Kristin Houk’s Cafe Alma opened in November 2019 in India Basin, though some would consider the neighborhood a portion of Hunter’s Point. She’s run taco and burger spot Tato for five years and All Good Pizza for 11, both Bayview neighborhood staples. So it seems almost inevitable she’d try her hand at an all-day cafe for the city’s eastside residents.
The fare at her newest little shop runs the gamut from avocado toast topped with hardboiled egg and seaweed salt, to albacore tuna panini, to vegan chocolate banana smoothies. But the sweet cafe has an unavoidably short lifespan: It will inevitably be forced to close as a part of a larger project to redevelop the building. Nonetheless, Houk is proud of what she’s done with the space while she has it. “I’ve been here for 22 years,” Houk says of the Bayview neighborhood. “My partner and I have spent years walking Heron’s Head. I thought, let’s do something more.”
Haouk got involved when the owners of the building, BUILD SF, Inc., approached her to set up a pop-up food business in the space, but Houk felt like the former awning manufacturing could be better used as a permanent location. Now she uses the cafe as a place for numerous small food producers throughout the Bay to show off their stuff. It’s not rare to find one of Camisha’s Cakes on the scene, nor to pick up bread from Greg Harmon’s Outer Sunset spring water-obsessed Bearflag Bakery. Julia Street doles out her fermented chocolate creations at the shop from time to time. The food costs at Cafe Alma run from about $8 to $13, somewhat affordable by San Francisco standards, and Houk serves Sam’s Coffee — an old-school outfit that roasts just down the street. Plus, the shop might be the easternmost place in the city to get a bite to eat or a cup of coffee, perfect for long walks through one of San Francisco’s newer parks.
The cafe also plays host to local artists and musicians. Bayview funk guitarist and artist Martian Luther played at Cafe Alma in September, Luther being a resident of Zaccho Dance Theater’s Black Futures Artist-in-Residence Program 2022. In October, Houk hung paintings from Oakland artist Artemis Laura Schatzkin on the walls. She particularly enjoyed the semi-frequent tango classes hosted in the space, too. “I’m really invested in showcasing local artists,” Houk says. “The Bayview is a multigenerational community with so much to offer.”
The loss of Cafe Alma will be felt whenever it does have to close up shop, but she doesn’t really know when that will be. The San Francisco African American Faith-Based Coalition will have to find somewhere else for a food distribution center for low-income families, a key project launched during the pandemic. It’s ambiguous when and if the BUILD redevelopment will happen — it wouldn’t be the first time the neighborhood saw tremendous delays to housing projects — but the idea is to build new homes and retail spaces there in the near future. Either way, Houk isn’t too worried. “We’ll be here for a while,” Houk says.
Cafe Alma is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. with occasional pop-up and event hours.