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Friday, September 17, 2010

Mission Merchants Halt Dolores Park Food Sales. Blue Bottle, La Cocina Plans in Jeopardy

Posted By on Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 2:53 PM

click to enlarge Plans by Blue Bottle and La Cocina to operate food trailers are suddenly in doubt.
  • Plans by Blue Bottle and La Cocina to operate food trailers are suddenly in doubt.
UPDATE: Opponents of Dolores park vending plan blame what they describe as Rec and Park's failure to reach out to the community.

A group of Dolores Park merchants is pushing back against Rec and Park's plan to bring food vendors to the park, throwing into doubt whether Blue Bottle Coffee and La Cocina will be allowed, after all, to operate carts there.

In 2009, Rec and Park announced it would raise much-needed revenue by allowing mobile vendors in parks, inviting local businesses to submit RFPs. In January, commissioners okayed proposals by Blue Bottle and La Cocina to sell in Dolores, and in May, La Cocina named Veronica Salazar's El Huarache Loco as operator of the nonprofit's trailer. Both Blue Bottle and La Cocina had hoped to roll out their Dolores operations soon.

But some merchants in the 18th Street corridor said they only caught wind of Rec and Park's plans two weeks ago. Theycontend the agency hasn't done due diligence about alerting the neighborhood about park food sales. At a recent Rec and Park Commission meeting, representatives from Dolores Park Café and Fayes Video and Espresso Bar publicly opposed the vendor plan.

Earlier this week, Dolores Park community members asked Rec and Park commissioners to put vending permits for Blue Bottle and La Cocina on hold, at least until a community meeting Sept. 27 at Dolores Park Church, at which neighbors are invited to sound off about the proposal.

At the Dolores Park Works website, Crystal Vann Wallstrom blasted Rec and Park for what she calls its lack of outreach. "We love Blue Bottle Coffee and La Cocina! This is not about them specifically," Vann Wallstrom writes. But Mike McConnell, co-owner of Fayes ― a café on 18th Street ― has concerns about Blue Bottle. "We're not upset that it's coffee coming in," he says. "My concern with Blue Bottle is that they're going national [Last February, Blue Bottle opened a cafe in Brooklyn]. Two years ago in this neighborhood there was a huge fight to keep American Apparel off Valencia Street, and now this." McConnell thinks a smaller coffee roaster without a retail presence ― like De La Paz ― might be a better fit. "They'd be an awesome choice if the Parks Department needs revenue."

McConnell says he also has concerns about an uptick in trash and crowds, and he wonders why Rec and Park isn't waiting till the park's renovation is completed to roll out food vendors.

Blue Bottle founder James Freeman says his company is already far along in its Dolores plans. The company has obtained an 8-by-12-foot trailer it's had re-clad in shiny aluminum (Freeman calls it "the Shiny Box"), with a propane-fueled espresso machine and tower. "We can tow it to an approved location far away from the commerce of 18th Street," Freeman says. And he doesn't see a Blue Bottle presence as competition with nearby brick and mortars. "If we are allowed in, I firmly believe no surrounding business is going to sell one less latte," he says. "Change is hard for a lot of us. If we are granted the opportunity, hopefully we'll prove we can be good neighbors."

Meanwhile, La Cocina director Caleb Zigas says he's surprised by the neighborhood pushback ― he returned to town today, and had only just gotten word of the Sept. 27 community meeting. Zigas says the nonprofit has spent more than $30,000 on a custom-fabricated trailer and related expenses for Dolores Park. He says El Huarache Loco has laid out additional funds. Resistance from neighbors has caught him off guard. "I'm disappointed that we're having that conversation now," he says.

Representatives of Rec and Park haven't returned SFoodie's call seeking comment.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Contact me at John.Birdsall@SFWeekly.com

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