One questions the need for another coffeehouse on Divisadero – seems like every time I turn around there's another corner store churning out lattes and biscotti. But clearly I lack the vision of Haile Taddesse, owner of the 99¢ Divis Variety Discount at Divisadero and McAllister. “I am a coffee addicted person,” the Eritrean business owner tells me. “I grew up in a coffee country.” And no offense to the other establishments on his street, but he thought their coffee was mediocre. So, sick of trekking “ten blocks, or a mile even,” to find Philz or Blue Bottle, he decided to expand his business empire with a cafe next door to his dollar store.
Which makes for an interesting blend of customers. The DivCo (Division Corridor) neighborhood demographics are changing rapidly these days. Older restaurants and barbershops are ceding their storefronts to trendy new restaurants and coffee shops. Hell, some people (we won't go into who those people are, we don't particularly jibe with them) have even made up a name, NoPa, for the stretch, eschewing the working class implications of Western Addition.
So it's nice to see a long time business owner successfully adapting to the winds of change. This morning when I visited, business was rolling at the five year old 99¢ Divis. A group of immigrant men chatted with Taddesse about politics (“I like Reagan and Clinton. Reagan was respected abroad. Americans, they don't care about that.”). On the other side of the door that leads to Oasis Cafe, a cheerful barista made sandwiches and coffee for young people, and a few individuals working on their laptops.
And true to his word, Tadesse's got some damn good coffee. Ten different kinds of beans sit behind the counter, and drinks are made on a cup by cup basis. “Most coffees around here are deceptive,” he told me. “You don't see them make it. I am trying to make everything fresh for the neighborhood.” I tried the Divisadero blend, which I was told was the darkest of the blends that day. It gave me a rich jolt that I must admit is hard to come by at other spots down DivCo.
Seating is ample and comfortable; banquettes and deep, overstuffed leather armchairs. There's a large mural of an oasis on the back wall, painted free of charge by a fellow cafe owner who just wanted to contribute something to Tadesse, who turns in 16 plus hours a day at his mini commercial empire. Already, an extensive menu of milkshakes, fresh juices, omelettes, and sandwiches are available -- but the owner sees all this as merely the beginning for the cafe. He has plans for an Ethiopian food menu, soups, outside seating for his customers.
Business at the cafe, located on less frequented stretch of Divisadero blocks from both the Mt. Zion Hospital lunch crowds and the hot Lower Haight blocks, has already exceeded Tadesse's expectations. Which flies in the face of the advice from the friends who wieghed in when he first concieved of Oasis.
“They said not to waste my money, that it was a bad location,” he tells me as another customer unloads an armful of cheap toiletries at the dollar store counter. “But it's not up to the competition. It's up to you, and your product. I said 'don't worry, I'll show you.' ”
99¢ Divis Variety Discount & Oasis Cafe All in One
901 Divisadero, SF