.
The launch of the business has been anything but clear. Streetman has a State of California Food Manufacturing License, and a business license. He is licensed by the state to make food in Oakland, but it’s not clear if there is a city permit required for the way he is operating in the garage.
“The business is not considered retail, even though the garage business is retail. If it were just online it would only be the state license we need,” Streetman says. “It’s kind of a gray area.”
For coffee roasting, Streetman says roasting anything under 15kg doesn’t need a permit in the state, says Streetman. Regardless, Streetman is prepared for the likelihood of his garage door rolling back down.
“If they come for the pop-up, they come for the pop-up. It can’t last forever,” Streetman shrugs.
But so far, Streetman says that he hasn’t heard any complaints. “The neighborhood we’re in is a more privileged area,” Streetman, who is a white, cis, male, says. “Nobody has given me a hard time about all these different things. If I wasn’t who I was, people might have said ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘what’s your deal.’”
Streetman says that the way his neighbors have bought from the business might also be a byproduct of the pandemic. “With everything going on in the pandemic, it’s bad news all around,” Streetman says. “But the support has been a bright spot.”
Streetman isn’t sure how long the business can last as-is. He wants to place Bird and Bear in local grocers and cafes, and says that Ella and he are looking for the right ways to make a difference, and give back to the community. “That’s an ever-present challenge,” Streetman says. “The whole thing is finding ways to pay it forward. ”
For instance, Streetman sells coffee for $15 a pound though many competitor roasters sell for $24 a pound. “It’s a statement of accessibility, to make this an everyday luxury,” Streetman says. He’s also planning on hosting fundraisers for local organizations, like the SF-Marin Food Bank, especially during COVID-19.
And for as long as he can, Streetman will work the sidewalk, connecting with his neighbors, many of whom have become walk-up Bird and Bear customers. Whether slinging bags of coffee or packing white and red USPS bags for shipping, he’ll keep the corner of Beulah and Cole Street infused with the dark aroma of coffee.
“We didn’t start this business to get rich,” Streetman says. “I want to be a force in the community. For so many years I worked in the industry to help others make it big and sell it off. I see opportunity now to be focused on who I want to be in the world rather than how much money I make.”
Bird and Bear is open to walkup customers on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. and on Thursdays from 1 - 4 p.m.