Blue Bottle, La Cocina, and the Commercialization of Dolores Park

The debate surrounding the commercialization of Dolores Park sure has been heating up lately.  Earlier this week, Stephen Elliot, the man largely responsible for preventing American Apparel from opening up shop on Valencia Street in 2009, took up the cause and launched “Stop the Trailer.”  Stephen easily has the capability to see some success on this issue given his network of businesses and track-record of victory.  He even has devoted himself to undermine Blue Bottle's business by standing in front of their trailer and offering free coffee to all their patrons.

The general campaign against these trailers makes many good points: Dolores Park is already used to its max, the trailers, generators and accompanying lines will be a visual and audible blight and, most importantly, parks are meant to be for leisure, sport and unfettered drinking.

However, Stephen and other neighbor's campaign is being subverted by Chicken John.  He defends his use of the “McDonald's is coming!“ hyperbole in his straw-man petition because it was successful, “time was short and we needed knee-jerk reactions. Which we got.”  He spends his time trying to paint local business Blue Bottle as a corporate monster, but completely ignores that La Cocina will be operating a similar truck, all while parading around Ritual Roaster's trailer on federal land.  Worst of all, Chicken John is a man with previously no visibility on park matters.  Of the half dozen or so community meetings I've been to over the past year, he never once showed his face or rallied his crew of Laughing Squid fanboys.  This guy doesn't care about “Dolores Park's soul;” he is, yet again, merely using this controversy as a tool for self-promotion.

Time is poorly spent defining what types of businesses should be allowed to vend on public land.  More importantly, it's hard to fault Blue Bottle or La Cocina for taking this offer—Rec. & Park truly offered an incredible deal.  As anyone who has ever tried to open a business in San Francisco can tell you, the costs and red tape are outstanding.  One small Valencia St. retail outlet (no food or drink) that I know of spent $60,000 just to open the door and dealt with countless setbacks (ADA compliance, fire etc).  Serving food and drink makes it even more costly.  Yet Blue Bottle has only sunk $25,000 into their venture and La Cocina has reportedly spent $30,000.  To be granted a retail space with access 1.2 million patrons a year for such a staggeringly low start-up cost and, worst, only $1,000/month in rent is what is so disgusting.  As Blue Bottle's James Freeman told 7x7 Magazine, “It was less expensive than building out a cafe.”

And this is the problem with the deal.  Rather than fill up one of the dozen storefronts on Valencia or Mission with a business, we have incentivized businesses to plant 12-foot trucks in the middle of a park that is already pressed for space.  Even if Blue Bottle or La Cocina had to get a Dolores location, the storefront on the corner of 18th and Dolores next to Bi-Rite Cremery is up for rent.  Rec & Park should have recognized that if they were going to whore out one of our national treasures, they should have at least demanded more money per month than what I pay in rent.

Given all this, I recognize booting the trucks out of Dolores Park is an unwinnable war.  The contracts are in place, the permits have been drawn up and the trucks have been built.  Short of Chicken John taking a liter of gas and a match to the trucks, they'll be in The Park later this fall.  But kicking them out is not a war worth pursuing: it would be unfair to for these two groups, who are largely innocent in the whole ordeal, to eat the cost of the city's blunder.  Instead, Rec & Park should realize this was a grave mistake and when the permits are up in two years, not renew them and have Rec & Park head Phil Ginsburg assure us that this will never happen again.

Comments (26)

Nice analytic, community news opinion piece. Be careful of pissing off the Laughing Squid crowd though. Now more pics of narcs please.

I heard they are going to put a McDonald’s in Dolores Park? Fuck that.

What they ought to do is close Church weekends between 19th & 20th, and allow vendors to serve there.

Only two issues: Understandably flabbergasted neighbors, and the caustic effect of food droppings on the Muni tracks.

In other words, there is no elegant solution to people who want to take advantage of Dolores Park for their agendas.

Whether they be bad drummer, bad mime troops, bad beer, bad children, bad dogs, bad popsicles, bad moods or most generally: BAD DUDES.

Just say no. Inelegant, but effective.

Good post, Kevin. Just a quick fact check: it’s $1000/month + 10% of revenue. (Revenue, not profit.) Blue Bottle is estimating $30000 minimum, which would be $2500 a month. More than you pay in rent, I’d bet, although I agree that it may not be enough to offset impacts on the park.

I generally support food carts in the park (as I support pop-up carts all around the city). Food carts across the city have “retail space with access to [millions of] patrons a year for a staggeringly low start-up cost,” and that’s a good thing. Granted, I’d like to see the carts smaller in size than this Blue Bottle trailer, and I’d like to see the carts along the sidewalk on 20th Street, rather than in the park itself. But I don’t think charging more rent is the answer; that just means that only the rich can play. There is a way to do this right. Some impacts could be minimized with tighter restrictions (size of footprint, size of signage, trash + recycling cleanup, maybe no electrical generators at all, maybe allow only start-up indie carts that do not also have brick-and-mortar locations).

There’s been at least one food truck that’s occasionally parked on the street right at Dolores Park. I wonder if the NIMBYism would get toned down a bit if the trailers were on the edge of the park rather than inside it.

Kevin, I love you so much right now I could just eat you up! Finally, press that gets to real issue and doesn’t take the sensationalize approach of throwing the local business owners under the bus.

I haven’t really been involved since I left Dolores Park Works and I’ve tried to be neutral and stay out of it given my history and role in the community, but now I think it’s time to speak up.

It has never been about La Cocina or Blue Bottle. It’s about cultural appropriateness. It’s about wear and tear on the park. It’s about RPD and the Commission’s process, authority and lack of accountability. It’s about lack of sufficient outreach. It’s about turning the few public, green neighborhood spaces into commercial profit centers. It’s about setting precedents for what is acceptable behavior from city departments and what is not. It’s about changing an already beloved park. It is about all parks, not just Dolores Park.

I can’t stress enough how awful I and others feel about the vendors themselves. They followed the rules and are now bearing the burden of Rec and Park’s failure and power. I love food trucks and would love to see them all over the city, just not in our parks. Dufty is working on legislation to make it easier for food trucks to be in the city. He is working with La Cocina on the legislation.

Food vendors in the park is not final. Blue Bottles has not been officially approved. All vendors can be asked to leave by RPD and will be given 30 days notice. Again, this really sucks for the vendors. I hope everyone will donate to and support La Cocina and buy from Blue Bottle. They are getting screwed! If you are interested in learning more or getting involved, go to

Crystal and Kevin sitting in a tree, kay eye ess ess eye en gee……

For all the hyperbole that’s been thrown around on this issue, this a pretty sane write-up.

I can’t wait til they put a McDonalds there either!! McRib 4EVAAA!!

Thanks Kevin (and Crystal, and some other commenters); these are the first arguments that have made me think twice about the issue.

I haven’t known about the process itself enough to see how problematic it’s been (with the lowball rents, et cetera). It’s hard to trust someone saying “not enough community outreach” when it’s surrounded by so much other dishonesty (to paraphrase Chicken John: “We lied, but it worked!”) or non-local business (I assume from his essay that he does not patronize any businesses that may expand in the next 5-10 years).

Anyway: I’m much more ambivalent about the cart than when I woke up this morning!

Great photos of the Ritual Trailer, too. Hilarious.

You do realize that people elsewhere are cracking themselves up about this bullshit. Don’t you? SRSLY! It’s just a fucking coffee truck. Brolores park isn’t your own private back yard. SOME people might actually enjoy having easy access to expensive fancy coffee drinks. You should know better. People in this town are lazy as fuck. It makes perfect sense to have Bousi-Blue Bottle coffee set up shop where, you know, all the hipster 2.0 assholes are hanging out these days. You want your PBR tallboy brought right to where you and your fixie are parked. Right? Why should other people have to trek all the way to *blech* HAYES VALLEY to get their Michael Recchiuti chocolate mochas???
Don’t be so selfish.
The fact that the RPD actually has something to gain financially from this arrangement is a total bonus!
This is such a non issue. I don’t blame RPD for NOT making this a public shit-show. There already is precedent for permitting commercial vendors to operate within parks in SF as many have already pointed out with GG park and others. why should oh so precious Clitoris park be any different? GET OVER YOURSELVES.

LOL “Clitoris Park” (runner up mini-lol for Brolores Park)

SERIOUSLY! There are kittehs dying of starvation in one of the Koreas and shit. Point being… there are more important things to be concerning ourselves with…ith.
I’m out


OK, one more…
There is a gay hating, migrant worker abusing, employee shoving oompah loompah poised to take over the governorship of California and you are worried about a coffee truck opening in Dolores park??? DOOD!

great write up - i saw stephen elliot after the meeting and he was still fired up. The Dolo is not a national treasure or a hipster burial ground (yet) and while the coffee trailer is regrettable, it will have no real effect on anyone’s enjoyment of the park.

I guess I just feel like, the anti-coffee cart people are making a spurious argument similar to Burning Man’s ‘No Commerce Here’ bullshit. If it’s okay to buy and bring, then moving those sales on to the park doesn’t harm the park because it is not Sacred Ground.

I also don’t want to see a shit ton of vendors at the park, but, guess what? We actually already have that, they’re just selling weed and clandestine beers. And on busy permitted days even more vendors show up. So I guess we’re really just against structures? That seems a bit ridic to me. I think maybe we might as well have the city make money so we can pay for people to clean up all the Parliament Light butts and bottle caps.

And lastly, the protesting business have $$ on their brains, which is fine, good for them, they pay rent. But I can’t get too fired up about how much money they may or may or not lose.

I also don’t want to see a shit ton of vendors at the park, but, guess what? We actually already have that, they’re just selling weed and clandestine beers. And on busy permitted days even more vendors show up. So I guess we’re really just against structures? That seems a bit ridic to me.

This is exactly right. Or more specifically, against vendors who directly and literally give something back to the community (in the form of tithe and cleanup) rather than just cruising around, leaving trash and tire tracks.

And they’re not just selling weed and beer: fish tacos, tamales, ice cream, pizza, cold water, etc. are all for sale in this great green space. The phrase “that ship has sailed” comes to mind.

In my opinion, Dolores is a national treasure. In my experience, I’ve never encountered such a diverse community exist is such a small place. McLaren Park in NYC rivals, but it just isn’t the same. Given how used the park is, there is a sizable difference between a man walking around with a cooler selling beer and a 12 foot long trailer, accompanied with a line, selling coffee. So, yes, it will have a real effect on the enjoyment of the park, as there will be less park to enjoy.

As I understand it, the BB cart will be on already-paved ground next to the dumpsters. People weren’t enjoying that part of the park very much anyway.

I agree that if there were new pavement, or if they were on grass, that would be too much.

And as for lines, yeah, they suck, but people enjoy the park just fine with mile-long bathroom lines, and the the coffee line will likely be nowhere near the size of the ladies’ room line on a hot day.

no vendors without bathrooms I say!

Kevin: I really must challenge you on two counts in your following statement about vendors in the park, which I too am opposed to:

“The general campaign against these trailers makes many good points: Dolores Park is already used to its max, the trailers, generators and accompanying lines will be a visual and audible blight and, most importantly, parks are meant to be for leisure, sport and unfettered drinking.”

Two observations:

1. For someone who disparages neighbors who complain about unpermitted amplified sound and DJs (“audial blight”–your term) and has shown little concern about the boorish behavior of park patrons who trash the park, I am surprised by your sudden concern about “visual and audible blight”. Sounds disingenuous coming from you.

2. Parks are for “unfettered drinking”??? Oh, really?? Since when???? Of course, it’s completely in line with your statement last year that “”Drugs and alcohol are absolutely what make Dolores Park the bastion of freedom that it is.” Clearly, you still feel that way. Too bad. No, parks are not meant for “unfettered drinking” (another term for “getting wasted.”)

1. I don’t think bands and DJs are audial blight… it’s music. There’s a vast difference between the Ferocious Few rocking out, with a constantly changing tune, beat and lyrics and a constant, day-long rumble of a generator.

2. Unfettered Drinking is co-opting the term used by Gideon Kramer to describe people’s behavior in the park, which I clearly don’t believe is “getting wasted,” but if he truly believes everyone is out to get smashed in the park, then I want to voice my support of being able to enjoy alcohol in a public space. We shouldn’t have to crawl down 24th everytime we want to get lit up.

I can’t believe the apathy this Alex Chaffee has for the park.
I get that he/she (or he-she) loves fish tacos from a bike. That is cool.
Hey, I love kids selling lemonade, but that doesn’t mean there should be lemonade kiosks in the park or beaches.
Chaffee is fine with there being ‘less space’ in the park (green areas) for people and beer and non-sense and more space for semi-permanent structures in Dolores Park.
The argument, if you call it that, comparing actual mobile vendors (bikes, carts, etc) to trailers/kiosks doesn’t hold water (or cold water or beer for that matter).
These businesses giving back to the park? Cleaning it up? Really? That is in their contract? I wish all businesses had that as part of their lease.
I wish Chaffee was more informed about what is actually going on with the Parks and Rec department and its relationship with permitted vendors.
Isn’t it possible that taco bikes and old ladies hauling tamales around could disappear if these sanctioned businesses go into/onto the park?
In addition to tithe and cleanup, maybe they will be asked to police the park.

Now you know why an Americano costs 2.50 here in the Bay Area. In Portland it’s only $2.00 from Stumptown (the 3rd wave coffee place that started it all and everyone else copies), oh and there’s NO sales tax either! The city has priced starting a business, or anything else, to ridiculous levels; of course, the cost is past on to you poor suckahas.

Also, Blue Bottle now blows since they went on their expansion kick. Lines are longer and they don’t seem to care that people wait. At the BB cart at the Oakland Farmer’s Market, they even reduced the staff, making the line even slower. Good thing there’s more competition with the likes of the superior Subrosa and Remedy nearby!

I love Blue Bottle and am very upset that it is not going to open in my neighborhood park (just 2-3 blocks from my house).
It would have been so lovely to be able to sip on a BB coffee while enjoying the park! I don’t know what all the fuss is about.
I hate San Francisco politics.