Farley’s Celebrates 30 Years of Coffee Community

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Farley’s, a cozy coffee shop located at 1315 18th Street, was founded by Roger Hillyard after he was unable to find a retailer that sold a glass insert replacement for his broken French press.  He decided to open a coffee and tea paraphernalia store, which he named after his grandfather, Jack Farley, who disappeared in 1921.

“This coming St. Patrick’s Day is our 30th Anniversary,” the coffee shop’s manager, Carly Apuzzo, explained. “Originally, it was supposed to open sometime around Valentine’s Day, and right before the café was supposed to open there was a fire here. So, they had to shut everything down and hustle to get it all working again and were able to open by the end of March.”

Farley’s went from vending coffee merchandise – opening at around 2 p.m., closing at 10 p.m. – to selling beverages after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. For days afterwards Potrero Hill was one of the few neighborhoods that had access to electricity and water. Hillyard noticed a lot of people hanging around, not too sure what to do with their time.  He started opening at 6:30 a.m. and offering coffee. From that point on, Farley’s became the community’s coffee shop.

In 2008, Roger Hillyard passed the shop’s ownership to his son, Chris Hillyard, who operates it with his wife, Amy Hillyard.  Roger, who works at the San Francisco Zen Center, still frequents the cafe for a Gibraltar and donut.

In the face of constant change on Potrero Hill, Farley’s feels somewhat timeless. “Some of these people have been coming here since we opened,” Apuzzo said. “As the neighborhood has changed, Farley’s has kind of changed with the neighborhood. But it’s always remained a consistent place where people can come for music, art events, poetry, and two of our staff members even do a podcast together. Not just for the customers who come here, but even the people who work here, it’s a very supportive environment.”

According to Apuzzo, customer experience is a top priority as she marshals the café into the future.  For instance, there are no electrical outlets; WiFi access is restricted to two hours. “This seems a little counterintuitive because it’s sort of like, ‘if you care for the customers, why would you limit something like that?’ But we want people to come here and utilize the space as a place to hang out with people and talk and meet people and interact,” said Apuzzo. “Not just get glued onto staring at a screen. So, even though we appreciate people who use Farley’s as a workplace, we don’t want it to feel like a dominant workplace for those just looking to spend some time with friends or family.”

Farley’s goal is to bring people together, which starts with warm, welcoming, baristas. Apuzzo won’t just hire anyone who knows how to make a decent beverage. “It’s not about skills. It’s about personality,” she said. “When I’m hiring somebody, I’m not looking for questions and answers, I’m looking for a conversation. I think it’s important for people to be curious and passionate and have interests outside of their work. You can teach somebody to make a cup of coffee, but it’s very difficult to teach someone how to care about people.”

Farley’s nurtures a host of unique traditions.  The Saturday before Halloween the shop invites people to dress up their dogs and take a stroll from Connecticut to Texas streets, ending in a competition in which all participants receive a trophy. “The pet parade is a big one,” Apuzzo said. “Since St. Patrick’s Day is our anniversary, we always have bagpipers and Irish musicians play outside. And one of the co-owners, Amy Hillyard, runs the kitchen at Farley’s east [their Oakland location]; she usually makes a huge thing of stew and Irish soda bread and Guinness cupcakes.”

For Christmas, Santa can be found on the parklet outside Farley’s greeting children. During the Fourth of July, the coffee shop puts on a fireworks display.  And from this Valentine’s Day to St. Patrick’s Day, Farley’s will have a month of events. “Giveaways every single day for 30 days to celebrate 30 years of Farley’s,” said Apuzzo. “So, I would say people should check out our website. We’ll also have an event flyer up in the café which will say what we’re going to do every day. From February to March, it’s going to be a very busy month.”