I'll readily admit that I'm a fan of any establishment that combines my dual love of coffee and cycling in one place -- like NOPA's Mojo Bicycle Cafe that also houses a bike shop; Oakland's Actual Cafe with indoor bike parking and bicycle bingo nights; and Bicycle Coffee, which makes all of its deliveries by bicycle. So when the VeloBrews Cafe and Cycling Community Center popped up on my radar recently, I connected with Jennifer Leeper and Ross Del Duca, to find out more about their new venture.
Partners in life and in business, the co-general managers and Bayview residents live just a few blocks away from their airy space on 3rd Avenue near Newcomb Avenue. With bicycles hanging from the ceiling and cycling-themed art scattered throughout the space, it's a relaxing atmosphere for folks to either enjoy their coffee or pop in for bike repair. There's plans to host screenings soon, but in the meantime, they'll have video from the ongoing Tour de France playing in the background.
How long has VeloBrews been open?
Jennifer: The official opening day of the bike shop was May 4th, which was Sunday Streets in the Bayview. The cafe opened for coffee a week later, and we've been steadily increasing our offerings since.
What are your respective roles in running VeloBrews?
Jennifer: We both serve as general managers, though I lean more toward the cafe side of things. One of the nice things about our relationship is that our strengths complement each other; we balance out each others weaknesses pretty well. It's nice that this has carried over from our personal relationship into our professional one. I've done much of the sourcing in regards to suppliers on the food end, and I'm working on company policy and procedure. I'm also trying to be there as much as I can before I go back to work in August [in education] to help get things together.
Ross: I'm a bit spoiled; I get to be the "vision" guy. While I am involved in the operations of the cafe, I tend to focus most of my efforts on the bicycle retail side, as well as helping out our shop manager to run the repair services. I also spend a lot of my time reaching out to local bicycle groups and organizations to find out what we can offer them.
What was the inspiration for creating VeloBrews?
Jennifer: For me, it was a desire to build community and have a place where people could hang out. I've lived in Bayview-Hunter's Point for about nine years now. A few years ago, I met up with a former student; it was disappointing, because there was no place where we could sit down, have a cup of coffee and talk. I realized that our neighborhood was really lacking in places where people could go to meet, and I wished that I had a way to provide something like that for myself and other members of the community.
Ross: I've basically been building the place that I've always wanted to have available myself. I'm passionate about cycling and love hanging out and talking about bikes -- in all applications. So the idea is a place where you can meet with your local riding club, or just grab a cup of coffee and share cycling stories with other cyclists. Somewhere where the competitive cyclist can sit next to the daily bicycle commuter, share a sandwich and their interests in the bicycle.
What's your related experience in restaurant management and/or cycling?
Jennifer: I have absolutely no restaurant management experience and EXTREMELY limited food service experience. I am an educator, and any management experience I have comes from running a classroom. I love food and I love to eat -- that's where most of my experience comes from. As for cycling, well, I hadn't been on a bike since I was in high school. After meeting Ross and knowing his passion for cycling, I was inspired to get a bike myself. I love my commuter bike, and we've had a few fun rides out in the city. I like to stay in shape but I rarely have much time for the gym, so it's good for me to remember that I can ride my bike from time to time.
Ross: I've been riding for awhile now. I've also been running a cycling media company called VeloReviews. That got me a lot of exposure to the bicycle retail business as a person reporting on products and companies. Restaurant management is a new endeavor for both of us.
Where do you source the items on your menu, or is all of the food and drinks prepared from scratch on site?
Jennifer: We're keeping things simple and just making sandwiches, which we offer along with products from other local vendors. Our goal is to keep all our food offerings as local as possible. Our coffee comes from The Ubuntu Coffee Cooperative in Emeryville and we serve chai from Bay Chai here in SF. Our bagels are from Sour Flour and the pastries from La Victoria Bakery in SF. We also carry cookies from Salty Sweet. We just started using jams and chutneys from Jake's Castro Kitchen, as well as carrying chicken salad from Comfort Foods National, Inc. We've connected with King Knish and will be hosting Saturday pop-ups over the next couple months. There are some other small, local businesses we hope to partner with soon; we'd like to use the Bayview honey from SF Honey and Pollen Company and some gluten-free options from Wholesome Bakery. Keep checking back for new offerings!
What services does the cycling community center offer?
Ross: We of course have the full-service bicycle shop with repairs and sales. However, the community center part will focus on bicycle advocacy work as well as education. We're still working to get the necessary connections in place and will very shortly be offering classes for basic skills needed to successfully get around by bicycle: how to fix a flat tire, adjust your brakes, adjust your gears, etc. One of the core principles is to get more people out on bicycles. Obviously getting their bikes fixed is part of that mission, but helping them to get home without getting stranded is much more important.
Anything you'd like to add?
Jennifer: I think we've gotten off to a good start and will only continue to improve as we move forward. I know things aren't perfect, but our hearts are in in this 100% and I believe that shows. One of the best things about being involved in this venture is that we've met a lot of fantastic people in our community, who've given us a great deal of support.
Ross: I've been very pleasantly surprised how well the bike shop has been doing, and how much pent-up demand [there is] for bicycle repairs. There have been a number of people that have come in for a cup of coffee and discovered that we are a bike shop, too. It is the folks like this that say, "This bike has been sitting in my garage for two years. Now that there is a shop in the neighborhood, I'll bring it in to get fixed." This is exactly the type of thing that we're about - getting more people on bikes. And hopefully they'll run into other bicycle people while they're in the shop and that will just encourage them more. Cycling is a fantastic activity that has had nothing but a positive impact on my life. Sharing that with others is the reason we are here.