We are so excited
to introduce you to Alexis Liu, a recent San Francisco transplant by way of New
York. Alexis has built up quite the fashion and design pedigree, coming from a professional
background that includes work with Comme de Garcons and Ralph Lauren, as well
as a background in industrial design. She recently moved to San Francisco to
help open a small business in North Beach, and we’ve been intrigued to know how
the transition has been – not only between cities, but professionally and of
course fashion-wise. It’s inspiring to see how she’s applied her various skills
to the business and brought a unique point of view to San Francisco’s coffee
I caught up with
her recently at Beacon’s opening party to
catch up with her and see how life in San Francisco is treating her!
Tell us about Beacon Coffee & Pantry!
We are a coffee shop and specialty market located in
the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. Our goal is to highlight
and support the best artisan producers from the Bay Area and beyond. We
serve Sightglass coffee, and in our pantry we have a selection of jams,
pickles, pastas, grains, sauces, oils, salts, candy, chocolate, and
snacks. In the coming months, I'm going to focus on bringing more
unique, "cream of the crop" items, and also expand the
selection with some interesting lifestyle and kitchen items as well.
What was the most
rewarding part of the process?
It's been an amazing, one-of-a-kind experience
to build something from the ground up. None of this—the brand, identity,
or space—existed a year ago, and now it’s a growing business. Christian
is my cousin, co-owner, the one who spearheaded the project, and brought
me on to work on it. He comes from an architecture and real estate
background, and I come from a fashion/product design background, so it
was great to collaborate and design the space together. It's been
incredibly rewarding to see my ideas come to fruition, for an audience
that changes every day. We started with a totally raw space, so it was
pretty amazing to see it all come together—we made every little decision,
in every inch of the space, every step of the way. This has been a
career change for me, but it has been a project that combines all my
work experience: design, marketing/PR, and customer service.
To add to that, on a day to day basis, it’s
rewarding to really get to know our customers. Even though we are at the
convergence of so many San Francisco tourist destinations, most of our
customers are regulars. A lot of them have expressed how happy they are
we opened, and that something like our shop was needed in the
neighborhood, so it’s great to have that kind of validation. As a small
gesture of our appreciation, we post "customer of the day" (on
Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook), which shares a little about our
The most challenging thing has probably been
changing gears from working as a designer (at a desk, with regular
hours) to opening and running a new small business (never not
working/thinking about work). There are always unexpected issues that
pop up every day, and serving coffee is just one part of the juggling
act. It’s all been great though, coming into it I knew it was going to
be a big challenge, which is why I decided to move out here and do it.
I've learned more than I ever would have in the past year about creating
a brand, building a space, and running a shop, and managing
Tell us about the succulent
installation you designed—it’s truly amazing.
It’s over 1,300 succulent plants. When we
were deciding what type of art to install, we took the same approach as
we did to our interiors - we wanted some that would appeal to everyone,
but be striking and unique. You typically see living walls outdoors, but
I did a lot of research on how I could make it work indoors, I spoke to
a few experts, and chose varieties that typically could do well in low
light. I mapped it all out in Photoshop first, then made a couple trips
to Succulent Gardens in Castroville (which is an awesome succulent
nursery, check it out if you're ever in the area). The planting was just
the first part, we then had to figure out how to waterproof the wall,
frame and support the whole thing, which weighs at least 600 pounds, and
more after watering. The whole process took a couple months. But
it was so fun, and definitely one of my most rewarding projects. Not a
day goes by where someone doesn't comment on it.
(People always ask how we water it. There is a
drip irrigation system built in, so we hook up a hose, and it drips from
the top down into the gutter installed at the bottom. Sometimes I also
take off the wooden frame, which comes off in pieces, and spray the
whole thing down.)
Your favorite thing
about the shop / item in the shop?
That's hard. I
obviously love Sightglass coffee, and all our pastries are really good.
We are the first shop to start serving Worthy Granola, which is 100%
organic and handmade in North Beach (www.worthygranola.com), and it’s
probably my favorite way to start the day. Some other favorites are:
Dandelion Venezuelan chocolate, Baia Pasta, Dry Soda, our smoked sea
salt, flageolet beans, and Have'a Chips. I made a batch of candles
inspired by SF neighborhoods, but those sold out in the first few weeks
we were open, and I haven't had a chance to make more. But there are
some very exciting things are coming in the next few months, so stay
Do you think a shop
like this could succeed New York?
I think this could succeed in New York, but rents are insanely
high for spaces that are much smaller, so obviously the concept/experience
would have to be tweaked a bit. People are generally more
rushed and impatient, but there is a rapidly growing appreciation,
awareness, and demand for specialty coffee. People do sit in cafes for
hours, especially in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. I think the pantry
concept could definitely be carried over— there are so many food-related
cottage industries, especially in Brooklyn. There is an energy in New
York that is unlike anywhere else. I really miss it, and daydream about
opening something like this there one day. Maybe it’s in the cards, who
How has the move
affected your wardrobe choices? What do you wear to work now vs. before?
I've always been
somewhat driven by comfort. I used to work for Comme des Garcons, I'll
always love it, and have tons of that stuff tucked away, but I rarely
wear any of it anymore. Right before I moved here I worked at Ralph Lauren, so
I still wear a lot of that, but my style has definitely gotten a lot
more casual. Lots of denim, cotton, and stuff I can wash easily, cause
I'm spilling coffee and doing dishes. I've kind of reverted to how I
dressed as a teenager. Pretty much all the shopping I do in San
Francisco is vintage/thrift—it’s awesome here! Maybe I have a different
aesthetic/style sensibility, cause I find a lot of gems that no one here
seems to want.
Anything else you
want to mention?
If anyone out there has any awesome products they
think could be a good fit for us, I'm always open to hearing any
suggestions. The same goes for artists too—we always wanted the shop to
be a platform for rotating artwork, and we have a lot of prime wall
space and the front display window (aka the "driveby
gallery"). Come by and say hi!
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