14-Jan-2012 (Sat)
Wherein DNA Pizza is virtualized, and we may give up on being open 24/7.

Check it out, Google Maps now has the inside of DNA Pizza on Street View! (You get there by clicking on the image in the sidebar on the left of the maps page.)

You wouldn't think that Street View car could fit through our front door, huh?

We're really having trouble building up our morning business at DNA Pizza. Basically we're losing money every hour we're open between 4am and 11am. Now, 4am-6am I could just write off, but that 6am-11am period is when we should be doing a lot of business selling coffee and pastries to people on their way to work at our neighborhood businesses, and we're not. That's why we bought that damned espresso machine in the first place. There are a bunch of other cafes in the neighborhood who accomplish this, so it's not that the business isn't there. We're just doing something wrong and I don't know what it is.

Maybe we're still just failing to get the word out, but we've been advertising, we've been flyering local businesses, etc.

We thought that it might go better if our coffee was one of the Big Four "Hipster Coffees" (Blue Bottle, Ritual, Four Barrel or Sightglass), since a lot of people have brand loyalty to them, but they've all refused to do business with us. They won't sell us their product, and they won't really tell us why. The answer we get after multiple conversations is, "Oh, we're so busy right now, we couldn't possibly take on a new client". But that's not a real answer. That answer is equivalent to "it's not you, it's me." (Hint: If someone tells you this, it's you.) So I don't know why they won't let us use their beans. I guess we're just not pretty enough to date.

If business doesn't pick up soon, we may have to give up on the whole "24 hours" thing, and only be open between 11am and 3am. This is really sad, because San Francisco doesn't have enough 24 hour restaurants, and I thought I could do something to help with that. I assumed the lack 24 hour places was because the city makes it such a pain in the ass to get the permits, but maybe it's really because the people who live here don't actually want them.

Bummer.

51 Responses:

  1. DoctorMemory says:

    Buy your own food truck and park it outside the entrance to your own restaurant? More seriously: set up a sidewalk table with the pastries for a week or two? Nobody reads words, but you've got a big green slice of pizza there, which maybe doesn't scream "breakfast" to people walking past it and mostly not paying any attention.

  2. Phil Nelson says:

    That's a real shame. I thought it was a good idea. I still think it is. Just not sure how to "fix" it.

  3. Court3nay says:

    Is it about branding? Who buys coffee at a pizza shop? Throw up a "DNA Coffee" sign in the mornings and serve things like oatmeal in a cup?

  4. Court3nay says:

    Also try Intelligentsia (LA) or Stumptown (PDX) coffee. They have the same hipster cred and since they're not SF based they may be less anticompetitive about selling their beans - which generally come from the same wholesalers as those other guys.

    • Rae says:

      Intelligentsia is from Chicago!

      ...sorry, gotta rep. But it's true; their Glassell Park roaster us their second. Westside Chi was their first one.

      In any case, they're Midwesterners so they're nicer, and your point stands about them being less proprietary than the Tight Pants Brands.

      • Andrew says:

        Are there any byzantine legal reasons preventing you from buying green beans from someone like Sweet Marias/Coffee Shrub and roasting them yourselves? The end result would be superior to any preroasted premarketed hipster grind-derived beverage.

        • DoctorMemory says:

          I'm guessing the score is "byzantine legal reasons": 1; "reasonably not wanting to lay out the capital for a home-roasting operation (and training employees to manage same)": 1,000.

          • Andrew says:

            Yeah, once I thought about what you would have to undertake to sustain a larger volume of coffee than a single household will comsume, I realized that the equipment costs would likely make it unattractive. Training schmaining. But setting up a large enough roaster would end up either costing too much, taking up too much space, or producing too much coffee aroma/smoke for a food service establishment.

            I do still think there are some viable options for making breakfast foods (breakfast pizza) with the existing equipment, and that might help to catalyze sales. I think that having food and caffinated beverages would be more successful than either of them alone.

  5. Jim says:

    Have you considered Epic Espresso from 49th Parallel? My local coffee shop has it (Comet Coffee in Ann Arbor, MI) and it's a distinct flavor.

    • jwz says:

      It is the belief of the coffee snobs I've talked to that the Hipster Coffees are popular for the name more than for the content.

  6. Alex Gourley says:

    That's crazy they won't sell you their beans, makes me like them all a lot less.

  7. Joe says:

    Having "Pizza" in the name probably doesn't help. I doubt many people think "coffee" when they see a place called "DNA Pizza". If you're open then, they're probably thinking hangover food. "DNA Cafe" might have worked better.

  8. AgentCatbot says:

    I see it as a 24 hour pizza place, that happens to serve coffee as a menu item. And frankly, I'm not interested in breakfast pizza unless it's cold leftovers that's been sitting out from the night before. I'm not seeing anything on the menu that says "Breakfast food".

    (In my tyrannical nightmare fantasy world, it would be illegal for businesses to close)

    I'm not a coffee person, but I would support the hell out of DNA Donuts. And there honestly aren't many places to get donuts in the area.

    • Wim says:

      Donuts! I want to visit already. DNAPizza already has a fryer, I guess, so...?

    • Larry Hosken says:

      Is it 24 hour pizza? I woke up early one morning and headed over to buy a slice, but there weren't any then.

    • violentbloom says:

      ooh beignets!!! You can't get those in SF!

      I agree I wouldn't think to go to a pizza place for breakfast, or coffee. Maybe DNA "cafe" would work better, but I'm sure that would be a permit nightmare.

      Still maybe a sign in the window that plays down the pizza angle in the morning.
      pay some hipsters to sit out front with coffee and yummy pastries?

      Also good vegan pastries are hard to come by. They have some good ones over at rainbow grocery, fruit filled turnovers. delicious even if you aren't vegan.

      Also offer vegan milks for tea and coffee, like coconut milk, delicious and GF too. coconut milk red tea chai is delicious, and impossible to find anywhere.

      get some weird east coast brand people are fanatic about?

      • Matty J. says:

        Good vegan pastries are hard to come by because they don't exist. JWZ probably doesn't want to get into the business of throwing out 20 pounds of unsold butterless dough chunks every day.

    • Andrew says:

      Actually - some sort of flatbread breakfast sandwich might work. Sort of like a calzone except with oven baked scrambled eggs and other omelet ingredients in place of cheese and meat. If you had a breakfast-to-go item on hand like that, it might help generate coffee sales (and vice versa)

  9. Dima says:

    Call it DNA Cafe, or DNA Bakery. Make sure your espresso-based drinks taste better than elsewhere in the neighbourhood –– might mean your barista should know what they do. (I don't think coffee drinkers care much about coffee brands as such, unless you target "real" coffee connoisseurs; the latter might want these fancy filters and siphons...)

    • Matty J. says:

      I agree with the sentiment on the name. DNAPlex? Seeing 'pizza', people don't think 'coffee'. You have to assume we consumers are pretty stupid.

  10. KidHack says:

    Who the fuck buys espresso at a Pizzeria?

    • Wim says:

      Pizza: Italian.

      Espresso: Italian.

      It's odd they don't go together more.

      Obviously the solution is for JWZ to have weekly Sergio Leone theme nights.

  11. KidHack says:

    I'd rename the business to better reflect your vast array of offerings.

    • DoctorMemory says:

      I think that's begging for a Return of the Curse of the Sign.

      (Even though I agree. Rebranding is a nightmarish hassle even for small businesses. I can't blame anyone for never ever ever wanting to go there.)

  12. Kae Oz says:

    Most people I have talked to have no idea DNA Pizza is 24 hours, let alone that they offer coffee and espresso. For morning business, you are going to have to reach out past the club regulars. Coupons on the doors of the neighbors, good for morning hours only would be a good way to start to get the word out.
    If it were me, I would find a portable coffee bar to set up on the outside for the worker-on-the-go with a DNA Cafe sign (in addition to, not instead of DNA Pizza). I would also try to apply to install one of those Parklets that are popping up around town for a place out front people can enjoy. If you get a "Nextbus" screen somewhere, people could get coffee while waiting for any of the 4 bus lines that stop at that corner.
    And I hope you make it. The coffee offerings in the immediate area are a bit weak. Either the coffee is bad or its a 15-20minute detour to get it.

  13. Lloyd says:

    Okay, your blog is neon green and black. DNA Pizza, like DNA Lounge, copies that by being neon green and black, with a vomit-green pizza logo that does not say 'morning coffee and fresh food' to anyone. If you're going to put your ego and personal sense of style ahead of good business, that's fine, but it's a choice you make, with consequences you accept.

    Hire some marketing/branding people who you can pay money to tell you this. They will point out that Starbucks is not neon green and does not sell pizza. That is valuable advice.

    This cafe effort needs to be up and running and profitable so that you can expand to the DNA Rooftop Promenade Bar and Observatory. You've got two whole rooftops to combine and exploit, and a whole new set of permits to consider.

    Alternatively, consider bikini baristas, which might be daytime employment for some of the exhibitionist nighttime crowd.

    (There's a reason why good vegan pastries are hard to come by.)

  14. Dr. Eggroll says:

    Consider seeding the breakfast time market with samples. Is there much foot traffic on your side of the block in the morning? Have a person or two alternate between offering sample sized dixie cups of coffee on the sidewalk, and something like tiny slices of your breakfast(?) pizzas or sandwiches. If that's not legal for some reason or as an alternate approach also consider putting up a sidewalk sign in the mornings that says "Free Coffee" and give out one 8-12 oz drip coffee to anyone who comes in during those slow hours for a few weeks or months. That could be the most direct and economical kind of advertising. It can break people out of their routine, and even stubborn people are attracted to free. That can get some word out and expose people to your morning menu offerings. Also right now compared to other area coffee places there's no waiting for espresso drinks, which early adopters/in-the-moment or rushed morning people will appreciate if they feel like being upsold, which hopefully some will when they see and smell your menu. If just a few people take the chance on coming back, it can start to make an impression on other passersby who see them there and realize first hand what you're all about.

  15. Adolf Osborne says:

    Do you actually sell much coffee in the non-morning time? I'm guessing not.

    The name may lead people to assume that anything else, other than pizza, is an afterthought. I appreciate good coffee, but I would never (ever) go into a pizza place just for the coffee unless I had already been introduced to it, or am under duress.

    I might order coffee with a pizza, and it may or may not be very good coffee and I'd be OK with that. But if I'm just wanting coffee as an end-product, I'm predisposed to get it from somewhere that does coffee first and everything else later because I perceive the chances of it being good to be greater that way.

    In fact, I often pass several restaurants, diners, and take-out places on my way to get a good cup of coffee. These restaurants may or may not have good coffee, but I'll just never know unless I happen to order some while I'm in there eating.

    So, such as it is. The name is just too specific, and decisively anti-coffee. If I want a pizza, I'll remember that new place I passed earlier today and might give it a shot. If I want coffee (again, and again, and again), I'm not going to stop in and see if that pizza place has coffee at all, since chances are good that any coffee they do have has been boiling away on a Bunn burner for the past five hours.

    All that negativity aside, I suggest either changing (or appending) the name, or doing something to directly promote the fact that DNA Pizza is more than just pizza. Though I despise the things, a flashing LED sign with sufficiently witty verbiage that people actually read it might be a profitable option to distinguish your pizza joint as an all-purpose 24-hour food and beverage destination (as opposed to all those other pizza joints which just aren't).

  16. Dan says:

    I am amazed at how incredibly difficult the whole "DNA Process" has been. The expense, the problems with the city, booking, ill behaved acts and guests, crazy permits, etc. How do you keep from slapping a big "For Sale, Cheap" sign up on the whole thing and going back to something easy, like building browsers? I always thought that at some point you'd start reporting that it was finally turning out to be fun to own a club.

    • TJIC says:

      > I am amazed at how incredibly difficult the whole "DNA Process" has been. The expense, the problems with the city, booking, ill behaved acts and guests, crazy permits, etc.

      It's not the Big Government you want, it's the Big Government you actually get that's the huge problem.

      The Big Government you dream of is run by dispassionate technocrats who fund all sorts of worthy ideas and passes regulations only when they're net positive.

      The Big Government you actually get is run by barely literate morons who excel at nothing other than identifying their own rent-seeking constituencies and using every tool in their arsenal to draw more power to themselves.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_choice_theory

      The thing that sucks is that JWZ, like many other people, likes a dense urban environment, and therefore DNA needs to be in a dense urban environment...and stupid bureaucrats and stupid laws and regulations are a an inevitable metabolic exudate of dense urban environments.

      When I get sufficiently sick of the bullshit here in MA I can pack up my 10 person e-commerce shop and my 10k books and 73 metric crap tons of workshop tools and relocate to the hinterlands. That doesn't work so well for most business models.

      :-/

      Best of luck to JWZ in this Sisyphean endeavor.

      • Rick O says:

        Some small part of me holds out hope for the occasional "and this is how this stupid law came into being, because this one guy did this stupid thing 50 years ago" tidbit. In fact, I would pay good money to see some kind of threaded timeline infographic that shows each of the checklist items for opening a place of business, and how the events of the past intertwine to create those checklist items. James Burke "Connections" style.

  17. Mark Slater says:

    Thirding/Quading the "who buys their morning coffee at a pizza place" response. Rename the place DNA Cafe or DNA Bistro or something like that, and people might be inclined to visit more often

  18. Jef Poskanzer says:

    I don't think you have to rename the place but putting up a huge temporary banner saying "AND COFFEE" would probably get the attention you need.

    I mean really huge. Maybe do one of those semi-transparent wraps of the whole front of the building.

  19. Ronan Waide says:

    I'd vote with the "it's a pizza place" guys above. I had a look at the frontage on the streetview link, and there's nothing about it that says to me, "good coffee served here"; even the sandwich board out front is pimping pizza and "drink" - in my head, that's going to be a soft drink, not a coffee. Now, I'm working on local customs, and it's possible that in SF, good pizza and good coffee are collocated often enough to not merit advertising the latter, but really, a pizza place is pretty low down on the list of vendors I'd consider for a coffee - ironically, I'd probably go to a bar before I'd go to a pizza place, even if it meant a sit-down rather than a takeaway coffee.

  20. Grlrrilla says:

    I work on 11th street and was really excited to see that you were open in the morning for coffee. I think you do a great job and run the business well, but if you want my 2 cents, I don't come in for coffee because I can't afford to pay more than 2 bucks for a large drip coffee. I'm sure you have your own economic reasons for the pricing but for me it simply costs more to go to DNA for my morning cup of joe.

  21. spoonyfork says:

    TIL: hipster coffee resellers are hipsters themselves.

  22. paul yoon says:

    Coffee is funny in a number of ways. I have worked in the coffee biz in San Francisco for the last 20 years-- remember Spinelli Coffee? I miss those guys, sort of.

    Coffee is cyclical, boom and bust, or if not bust then periods of relatively little activity or innovation. Peet's used to refuse to sell their coffee to restaurants or grocery stores for what I imagine is the same reason these third wave guys won't sell to you, which is that they effectively give up control of quality once it's out of their hands. Now you can get Peet's at SFO, Whole Foods (pregound even!), and at a crappy little kiosk in Grace Cathedral. I had to quit working for Peet's when they brought in the flavored syrups-- managed to get out the day or week before they got rolled out.

    In my opinion Peet's is still the best example of that kind of coffee, if only because they are a smaller operation than Starbucks and need some kind of angle. The difference is pretty minimal though, and there's a strong possibility that Peet's is now actually (p)owned by Starbucks. Those rumors would circulate every few years when I worked for them though so I kind of stopped paying attention to them.

    I honestly don't think that BB, 4B, Ritual etc are a good fit for your shop anyway, particularly because you're close enough to all of their shops for people to just go there and get a coffee from one of their own baristas. Say what you will about hipsters (not a fan myself) but the training programs at each of those places are really good and the people who work there are invested in the product in a way that is difficult to replicate outside of a (dedicated) coffee shop.

    You don't say what kind of coffee you use now, and I forgot to check when I was there last, but I'm guessing that the coffee is not the (main) issue. You could probably stick with whatever you're using now or switch up to Peet's, Graffeo, Trieste, or what have you and call it a day. As long as it's not sitting too long after brewing and your baristas are competent you shouldn't need to worry about it.

    Pastries and other kinds of food are much easier to differentiate yourself with, and easier to handle. There are some frozen croissants that you can bake right out of the box (no proofing) and are really good, especially compared to something baked the day before in San Bruno or (god forbid) out of a Costco package. Not sure how they'd do in a pizza oven but you could always give it a shot. Goody Goodie is right up the street from you and people seem to like their stuff a lot. People's donuts are very popular, especially among the vegan crowd. I always wanted to be able to go somewhere outside of chinatown in the morning and get a pork bun that doesn't suck but so far no dice. You could get Brown Cow yogurt cups from Clover or Gilt Edge and they're coded a month out most of the time. A couple boxes of Back to Nature or brand x granola and Bob's your uncle.

    I don't know what kind of license you have but you could even do a full on breakfast if you want. I think you have a fryer, right? And maybe a griddle? Spuds-o-Rama Spaghetti Western style would be awesome. Spam the EndUp maybe? I forget if they have food there but even if they did I'm not sure I'd want to eat it.

    Oh, and for the person looking for beignets? Brenda's (with crawfish, choco, apple? and plain) in Polk Gulch or Just for You in Dogpatch. I don't know what an authentic beignet is supposed to taste like but I can vouch for the rest of the food.

    There was a "Forum" (KQED radio program) about SF coffee a week or so ago: http://pagr.us/ed mostly predictable fluff but there were some interesting parts.

    • Matty J. says:

      Front Porch for Beignets, too. Any southern kitchen will have them. I don't go out of my way to eat them but I've come across them quite a bit in this town. Not sure how the original poster was having trouble with it.

  23. paul yoon says:

    Oh sorry I forgot to mention that I hope you stay 24 hours! Maybe that was implicit in my post but I have really enjoyed going there after work for pizza. When a guy gets off work at 3:30AM one's choices are pretty limited.

    I would still like one of those $5 legal defense t-shirts though, there weren't any on hand last time I went.

  24. jayrtfm says:

    Perhaps a coffee cup shaped advertising balloon flying 100 feet or so above your roof?

  25. CTD says:

    All these smartypants trying to figure out how to market cafe shit in SoMa are making me gag. Lemme tell you. Just get Gorilla X to lurk in the doorway. Then when he sees someone coming, he smashes a big cup of hot coffee right in their faces, steals their money, and gives them their change.

  26. Lloyd says:

    Oooh,ooooh! I know how the Internet can fix this retail problem in one small part of a coastal town.

    Pay Yelp to give really good reviews of your coffee!

  27. Ben Brockert says:

    Above stuff aside, have you considered selling the coffee and breakfast stuff at marginal cost before giving up on it? It wouldn't cost you anything, and it may build customers if your stuff is good enough for people to want to come back.

    Advertise it through your normal channels, though perhaps as "grand opening sale" or whatever rather than economic terms.

  28. Frandroid Atreides says:

    I second a lot of what people said here: Name, branding. etc.

    I don't know about the U.S., but in Canada McDonald's has realized that Starbucks is eating its lunch (or rather its breakfast) and is now moving big time into coffee. Now that's another "What? I wouldn't go to McD's for coffee!" but they've been giving free coffee away regularly for 2-week intervals over the last couple years, and they've been picking up market share.

    Also: When I see a pizza place that has Coffee, I'm thinking that it serves drip. But no! You have an espresso machine. So advertize espresso, not coffee! People would want Coffee will still come, maybe expecting to order an americano.

    Also, check your price competition; I was pretty floored when I saw your price menu, but food is cheap in Toronto, and maybe it isn't in SF.

  29. Mark Ayoub says:

    actually i would scrap the DNA part too; when people see it, they associated it with a nightclub, and when people think nightclub food, they think greasy. also have you considered trying to see if Verve or Rodger's would sell you coffee? Two very underrated roasters

  30. Mark Ayoub says:

    also, have some direct tie-ins with the nightclub - i.e., if you spend X amount of money at DNA pizza, skip the line at the following saturday's bootie, or something. or reduced cover. or free drink.

  31. Lloyd says:

    ...and pizzaria is more commonly spelt pizzeria. But that's the least of the problems.

  32. Caio Chassot says:

    Hi. We're at 11th st, and we have a tab at agricole, but we often walk all the way to sightglass. Agricole stops coffee service rather early and they're not particularly good. Also, I wouldn't mind if you had beans from philz.

    I'd love to convince our powers to give you guys a chance.

  33. Sheilagh says:

    Do you deliver? Have you considered delivering complementary samples of your breakfast offerings to local offices?

  34. abelits says:

    On Friday, January 20, around 9am, I arrived at DNA Pizza with a goal to determine how that place looks from the point of view of normal person, possibly hipster, going to work in the morning. As some people already mentioned, the sign did not exactly stand out as "Here! This is a place with some coffee!". However when seen by the eyes of a person walking by from the nearest intersection, the sign was not visible at all!

    Behold:

    (See photo #1)

    White arrow points at the sign. From this intersection it's absolutely impossible to determine that there is anything coffee-related in that building without some optical instrument.

    Approaching from four obvious directions (none of which is "out of the club", that was not available at the time), I was greeted with the following sights:

    South:

    (See photo #2)

    South-East:

    (See photo #3)

    Apparently I am looking at a place where there was some pizza few years ago (judging by the condition of the sign), and now someone uses it to drop little green anvils on people 24 hours a day.

    North-West:

    (See photo #4)

    Now, pizza place is seemingly open, but maintained by someone extremely lazy. Any suspicions that pizza sign was intended to look derelict, are eliminated by the pristine look of somewhat anvil-like coffee sign. Or maybe it pizza is 24 hours, and cup means that employees have to drink coffee to keep themselves awake.

    But South-West really takes the cake (without coffee):

    (See photo #5)

    For a person walking on the other side of the street, usually the best place to notice stores' signs, the place remains a complete mystery, except for the presence of ATM somewhere inside. Speaking of which, is it supposed to be Automated Teller Machine, Asynchronous Transfer Mode, or Automated Teller Machine connected using Asynchronous Transfer Mode? Foreigners such as myself will never understand the beauty of ambiguous three-letter English acronyms, but I digress. My point was supposed to be, ATM is advertised more prominently and thought-inspiring than either pizza or coffee.

    After reaching the entrance (in one instance, not four) I can see that it's empty, save for a guy in the corner behind his laptop:

    (See photo #6)

    The reflection of now-bright street happens to conceal two guys at the counter waiting for the customers. The guy behind the laptop, the only visible indication of organic life within the place, occasionally looks above the screen with a rather negative and somewhat hostile expression on his face (not shown on photos). I realize that this is the average expression a sane person has while looking at a random web page, and nod.

    TV plays music videos not unlike ones it plays at any other time. My primitive mental emulator of a hipster does not support musical tastes and registers no reaction. No, I am not going to run a copy of a hipster on a mental virtual machine. Emulation, however limited, is where I draw the line.

    After entering I finally see the employees and the sign with coffee drinks helpfully marked in a color typically associated with non-Starbucks coffee, VT220 terminals that are not green, and corroded alloys of iron, with a visible coffee-cup-like icon:

    (See photo #7)

    Wait, no, this is what I see because I was here before. Everyone else sees bare reality without my mental overlays. Coffee list looks like a continuation of beer and soft drinks, and cup icon is a barely noticeable watermark:

    (See photo #8)

    Since I finally see the employees, I order cappuccino. Hipster in me (emulated) notices that it is in a generic-looking paper cup with no resemblance of any other symbol found in this place, and porcelain cup option does not seem to be available. Engineer in me (real) notices that distribution of the bending forces applied to the cup's rim is hopelessly unbalanced without a lid, so even with a paper sleeve the cup wobbles in my hand while I am carrying it to my table. Both agree that it looks cheap, something from a place where coffee is an afterthought, even though there are no problems with coffee itself. Hipster also complains about lack of pastries or anything coffee-related being prominently displayer. I have to agree because I usually add something with complex carbohydrates to my coffee.

    Over the time I have spent drinking cappuccino, two customers appear. At that point I am at the table closest to the door, and also have a laptop, though smaller and more hipster-y Thinkpad X220 (no, not tablet -- as I said, my hipster emulation is very primitive). I think, expression on my face is somewhat friendlier than the guy still sitting behind my back, but I may be wrong.

    I leave and look again at the place:

    (See photo #9)

    This time, the rust color on the DNA Lounge sign is real, and so is appropriate size of the logo. Sign again advertizes anvils falling 24 hours a day.