A prodigious trio of San Franciscan brothers and entrepreneurs have done it again with a new coffee company in the city. The Lee brothers — David, Dennis, and Daniel who opened Namu Gaji in the Mission in 2001 — just threw their names into the specialty coffee ring with venture Pixlcat Coffee. The business opened downtown in April 2023 inside the Sunset Squares Foodhall on Ninth Street, but its newer, larger location just opened on Clement Street in mid-November. Co-owner and founder Dennis Lee says this company, with decadent butter mochi and inventive riffs on Austrian lattes in tow, is a fully independent venture, stepping into something new. “I’ve always been a chef and restaurateur,” Lee says. “We’re just super excited.”
The butter mochi at Pixlcat was a big hit for the burgeoning shop before Lee and his brothers even opened the doors in the Richmond. At the Ninth Street outpost, breakfast goers who live in the mid-Market area began to flock for the inventive riffs on mochi, including a surprisingly decadent bacon and cheese option. Still, lunch at Sunset Squares Foodhall pivots to Namu Stonepot and Sunset Squares, the brothers’ other restaurants. On Clement Street, however, the mochi is available all day. Spam musubi, BLT sandos, and cinnamon tiger toast — incorporating the tiger syrup the Lee brothers crafted of burnt turbinado sugar — round out the food options.
Chef Roy Choi was a big inspiration for Lee, unapologetically embracing Asian flavors and ideas, so when Lee started riffing on gluten-free snacks for his kids’ sports teams he went full-on with mochi. Lee is Asian American and lives part-time in Hawai’i, a culture and cuisine he describes as a “melting pot of Asian cultures.” Seven mochis are available at Pixlcat, including black sesame and white chocolate, and that does not include the shop’s mochi cookies and a mochi flight. “Like everything else we’ve done, it’s something we like,” Lee says of the menu. “Mostly for ourselves, and our friends and family, and thankfully the general public like it.”
On the drinks front, there is a wide array of options including classic Americanos to much bolder items. The business is bringing the larger Asian cafe culture in full force, evident in the mochi offerings and coffee boba drinks. But Pixlcat is also riffing on global coffee favorites; take the Doppo Panna, a nod to Austrian einspänner, a lovely creamy latte layered almost like a parfait. Four Barrel Coffee roasts the beans, and Lee says the business has always been tied to Lee and his brothers; The Valencia Street cafe hosted initial Namu Stonepot pop-ups back in the day. Pixlcat’s house blend — the “Pixlcat Purrfect Blend” — is the backbone of all the drinks, a pleasant and accessible roast. “My brother David and I have always been heavily involved in the beverage program of our businesses,” Lee says. “We love coffee. We loved learning the machine, the process, and exploring what’s out there.”
In the coming weeks, fans of Pixlcat will be able to get mochi alongside that Purrfect coffee blend sent to their house. Moreover, with a new location of Sunset Squares opening in San Jose on East Santa Clara and Third streets by the end of January 2024, a part of Cloud Kitchens’ first food hall, Lee feels optimistic about business in the Bay. “We’ve always been quick to pivot,” Lee says. “With COVID, and our business decisions to pivot to fast casual in general in the last decade, this just made sense.”
Pixlcat Coffee is open at 519 Clement Street from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.