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Getting to Know the David Rio Chai Bar

Kelly Salance

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In a city known for its innovative coffee scene, David Rio Chai Bar on Market Street, the most significant commercial corridor in San Francisco, breaks the mold with its expansive menu of uniquely crafted chai drinks. But where it’s been most “disruptive” is when it decided to open its first-ever cafe smack-dab in the middle of one of San Francisco’s most challenging neighborhoods, the Tenderloin.


Close to the corner of 6th and Market streets, Chai Bar is surrounded by new gleaming buildings, filled with VCs and tech workers, small businesses serving a very low-income community, non-profits, and a notable homeless population. This unlikely mix is mainly the result of when tech began moving to the Tenderloin in 2011. The results has been a neighborhood grappling with a shifting cultural landscape, especially along Market Street between 6th and 8th streets. Empty buildings that have long sat vacant are now slated to become glitzy hotels and fancy market-rate housing.

David Ababseh, who manages retail operations at David Rio and has worked with the company for six years, said his colleagues reckon with this ongoing tension between old and new on a daily basis, but is optimistic and vigilant that they can have a positive impact.

“The more businesses are here, then the more foot traffic, and the cleaner the streets are going to be,” Ababseh says. “We want to inspire people to come here, but at the same time, a new business can’t open up and think it’s going to be a success because this is the new tech central. A new business needs to help the area. Retail businesses [should] try to hire people from the Tenderloin. Hopefully, the city will invest a bit more in making the street cleaner and safer for everybody.”

Since opening its doors, David Rio has partnered closely with City Impact, a Tenderloin-based non-profit organization that runs a church and a series of social, health, and academic services for local residents, in order to hire locals into cafe jobs.

“You can better the community by hiring from the community,” Ababseh says. “It’s important to me that most of my staff live in the Tenderloin. If there’s two qualified applicants, I will always lean towards someone that’s local.”

Some employees also volunteer at the local needle exchange. Ababseh has also begun implementing a protocol for helping individuals who come into the cafe with substance abuse emergencies; it’s been effective to getting people the help they need, while keeping customers safe, happy, and empathetic to these situations.

Established in 1996, David Rio has always set up shop in areas in the midst of economic and  social transformations. They moved into their wholesale operation to the Dogpatch in 1997, a neighborhood famously known as headquarters of the Hells Angels motorcycle club. It was from this under-the-radar locale, Chai Bar built a global name for itself, despite not having a brick-and-mortar presence anywhere.

That changed in May 2015, when owners (David) Scott Lowe and Rio Miura opened their first-ever retail location, a 2,600-square foot Chai Bar on Market Street, between 6th and 7th streets. Situated on the ground floor of San Francisco’s iconic 1019 Market Street building (the same building Zendesk calls home), the husband-wife duo once again sought out an underdog neighborhood for this ambitious undertaking.

“We thought we could make a difference there,” Ababseh says. “We wanted to be a leader for positive change, as well as set an example for other businesses to enter the neighborhood.”

The next time you visit David Rio, tweet at us (@ZDNeighborFDN) a picture of your drink and we’ll buy you your next chai! 

Point of Interest - Zendesk Headquarters

Kelly Salance

Located in the heart of one of San Francisco’s most notorious neighborhoods, the Tenderloin, our global headquarters at 1019 Market Street have been a historic beacon of the economic ebbs and flows of the city.

Originally built in 1909, the six-story, 75,523-square foot building that Zendesk San Francisco calls home was originally the headquarters of Eastern Outfitting Co. The furniture and carpet store was described as “one of the handsomest store buildings in the west,” by the San Francisco Call,  one of San Francisco’s original newspapers. This historic milestone is the reason why it says “Furniture and Carpets” at the top of our building instead of Zendesk.


The Early Years

When 1019 Market made its architectural debut to the world it was thanks to the vision of architect George Adrian Applegarth, who was known for his Beaux-Arts style and elegant symmetry in his designs. The building was immediately embraced as iconic and symbolic of what can only be described as the Golden Age of Market Street and the main artery of hustle and bustle. The building later became home to the Union Furniture Store in the late 1940s, continuing on as a symbol of prosperity along Market Street, when it was the major retail district for the city (thus being named “Market Street,”). It was also at the center of what was then San Francisco’s burgeoning theater district and center of culture for San Francisco’s well-heeled.

Changes over the years

Later years, were less kind to 1019 and our little section of Market Street. Sweatshops and garment manufacturers eventually replaced the elegant furniture stores, giving the building more grit than glam. During the 1960s when hippies and psychedelics became the resounding cultural force in San Francisco, Market Street’s character changed in tandem. In 1968, the Herzstein Family Trust purchased the building and rented it out to various commercial tenants and artists. In 2000, in the midst of the dot com era, the Herzsteins made necessary renovations to bring the building up to seismic safety code and intended to find a startup tenant. However, when the tech bubble burst in 2001, the family abandoned this idea and refilled the offices with a variety of different businesses.

While the building remained consistently occupied, it had lost the luster of its former years, as did much of the swath of Market Street stretching between 5th and 11th streets. Construction of the city’s subway system, BART, in the 1980s, also piled on a steady amount of blight to the neighborhood. And this is the cloak this section of Market Street has wrestled with ever since.


Enter 2014: Zendesk moves in

When the current tech boom hit San Francisco around 2012, real estate investors Cannae Partners and their financial collaborators purchased 1019 Market Street from the Herzstein Family with the intention of turning it into a space for creative and tech ventures. Twitter had moved just down the street, locating its headquarters along Market Street a few blocks away. And Square and Uber were not far behind, also openings headquarters on Market Street as well. A new era was dawning along Market Street and developers were rolling their dice.

Cannae Partners described the building in its pre-renovated state as being “ridden pretty hard over the last 40 years.” The investors spent around $12 million in renovations, which included cleaning off a ceiling littered with pigeon carcasses, erasing graffiti, and disposing of heaping piles of trash. (Though we admittedly did keep some smatterings of graffiti that had been left behind by earlier “tenants.” They make for a fun little Easter Egg hunt around the office.)

It took 10 months to fully renovate 1019 Market Street but Balfour Beatty, the infrastructure and construction group that helped spearhead the building’s renovations, preserved 90 percent of the building original façade. During the massive overhaul, Cannae Partners came across an old postcard of the building aglow in its original exterior lighting structure that its architect Applegarth had bestowed upon the building. 1019 Market’s majestic series of bay window frames had been equipped with 700 light bulbs, a high-tech innovation for the time period. But it had been decades since they illuminated Market street.


“We thought to ourselves, 'wouldn’t it be cool to reignite those lights and maybe signify a rebirth on Market?'" according to a spokesperson from Cannae Partners. And so, as a part of the building’s transformation, the developers decided to reactivate the lighting system with LED lights, once again illuminating the historic Furniture and Carpet building.

While it is mainly tech tenants seen as signaling yet again a new era for Market Street, the situation is delicate. Cost of living in San Francisco continues to soar and tech, for many, is seen as one of the complex root causes. Which is why it’s been incredibly important for us as a company be neighbors to those families, businesses, and community leaders in the Tenderloin and along Market Street that far precede our tenancy here. While we hope to herald a new era of prosperity for this section of Market Street, we hope it is a prosperity for everyone and will continue to do what we can to make it so.

Welcome, Neighbor!

Kelly Salance

The Zendesk Neighbor Foundation is just what it sounds like: a way for us to be good neighbors and give back to the communities we call home. Our intention is to engage with the people around us and provide support to organizations in the neighborhoods where we work.

With that goal in mind, we are excited to announce that this year we are re-introducing our blog. Called ‘Know Your Neighbors’, our blog will highlight the neighborhoods and people where we work. Each month we will focus on one of our offices; featuring the people, nonprofits, buildings and businesses that make up our neighborhoods.

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Join us each week to learn more about what makes our communities remarkable. Welcome, neighbor!

Home is Where the Hjerte Is

Kelly Salance

You can never run out of things to do in San Francisco.

While there are many things I could do with my children to give them a taste of why this city is so special, one of the best examples so far has been the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. It’s festive, uplifting, and at the same time, provides tremendous perspective on the gay history of San Francisco and the Castro. It’s all-embracing and sometimes sad. For me, it’s completely San Francisco.

The Gay Men’s Chorus provides the kind of history and perspective that has made SF what it is today: a welcoming, open place that made it possible for my two friends and I to come from Copenhagen nine years ago and find everything we were looking for.

Despite all the things that San Francisco sometimes fails at, San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is a great example of what it is very good at: conveying the message of love and inclusion.

This month, this special group of men from the chorus will be traveling to the Southern US to spread compassion, activism, and acceptance through music, at a particularly important time in this country when these messages needs to be heard and amplified.

The tour is called the Lavender Pen Tour, named after a purple pen Harvey Milk gifted to George Moscone when he signed a landmark gay civil rights bill into action.

I’m so moved by the mission of the tour that I’ll be joining them at certain stops along the way. After all, it is this spirit of courage, openness, and heart (or “hjerte” in Danish), that reminds me why SF will always be my home.

When I moved here, I didn’t know how my future would play out. All I knew was that when I was in SF, I felt a strong sense that this city was perpetually on the cusp of something beautiful and big. Something larger than myself, or even the company we were building. Ten years later, I still feel that sense of wonder, thanks in part to these beautiful people spreading the message of equality and love.  

-Mikkel Svane, CEO of Zendesk