There’s been a coffee shop at 301 Arkansas Street for the last 22 years. Not anymore. Masoud, who owned and operated Chatz since 2005, reluctantly had to close the business in April. Challenges caused by the pandemic, combined with nearby construction that disrupted parking, created traffic congestion, and drew unregulated food vendors selling to site workers, eroding the café’s profits.
It’s a bittersweet time for Masoud, now in his late 60s, who reflected fondly on his eight-to-12-hour days spent joyfully managing the shop.
“There is something very special about San Francisco,” he said. “There’s a uniqueness to Potrero Hill, it’s an incredibly connected neighborhood.”
Masoud, who resides in South San Francisco, didn’t always vend coffee. He attended the University of California, Berkeley for eight years, earning a degree in chemical engineering. He worked as a professional engineer for decades, developing semi-conductors for a major company until 2002.
“Something at work was missing…a closeness with people,” Masoud stated.
The economy was going through a rough patch; he was asked to lay off his work group.
“It was around Christmas, people were talking about their kids going to college, and I had kids myself!”
The experience hit him hard. Masoud decided to change course and buy five-year-old Chat’s Roasting Company.
Considering himself a “successful problem solver”, he “approached coffee with an engineer’s mindset”, finding new and better ways to roast and brew. Until about three years ago, an eight-ounce cup of coffee was available for just one dollar at Chatz, priced at $4.50 at most other shops.
“I will miss my connection with the neighbors most,” he said. “Holding parcels for people”, if they weren’t home to receive them and “extra keys left there” in case a neighbor locked themselves out. He fondly remembered the students and teachers who would come by on their lunch break or stop in after school. Masoud become close with a local principal who had gotten cancer, naming a coffee blend in her honor when she passed.
“The community is full of love and concern, relation and connection. From Arkansas to 18th and beyond.” He “knows everyone’s children and the names of their animals even.”
As a Hill merchant for 17 years, Masoud attended many birthdays, weddings, and funerals.
“Sometimes I go to the shop and get depressed. That’s life, you go through that, sometimes things turn out like that. The joy I got…Material and money are not important,” Masoud explained. “There is a different definition of value and status here…You are judged on your quality as an individual, and I am thankful to be exposed to that. If I had to go back, I would buy it again.”