Nestled on a quiet street in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights, Pinhole Coffee has quickly become a neighborhood institution and local favorite. Painted on the outside of their building are three words; Coffee, Art, and Community. And for them, it’s that simple.
“Our intention is to have a space where people can take something positive from it and continue that out in the world.” says owner JoEllen Depakakibo. “We have a motto of stimulating senses with coffee, art, and community and that’s an umbrella motto for that experience.”
JoEllen knows coffee. As the 8th employee at Blue Bottle, she knows that your product is only as good as the experience you provide to your customers. As early as high school, she knew that she wanted to open a coffee shop and provide a community space.
“I’ve been in the coffee industry since 2002 and I started in Chicago where I’m from. Since high school, I envisioned having my own community space and cafe. Back then that meant couches and people were allowed to smoke inside and it was a certain kind of urban scene and I imagined creatives in the space. I just envisioned myself happy having a space like that, that I would own,” she reflects.
Her time at Blue Bottle taught her about coffee, but it also taught her that an experience extends beyond coffee and is as much defined by the community and space you’re in as the product you provide. And she’s worked hard to root Pinhole in its local community.
“Community is one of the main focuses for us, especially during the pandemic, it really showed how much the community came out for us to sustain our business and I really take to heart the importance of it.“
That support didn’t happen overnight. Pinhole has invested time and resources into making sure its local neighborhood and individual customers feel seen and represented.
“When it was announced that a coffee shop was going in our space, without knowing what our product was there was a certain attitude around it, being another cafe, or that we were gentrifiers, even though I’m a woman and a person of color, and that wasn’t really fun. But once I shared my idea with people, and once I showed my intentions to people, we were able to change that.”
And despite those challenges, JoEllen never lost sight of her intentions to provide a community space for people of all backgrounds.
“There’s different types of communities. We’re in the Bernal Heights neighborhood [in San Francisco] so I try to do things with our local neighborhood. But it’s also beyond that. With supporting different identities, supporting different POC organizations and LGBTQ organizations.”
By nurturing and prioritizing the relationship with its customers and community, Pinhole has been able to establish itself as a neighborhood institution that in hard times the neighborhood rallies around. “It’s important for businesses to always give back and it’s a cyclical relationship of sustaining each other, “ says JoEllen.
Pinhole’s community mindset extends far beyond just being a coffee shop. They know that the actions you take in your local community, the openness you show new customers, and the care you take to provide a comfortable environment can make a huge impact past your immediate surroundings.
“We’re called Pinhole and that’s a photography term of just taken from a small opening and producing a bigger picture. When light’s exposed to it, it creates an image and I just always like to think of it as all of the small things that make up a whole. We’re just a small thing, but if we all do little things, it can make a big difference in the world.”