The origin story of Snowbird Coffee, which opened in late 2014 in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset neighborhood, is remarkably brief.
Friends Eugene Kim and Dave Feng were feeling burned out from their creative media jobs for corporate clients, they loved coffee and they caught wind of an existing coffee bar space coming open. Voilà, Snowbird Coffee was born.
Kim and Feng are taking a multiroaster approach, occasionally introducing their own small batch roasts, inside the approximately 800-square-foot space previously occupied by Drip’d Coffee Lab for less than a year at 1352A 9th Ave.
We recently caught up with Kim to discuss his vision for Snowbird’s cozy first-floor bar:
How painstaking was the build out?
The overall build took about 5 months. We didn’t make any major structural changes to the space. It was more cosmetic.
What kind of brewing equipment are you using?
For our espresso, we use a La Marzocco GB/5. For our pourovers, we use a custom made stand that houses V60s. The custom stand is made of brass arms and cocobolo wood.
What does the drink menu look like?
Our menu consists of pretty standard, traditional drinks. The drinks that we offer that no other cafes in SF offer — not to our knowledge at least — are the Cafe Bombon, which is a pretty popular espresso drink in Spain, and a shakerato, which is prepared in a classic shaken, Italian style.
What were you hoping to accomplish in the interior design? How would you describe the vibe inside?
The space is the first level of a 3 story building in the Inner Sunset district of SF. The buildings are old, and the first floor, which is now zoned for commercial use, was a garage back in the day. I was inspired by a lot of the smaller basement style cafes in New York and we wanted to make sure the space was cozy. Since our name, “Snowbird,” was taken from the term to describe folks that escape cold climates to go somewhere warm during the winter, we wanted to make sure the space, lighting, layout, etc., expressed that. All the light bulbs in our shop are warmer temperatures and we used a lot of natural wood to create that type of vibe.
What kind of experience do you try to create for your customers?
Third wave coffee culture seems to be heading towards the stereotype of hipsters with bad attitude making your coffee, and this was definitely something we wanted to stray away from. We tell our employees that good customer service comes first — yes, even before the taste and quality of our coffee. I personally can’t take pretentious service, and we wanted to make sure that our customers never had to feel bad about asking what a certain drink was. We want to help introduce everyone to good coffee, but we’re not going to ding you for not knowing that a classic macchiato is much shorter than what you’re probably used to.
What is the coffee selection process?
We are doing some small batch roasts of our own, but we also have a multi-roaster program that brings more exclusive coffees that you can’t find in San Francisco to the Bay Area. We love all of our amazing Bay Area roasters, but we wanted our cafe to be a place when coffee enthusiasts can come try a cup of something from Wisconsin or Colorado without having to order an entire bag. And the reason I mentioned Wisconsin and Colorado is because we featured Ruby Roasters and we currently carry Commonwealth Coffee.
Can you tell me more about your personal experience in coffee? Who else is part of the leadership team?
My buddy Dave Feng and I started Snowbird Coffee, and we have absolutely no formal experience in coffee. Although we’ve spent our fair share of time in coffee shops and home brewing, we never had any proper training. Dave worked in a small cafe in San Diego years ago, but it wasn’t anything special. We actually have a bunch of friends involved in the coffee scene in the Bay Area, so I guess you could say they helped in our “training.”
Dave and I both have a background in creative media. I was working on corporate and narrative films, and Dave was doing vfx and motion work for corporate clients as well as video games. We were both pretty burnt out and we were spending more and more time getting into coffee. The original plan was to start a bottled cold brew company, but the opportunity to open a coffee shop was literally dropped into my lap, and we ran with it.