Thursday, November 5, 2015

Art + Function: Meet David and Christina Whippen of ShopFloor Design

ShopFloor Design focuses on custom metalwork, fine art sculpture, metal fabrication and machining. Here are owners Christina and David Whippen sitting with their Modular Side Table and Modular Cabinet.
Although the look of the Dogpatch neighborhood has changed tremendously over the past few years, it is still home to many artists and craftsmen.  Finding out how to stay in the neighborhood calls for a long term vision and the willingness to adapt to changing market conditions.

ShopFloor Design is one such business that has figured out how to create and thrive not just for their own business, but also for local designers as well.

Located in SoDoPa (south of the Dogpatch!) at 26th and Minnesota, the ShopFloor building is home to just opened (and already much visited) Harmonic Brewing as well as other designers and artists.

Founded by David Whippen seven years ago and expanded by David and his wife Christina over the past two years, ShopFloor Design focuses on custom metalwork, fine art sculpture, metal fabrication and machining.

Why do you do what you do?

I can't imagine doing anything else.  I like the idea of using my fine art background in a practical way.  I moved to San Francisco from New York to attend grad school in 2004 -- I received my MFA from the Academy of Art in sculpture.  I love working with metal and the precise nature of machined parts. I was initially inspired by my grandfather who started a machine tool shop after WWII.  After grad school I worked on several public art projects in Tomales Bay and commuted to my home in SF.
I enjoyed working on the projects but became focused on finding a way to work closer to home.  It was also becoming obvious that many of the artists I had graduated with were having a terrible time finding and keeping studio space.  They needed a spot they could rely on to be there long term and a landlord that wouldn't charge them huge fees to use the machines.  When I found this building I knew I could have my own studio as well as be a resource for my fellow artists.  I own all the equipment and charge a flat fee to other artists to use the machines.

This business is a good mix of my creative nature with my sales and marketing side.  I started my professional career at Google in marketing and sales but left to pursue my passion for pastry.  I graduated from the pastry program at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa and together with another pastry chef opened a pastry catering company called Bicyclette.  I actually had a commercial space across the street from ShopFloor.  I bring my creative skills to the design part of our business but also my precise pastry nature to sales and marketing.

Right now we design and manufacture custom furniture and design pieces and sell them primarily to architects and designers. We are refocusing our company to also sell direct to the consumer.
Michael Walsh sands a table at Shopfloor in Dogpatch.

Why Dogpatch?

Even seven years ago there were few places available to rent for a commercial machine shop. We were fortunate to find a landlord who is fair yet business minded.  It is a family owned business and they are in it for the future so they weren't opposed to giving us a long lease.  Our business fit the current zoning and usage for this neighborhood so the city gave us the go ahead.

We love the neighbors -- it feels like a small town within the large city.  We even sometimes lend tools to our neighbors or produce small jobs for them on the machines.

I had a vision for a space with large windows that would showcase the industrial space within.  I had seen a similar space years ago on the East Coast.  I wanted a showroom that would showcase how these pieces were made right here and by me.

We started to renovate the rest of our space several years ago with this vision in mind.  We did a lot of the work ourselves.  I wanted the space to look old and established, like it had been here a very long time.

The result is our showroom just for our custom furniture designs.  We had originally planned to put a commercial kitchen space that could be rented in the other part of the large space but when Christina decided to join the company we decided we wanted a different type of a business there like a distillery or brewery.  We are very pleased that Harmonic Brewing is in that space now.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

I'm already doing what I love, where I want to do it with people I enjoy working with.  But if I had to pick something else I might do well as an architect.

I've already sampled enough careers and I'm very pleased with what I have ordered this time!
Shopfloor Design's Christina and David Whippen at their Weldsafe Platen Table in their shop in Dogpatch.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Harmonic Convergence: Meet the Craftsmen Behind Harmonic Brewing

The founders of Harmonic Brewing in their new brewery and tasting room are (l to r) Eric Tisch, Jon Verna and Eddie Gobbo.
Harmonic Brewing.  The name alone makes one feel calm and ready for a brew.  And so does the sleek, industrial yet modern space with its gray painted walls and sleek table tops.  The 5,000 square foot space carved out of a larger warehouse space includes a brewery visible to the public, a small tap room and seating with office space overlooking the entire operation.  The site of a former nut factory, Harmonic Brewing subleases this part of the warehouse from ShopFloor Design, a metalworking shop that designs high-end furniture and sculptures. 

With the arrival of The Wine House down the road and all the new businesses planned for the area around 26th and Minnesota, it seems that this area of Dogpatch needs its own designation, maybe -- SoDoPa -- Southern Dogpatch. 

Eddie Gobbo, Jon Verna and Eric Tisch -- partners in Harmonic Brewing would prefer BrewPatch but we will let the denizens of Dogpatch decide.

The small, privately funded brewery hopes to ramp up production to 1,000-2,000 barrels and will sell to local SF bars like the Dogpatch Saloon.   They will have six to seven beers to start and consistently on tap.  They also hope to offer seasonal offerings and special brews as the inspiration strikes them. 

Although the brewery will not offer food for sale, the partners hope to have food trucks onsite as well as bring in soft baked pretzels from The Salt Point Pretzel Company. And of course with a name like Harmonic, live music is a possibility in the future.  

Gobbo and Verna met long ago when they both lived on the East Coast then reconnected when they moved to California.  Tisch and Verna met through their online marketing careers.  All shared a common interest in home brewing.  And all three partners kicked off the dust of their corporate lives to form Harmonic Brewing.  

With the smell of grape nuts in the air, we sat down with the partners and sipped their flagship Rye Old Fashioned Pale -- a nod to the classic American cocktail.
Harmonic Brewing Co-Founders Eddie Gobbo and Jon Verna at the Harmonic Brewing tasting room in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA.

Why do you do what you do?

EG:  I'm a chemical engineer and scaling home brew to major production was very similar to my previous career of scaling drug processes from lab to production.  I love the science aspect of the work -- to tinker with the recipes and see what works and what doesn't work.  And then the creative aspect of creating something and sharing it with customers and to get that feedback whether good or bad.  I want this to be a place where people want to come again and again -- to make it their hang out. I want it to be like the old school places in San Francisco that we used to go to when we first came to SF and that we feel are now disappearing.  We know we have to earn that and we are up for it!

JV:  It feels so great to be making a tangible product versus working on spreadsheets and being in client meetings and chained to a desk.  I love interacting with people who care about the product we are making.

ET:  This is strictly a passion project for me.  It is what I always enjoyed doing when I wasn't working so the opportunity to turn this into my career was a no-brainer for me.  I feel so fortunate that a hobby has translated into a career.

Why Dogpatch?

JV:  This neighborhood is the perfect vibe for us.  It's industrial but it is also a real neighborhood. We love how neighbors have stopped by while we were under construction to wish us well and to welcome us to Dogpatch. Everyone is so friendly and wants us to succeed.  It is perfect for us.
Eddie did a pub crawl here with his wife and had a chance to explore the neighborhood.  We looked for more than eight months for a place for Harmonic and we were getting discouraged.  We finally saw a listing on Craigslist from ShopFloor Design and the way the listing was worded, it almost seemed liked they were looking for a tenant like us to share space with.  We signed our lease in November 2015.
Harmonic Brewing Co-Founder Eric Tisch oversees the process at the brewery in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA.
What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

EG:  Make my living as a musician -- form a band and play bass.

JV:  I would be a music promoter like Bill Graham which is what I originally came to California to do!

ET:  This is the only thing that I want to be doing -- this is it, no other option!

Why did you decide on the name Harmonic Brewing? 

Well, we are all music lovers so the name reflects that but it also refers to the fact that we want all our offerings to be in balance -- smooth -- not too bitter or too strong of an alcohol taste.

Editor's Note:  Harmonic Brewing passed their final inspections and is now open for business!
Business Hours:  Thursday & Friday 3pm-11pm, Saturday noon-11 pm and  Sunday noon-5 pm

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dogpatch Warriors has a nice RING to it: Meet your neighborhood Warriors' Ambassadors

Three Dogpatch residents who support the new Golden State Warriors Arena in Mission Bay pose at the site which is at 16th and 3rd in San Francisco. Left to right Scott Van Horn, Vanessa Aquino and Adam Gould.
The proposed move by the Golden State Warriors to Dogpatch Flats (aka Mission Bay) has been met by much excitement by many in Dogpatch but also with some concern about the resulting increase in traffic and worries about even more parking woes.

A movement to help educate the communities located around the arena about the move to SF has been dubbed (yes, I said it) by the team as Warriors Ground SF.  Warriors Ground SF is a group of Dogpatach neighbors and business owners who act as ambassadors to help spread support for the Warriors Arena and for the entertainment center and offices that will also be part of the complex.

In Dogpatch, Scott Van Horn, Vanessa Aquino and Adam Gould are part of the Warriors Ground SF coalition.  Two days after the Warriors were crowned NBA Champions, we sat down with Van Horn, Aquino and Gould over pies from Longbridge Pizza to chat about all things Warriors.

You can find out the details about what the Warriors management is proposing for the site at Third and 16th Street at this link as well as some of the concerns that have been put forth in this SF Chronicle article.  We wanted to hear why these three were offering their public support.

Why do you do what you do -- how did you get involved with the Warriors move to San Francisco:

Vanessa Aquino:  As a huge sports fan and a native of San Francisco as well as a resident of Dogpatch for more than ten years, I was of course excited when I heard that the Warriors were considering a move to SF.  I had first heard of the move when Warriors management came to the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association to present their plans for the arena and to discuss how their move to SF would affect Dogpatch.

Scott Van Horn:  I grew up in the East Bay and I started following the Warriors during the "we believe" team which was in 2007.  I met some of the Warriors organizers through various community events and offered to volunteer my time to help educate the community about the issues surrounding the arena. For the Warriors to be the powerful franchise that I think they aspire to be they really need to be in SF.  A new arena in SF will allow them to have luxury boxes and more to offer corporate sponsors.  This in turn will allow them to pay more for the top players.

Adam Gould: I must confess that I have never been much of a basketball fan!  So I'm just now jumping on the bandwagon.  My interest has been less as a sports fan and more as a Dogpatch business person as well as a Dogpatch resident who sees a lot of benefit to the Warriors coming to our neighborhood.
The UCSF Medical Center in Mission Bay looms over the site of the new Golden State Warriors Arena. Supporters of the arena from left to right Scott Van Horn, Vanessa Aquino and Adam Gould.

So what are those benefits to Dogpatch?

VA:  There will be people who are going to the Warriors games and to the other special events at the arena who will start their day or evening here in Dogpatch.  That means more business for the restaurants and more foot traffic for the retail businesses.  And all that foot traffic will bring even more energy and buzz to the neighborhood.

SVH:  I agree that the arena and events space will bring a different sense of vibrancy to Dogpatch that the building of apartments and condos does not.  I think the community will also benefit from the use of the bayfront park that is part of the project as well as access to all the new retail shops that will be part of the complex.

AG:  What has hindered Dogpatch is the lack of services such as a grocery store and a bank.  Having the arena is the best kind of growth to have and we are fortunate that the Warriors are interested in this part of SF to build their arena.  Their interest and arrival will hopefully attract similar growth minded companies and Dogpatch will be the beneficiary in terms of not just more retail, but also some of these essential services. This is absolutely the right kind of growth for Dogpatch.

What are some of the challenges to Dogpatch?

VA:  Parking of course but also there is some concern that the spill over crowd after games and events will be less than well-behaved.

SVH:  Most people would say that parking issues are the biggest challenge but I believe that the numerous new apartments and condos that have recently been approved and are in progress will have more of a long term negative impact on parking than the Warriors arena will have.  I think increased traffic during commute times is a bigger issue and the Warriors have addressed that in their plan.

AG:  I'm not as concerned with the traffic and parking issues but I do think that there needs to be some sort of monitoring for the "rowdy" crowds that might descend upon the neighborhood after events.

So, how about the name -- Golden State Warriors, San Francisco Warriors, Dogpatch Warriors...?

VA:  I think it should stay the Golden State Warriors.  It is a more inclusive name -- this is a California team, not just a San Francisco team.

SVH:  San Francisco Warriors!

AG:  San Francisco Warriors.  I think it would be prestigious for a basketball team to be associated with this city.
Nick and Nora the cranes at Crane Cove Park in Dogpatch which won't be used for parking.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Science & Art of Character Building: Meet Phil Jaber of Philz Coffee

Phil Jaber, founder of Philz Coffee, stands on the landing above the new cafe at the company headquarters in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco, CA.
Phil Jaber, founder of Philz Coffee, cuts quite a recognizable figure with his ever present fedora perched on his head and a equally ever present cup of coffee in his hand.  We will be seeing a lot more of that fedora and that coffee now that Philz Coffee has opened their new corporate headquarters plus cafe on Minnesota Street (at 23rd) in Dogpatch. 

For certain Jaber, whose mantra is love, faith and truth, is the soul of Philz Coffee but he is also a no-nonsense planner who has a well thought out long-term corporate vision for his company.  Jaber, along with his son and CEO Jacob orchestrated and recently closed on an additional $15 million (bringing the total to $30 million) in funding from venture capitalists (including that known lover of coffee, Snoop Dogg) to help him spread the love, one cup at a time, nation-wide or as Phil also put it, "conquer the world, one cup, one city at at time."

Why do you do what you do?
I do it because I want to bring people together so we as a community can all learn how to live together.  It used to be that generations of families would live together in the same town, maybe the same house but now we are all too busy in this world.  I love to put people together.  I want Philz Coffee shops to be a place where you can make a friend, seal a business deal, or fall in love.

But I also do this because I love coffee.  I was born in Palestine (pre-1967) but grew up in the East Bay.  As a kid I would drink coffee even though I wasn't supposed to and I also sold coffee to make money when I was eight.  When I was 17 I opened a grocery/liquor store in the Mission at 24th Street.  For 25 years, while I ran my convenience store, I also researched recipes for unique coffee blends and for a brewing method that would dissolve the acid out of the coffee. 

I didn't just research coffee though.  I also observed the traffic at other coffee shops and high-end restaurants.  I wanted to see how long the customers lingered and whether or not the employees and managers seemed happy. For the most part I discovered that these weren't places where the customers wanted to stay longer than it took to get their coffee.  That's not what I wanted, I wanted customers to think of my coffee shop as their Grandma's house -- a place full of love and where they didn't want to hurry away from.
Phil Jaber, founder of Philz Coffee crafts a coffee for us at the new company HQ in Dogpatch, San Francisco.

In 2003, I was finally ready and converted my grocery store to the first Philz Coffee.  I actually brought my large breakfast table from my house to use in the shop so everyone would have a big communal table to sit at together.

We offer a unique experience.  I like to say that we don't have Barista's -- we have artists.  Each cup of coffee is made entirely by hand and our artists adds the milk and sweetener if requested.  Each customer is then asked to take a sip and say whether it is perfect or not.

We have also established a business methods and values program called "Philz University" which trains our new employees and managers to make the best coffee and best experience for our customers.

My father told me to let your life speak for you and that's what I'm doing.  You treat people right then you get a good reputation and that is what has happened for our business.  People want quality -- they will fly, drive or walk to quality and that is how we know that we will do well with our expansion in other cities. 

Why Dogpatch?
I'm a San Francisco kid so I knew about Dogpatch.  I like how this neighborhood is not too busy.  When we first started I had my offices in a walk-in freezer then we moved to Potrero and 25th but we still needed more room.  Dogpatch has the room for us.  This neighborhood has an artistic feel to it as well as a neighborly, social vibe -- just like Philz.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?
I would be delivering coffee door to door like milk was delivered long ago.  I would still find a way to spread the love.