Op-Ed: Farley’s Returns

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Farley’s Potrero Hill’s welcoming front door at 1315 18th Street. Photo: Courtesy of Farley’s

A year ago, Chris and I got up late, watched the news and contemplated what to do about Farley’s Oakland and San Francisco. We’d worked furiously to adjust to a “to go” model in the face of a pandemic that was fast approaching like an ominous storm. We went to work on March 16 and prepared the teams for the inevitable: we needed to close both cafes and lay off all staff.

On March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, Farley’s 31st anniversary, Lynne, our long-time friend, played his bagpipes, as he has for more than 20 years. We sold lattes and toilet paper at the door and closed at noon. The following day we cooked all the food we could, packaged provisions for the staff and handed out final checks. It was devastating.

Like everyone, we spent a few weeks at home. We baked bread, took walks, picked spring flowers, got out a puzzle and made a list of movies to watch as a family. It was only supposed to be a few weeks. Until it wasn’t. 

In April we partially resurrected Farley’s. We sold coffee to friends, created a virtual tip jar to raise money for staff and made meals for healthcare workers. We kicked off a meal program with a pasta Bolognese dinner. Initially it was just our family doing the labor; then we started bringing staff back. Alcira made her famous tamales. Juan cooked hundreds of biscuits for Chicken and Biscuits dinner. Christy helped make pan after pan of paella. It was hard work, but it felt good to be in the kitchen, toiling with our team and serving our community. 

By June, with funding from the Eat, Learn, Play foundation, we made upwards of 1,400 meals a week for needy Oakland residents, distributing produce boxes and provisions. 

George Floyd’s death and the day the sky turned orange prompted us to close the cafés, as protests rolled through downtown Oakland and air quality became so bad even pandemic masks couldn’t protect us.  

By fall the pandemic was ramping up, community food programs were ramping down and federal funds had dried up. There was no plan for small businesses for the winter surge. We were left to our own devices to navigate another crisis. We lost key staff to health issues. With a smaller team and decline in business, we developed gift boxes for the holiday season. We shipped Farley’s coffee around the country and raised $1,000 for the Oakland Indie Alliance through our Keep it Oakland boxes. 

Over the holidays hibernated; both stores closed for several days. We were fortunate to receive federal money because our finances are with a community bank, allowing us to keep our staff employed. 

Chris, a master at navigating bureaucracy, was able to get our Oakland team vaccinated in February. A few weeks later San Francisco staff were on their way to get shots. Farley’s East closed for two days to give our team time to recover from the vaccine.

Farley’s San Francisco reopened in March, featuring The Farley’s Store, offering products collected from legends, icons and neighbors; locally made denim napkins, everything you need to brew coffee at home, and lots of impulse-buy-worthy items. The hope is that this new experience will be enjoyable and help monetize our space, creating a sustainable revenue stream. 

This month The Farley’s Store in Oakland opened, as will a new Farley’s at the San Francisco International Airport, Gate 88 in United Terminal Two. Planned last May, it’s a licensing deal; we don’t have to run it! 

Farley’s San Francisco is open Monday through Fridays, 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.