great coffee in san francisco: Grand Coffee
I stumbled upon Grand Coffee a week ago while on my lunch break in the Mission, tucked away as it is where the ticket booth would-have-been in an old movie theater called the Grand, between 22nd and 23rd on Mission Street. The menu is short (no elaborate bakery options here) but the focus on quality is keen- the owner, Nabeel, pours a great coffee. His focus is singular in the preparation of every cup I’ve had there, and in only a week I’ve been back two more times to get my fix. Beyond the coffee, ask about the gorgeously layered egg cream he’s perfected- you just might get a sample. Another must-try is Nabeel’s Mexican hot chocolate, the ‘Xocalatl’, made with Dagoba chocolate, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. The texture is silky sweet, but not cloyingly so, and the pepper gives it a nice kick on the finish. Add an espresso shot and make it a mocha.
The operation is small and caters to sidewalk traffic, but there is a counter where one can sit and enjoy the coffee and perhaps a conversation with Nabeel, too. And I suggest you do sit down if you have a little time; what began as a quick stop for a coffee that first day turned into a nice chat. I had noticed there were lots of interesting decorative details throughout the space, and Nabeel told me about the provenance of the wood and tile accents he’s affixed to the walls. He sourced and restored these elements by hand, and with them he’s made a beautiful space out of the old theater in which the kiosk is located.
Rather than gutting the space and bringing in new materials in an effort to divorce his business from the decrepid surroundings (look to the “dollar store sign” which usurped what was the marquee for a hideous example of that), Nabeel looked to the history of the space, the Grand-ness of what was the Grand Theater, and made a decision to incorporate that spirit into his own business. He sourced wood and tile of the era, and some even from the theater itself, and personally scraped, scrubbed and cleaned the pieces of wood flooring and tile by hand, making art out of them. In so doing, Nabeel puts a little bit of himself into the business, too. The business in turn manifests qualities of care, of effort, of hard work and above all, of vision. One gets the sense Nabeel himself possesses all these qualities, putting as he does his heart and soul into his shop. That’s the kind of small business I feel good about supporting.
Can you imagine how great the Grand Theater would look if someone were to revive it in the same way? I hope someday someone else sees the potential latent in the bones of the buildings and materials of that era, of a magnificent theater like this. And until then, we have a new Grand.