Blog Post

The New Office Space

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

After reading my rant about Starbucks and some of the comments on that post, Jackson sent in this guest column about how many are using indi-cafes in San Francisco as mobile office space. (Ritual is my favorite….) If you are not in San Francisco and have names of entrepreneur friendly locations you want others to know, leave the details/links to their location in the comments. If anyone wants to build a Google Map of all this, drop me a note. – Om

By Jackson West.

Forget Palo Alto garages — San Francisco coffee shops are where to get your startup off the ground. Internet cafes are emerging as an important place to get work done, hold meetings and network. Since writers, designers, developers and anyone else who can work from their laptop are going to show up, you can even recruit talent, publicize your project and even demo your product for potential users and investors.

On Charter Street, Greg Olsen writes about “Going Bedouin.” The idea is that instead of worrying about leases, infrastructure and support staff, a startup can stay nimble and focused by using third party services and mobile technology:

By focusing almost exclusively on service-based infrastructure options, a business could operate as a sort of neo-Bedouin clan – with workers as a roaming nomadic tribe carrying laptops & cell phones and able to set up shop wherever there is an Internet connection, chairs, tables, and sources of caffeine.

My own experience helping to organize the WebZine conference pretty much echoed this. No office space was rented, communication was primarily through email lists and a private wiki, and meetings were held at cafes with free internet, with notes and ideas quickly disseminated to those who couldn’t attend. When a contact was needed to help out with services such as advertising, sponsorships or donations, cell phones came out and calls were made, and issues were often resolved before the meeting was even over. Even during the conference itself, local cafes served as press rooms, panel development forums and, of course, somewhere to get some lunch.

Of course, the business of coffee shops is to sell food and coffee, not to take the place of VC-run incubator offices. While some have dealt with the problem of freeloaders by charging for their Wifi, this often turns geeks away. Coffee to the People in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury is trying to come up with guidelines, and the issue of coffee shop etiquette is a popular topic of discussion among digerati. Some cafe owners only share the WEP or WPA key with paying customers, limit the number of wall jacks to recharge batteries, or shut down wifi on the weekends to encourage offline socializing.

Niall Kennedy has proposed a number of ideas for proprietors to keep up their cash flow and the loyalty of the laptop-toting set. Other services, such as community office space offered by Coworking, have also begun to answer the needs of freelancers and small startups who need a place to plug in. Backoffice wikis, group chat and social calendars also promise to make it easier for teams of nomads to work as a group even if scattered across the four corners of the globe.

Here’s a list of cafes in San Francisco chosen by popular acclaim and personal recommendation. Any one of them will keep you fueled with caffeine, connected online and give you a chance to network with fellow travellers.

Ritual Coffee Roasters

This is the current ‘it’ cafe, and at any given time you can probably find a blogger who’s been BoingBoinged there, like Scott Beale. It’s Mission location makes the move from work to play just a short walk away.

1026 Valencia Street [map | site | yelp]

Caffe Trieste

This North Beach establishment has been around since Jack Kerouac lived in the neighborhood. Word on the street is that Wired News’ Tony Long regularly holds court there.

601 Vallejo St [map | site | yelp]

Reverie Coffee Cafe

Located in quiet Cole Valley, this is where angry newspaper publishers can find Craig Newmark on any given day. With a patio out back, it’s also great if you’re a smoker.

848 Cole St [map | yelp]

Coffee to the People

This Haight-Ashbury is a favorite of cute couple Chris Messina and Tara Hunt. Second only to Ritual Roasters in terms of Dodgeball check-ins. They even have their own blog.

1206 Masonic Avenue [map | site | yelp]

Quetzal Internet Cafe

Designer and cartoonist Kevin Cheng of OK/Cancel recommends this as an oasis is a relatively barren nexus of the Nob Hill, Hayes Valley and Civic Center neighborhoods.

1234 Polk Street [map | site | yelp]

Thinkers Cafe

Potrero is the neighborhood of choice for those who need to be close to 101 and 280. Before heading to Dogster headquarters nearby, Ted Rheingold often gets some work done there over his morning coffee.

1631 20th Street [map | yelp]

Zig Zag Cafe

With AnchorFree now providing free WiFi in a number of upscale neighborhoods including the Marina and the Castro, any cafe will do, but this is the one that Annalee Newitz recommended.

476 Castro Street [map | yelp]

Jackson West, writes for SFist. He writes about Web 2.0 and other topics for GigaOm

92 Responses to “The New Office Space”

  1. Merv Anderson

    What really struck me after my recent visit to San Francisco was how few free WiFi locations there were in the city – particularly in coffee houses. It seemed that SBC had the monopoly in the City (charging $10/day to connect). I ended up at Metreon one evening and while it did have free WiFi, it was very slow and very unreliable (eventually failing after about 10 minutes of use).

  2. In Cambridge, we work at 1369 Coffee House in Central Square ( and sometimes at Darwin’s in Harvard Square (

    In Boston, Newbury St. is covered for free by tech superpowers inc. (, so you can sit in the Armani Cafe and be suave while coding.

    And if all else fails, there’s the excellent Boston Wireless Advocacy Group hotspot list (

  3. It’s A Grind is another great uncorporate chain. They are popular in SoCal but have a few locations here in the Bay Area. My favorites are in San Jose near the airport off Highway 87 and in Gilroy which is South, South, South Bay. It’s in the southern end but it is near home when I am not commuting to Hayward.

  4. I have been running both my business (JigZaw – and the MeshForum conference through mostly working in cafes in Chicago and now in the Bay Area.

    A few in particular that stand out, as well as some comments/suggestions/thoughts.

    • The Grind cafe in Chicago in the Lincoln Square part of town – great cafe, free wifi, lots of power outlets, good coffee and friendly service. Chicago has dozens of other great cafes, but The Grind is one of my favorites.

    • Cafe Mud in Evanston IL. Another great spot, near the El, near Northwestern, with lots of large (and unique) tables, free wifi, lots of power outlets and generally very quiet during the day

    • I’ll definitely agree with the Ritual Coffee Roasters suggestion for in the Mission district. When I’m in SF, it is where I tend to work

    • In Berkeley CA – I like Fertile Ground Cafe on Shattuck, free strong wifi signal, good food and drink and a decent selection of power outlets.

    • Berkeley Expresso is one of the cafes in Berkeley that stays open the latest and has free wifi – but all too often I’ve had serious problems using the wifi, so I generally avoid them.

    • Last night I worked at Cafe Sienna on Bancroft at College Ave – open until midnight, free wifi, tons of tables (limited power however) and a huge outside patio (two to three times the size of their very large inside space). Right across the street from U. C. Berkeley, so lots of students, but generally a good (if slightly loud) environment for working.

    • Today I’m on College ave in the Rockridge area of Oakland, there are a number of cafes here that offer free wifi, a few of note. Spasso where I’m at for the moment, great skylight lit back space, good food and coffee, lots of power outlets and free wifi (but you have to ask for the key), lots of people here working, including a group discussing a website as I type. Also A Perfect Cup O’Tea on one end of Rockridge offers great teas (only okay coffees), lots of comfortable chairs, random tables and free wifi, and they are open relatively late (10pm).

    Some tips from a regular worker in cafes:

    • genreally I try to buy something more than just a drink – a cookie, a sandwich, something so I contribute more than just for my drink

    • it is always appreciated if you both leave a small tip at the counter and try to bus your own table

    • pay attention to the space and size – large cafes with lots of tables tend to not mind people who stay and help fill the space, smaller cafes with fewer tables need more frequent “turns” of those tables to stay in business

    • the best cafes as my general rule of thumb, are those with large tables. Small tables mean that one person with a laptop takes up the whole table (think small bistro round tables). Large tables, in contrast are ideal for multiple people working together at them – whether they came together or not. Part of Ritual’s success, I would argue, is that many of the tables there are large and people do share them (only occasionally having to be asked to share them).

    This is both useful from a standpoint of possibly meeting other people – but more it means that if you are working, have a laptop and perhaps some papers/books/magazines out, you are not immediately occupying lots of space.

    The other “trick” I find is that I try to move a few times in the day, rarely do I go to one cafe in the morning and stay there all day, instead I work in the morning, have lunch someplace else, and work in the afternoon/evening at another place (perhaps leaving for dinner as well). This means that I only rarely take up a table for an excessive period of time, and it forces me to get at least a little bit of exercise.

    It also means that when I do not need to be online, I can work from a cafe without wifi or with limited wifi. These often have really good coffee or other speciality items.

    A final tip – the longer your laptop can go without power, the more flexible and accomodating you can be, my Thinkpad with a fresh extended life battery can go 6+ hours without recharging, usually more than enough for much of the day working productively. If not on one charge, a second charged battery can typically be a lifesaver.

    Great list and topic!


  5. My local coffee shop in SF does pass out passwords to customers. Problem is, some folks moved in next door and have figured out how to jack into his connection. So he can’t leave it open and has to change the password daily.

    The problem with places like Panera is that the people working there don’t know jack about WiFi. A place we use in PA when visiting family has been down the last few trips. So it’s off to Mickey D’s for Freedom Link.

  6. I’m based in Mountain View, having come here for a six month rotation from Melbourne, Australia.

    I’ve discovered that good coffee is damn hard to find in the US (I’ll try not to get worked up about just how bad Starbucks, Peets etc is!) but two places I have found that consistently produce great coffee – coffee that I would be happy to drink back home – is at the Coupa Cafe on Ramona St in Downtown Palo Alto and at the Barefoot Coffee Roasters on Stevens Creek Blvd in Santa Clara.

    I’m not sure how regularly they are frequented by business folks but both places have free wireless and you’ll often find an Aussie software developer happily sipping his latte… Say hi if you pick out the accent. :)

  7. Mark Schraad

    On the road – Panera is way better than Starbucks with nearly as many location they have better food. The independents shops are best in my book ’cause it is nearly impossible out mail from the franchises unless you use webmail (which I can not stand).

  8. If you’re tired of working at Starbucks or fighting for a table at Ritual, you should drop by Coworking in San Francisco; we have back door access to a coffee shop and a cool space we work out of Mondays and Tuesdays. We run it as a co-op and membership model; someone gets a “slot” in the Coworking group, with a month to month commitment; when they leave, they find their replacement person. In this way we distribute the responsibility and make the overhead of running coworking low. Check out our web page at, or email me at [email protected] for details.

  9. I’ve actually thought for a while with all of the business that gets conducted in Starbucks and other similar places, they should partner with Kinkos are a similar company. Another great feature would be in-house personal assistants that would edit, print, package, documents, etc.

    With more companies allowing telecommuters and freelancers working from places like this on their laptops, there is an opportunity for folks to help make these mobile workers more productive for a fee.

  10. lawrence coburn

    Two other great ones in San Francisco:

    Cafe La Onda (used to be Macondo) – they have full sized desks, free wifi, lots of space (on valencia between 16th and 17th)

    Maxfields – free Wifi, some seating outside (17th and Dolores)

  11. Dana Street Roasting Company in downtown Mountain View is where I spend my days. They have wireless (Live555) but don’t allow you to powerup. I think that works out well since you can be productive while you are there, but need to leave when your battery runs out, which keeps it interesting. (Personally, I have simply invested in extra batteries!)

  12. No wifi at Reverie? Damn, that’s the only place with a patio where you can smoke. Well, the Google/Earthlink WiFi RFP was submitted to the TechConnect people yesterday. Soon they’ll all be wired whether they like it or not. I’m still waiting for my EVDO-modem phone to work.

  13. Chicago has a ton of independent mobile-office-friendly coffeehouses, too, way too many to list here. (Well, okay, I’ll list one, which is my particular hangout spot – Dollop, at 4181 N Clarendon Ave, in the Uptown neighborhood where I live.) For those who don’t know, by the way, there’s a fantastic resource on the web for independent coffeehouses, called the “Delocator” (; realistically known as the “Starbucks Delocator,” but they’re legally not allowed to say that). I don’t know about other cities, but that site has just about every single independent coffeehouse in Chicago now listed…and there’s a lot of them!

  14. How about NYC? I work at the Greenwich Cafe on 6th and Greenwich in the Village. Are there other places ,free wifi and don’t hassle you for staying for a while… and potentially open 24 hours :). Hey, it can’t hurt to ask!!