San Francisco

23 Years of Java Beach Café, An Outer Sunset Institution

On any given day, the Outer Sunset's Java Beach Café is likely filled to bursting with patrons, their conversations and clacking cutlery blending into a pleasant ambient hum that can be heard half a block away.

More than a neighborhood institution, the small yellow and blue building is a second home to many local residents, who while away a few hours chatting with friends, listening to music, or simply reading a book as they enjoy their coffee and food.

For owner-managers Buffy and Patrick Maguire, this relaxed atmosphere is a point of pride, something they always intended to cultivate within Java Beach's walls. "[Patrick] always cherished that hangout time that was very much like his mother's living room," said Buffy. "Where they could tell stories and there was no beginning, middle, or end. In his mother's living room, the front door was always open."

Photo: kanaka/Flickr

Java Beach was founded 23 years ago, when Patrick, an Outer Sunset native, became increasingly aware of the lack of neighborhood joints in the area. One day, during a regular Ocean Beach outing, he saw a dilapidated building for sale at the corner of Judah and La Playa streets.

"He saw it all, he saw a café, the whole thing," said Buffy. "And he said, 'I'm gonna do it.' So he went home, and he put a suit on, and he grabbed an empty briefcase and came back and rang the doorbell of the landlord. They began a series of long conversations in which they connected very deeply. What resulted was that Mr. Chan gave him the building for a year for free, if he did all the remodeling himself."

With the help of just about all of his friends in the neighborhood, Patrick completed the renovations and got the café up and running on March 20th, 1993. In the years since, Java Beach's offerings have expanded from coffee to a full menu of pastries and lunch items. There's also a second location at 2650 Sloat Blvd., and a sister business called Beachside Coffee Bar & Kitchen, next to the original La Playa store.

Photo: Simone Anne Photography

Over the years, the café and its staff have been involved in several neighborhood projects. The Maguires played a leading role in a community effort to clean up the area between La Playa Street and the Great Highway and turn it into a park.

According to Buffy, the city was initially opposed, but eventually backed the idea. "One of Pat's favorite lines was, 'If you're going to arrest me for building a park, then go ahead,'" said Buffy. "It was really tense, but we did actually end up getting a lot of city legislators' help."

Other projects have included beach clean-ups, Thanksgiving dinners for local homeless people, and maintenance of the public areas surrounding the Great Highway.

"This is where we live, this is where our family lives, we're in its past—it's just probably not what normal businesses are in it for," said Buffy. "Our neighbors were so supportive, and we're friends with them. Then those neighbors became very, very involved, and they started to take the lead on some projects."

Patrons lined up for coffee. (Photo: bigtored/Flickr)

Given its long history, Java Beach has had a large part in driving the growth of the Outer Sunset's business community. "We did a Merchant's Association on Judah Street, and we were really courting businesses to come to Judah Street," said Buffy. "It's now hip. Everyone is really cool, and we're all different sorts of merchants, which is great."

There have even been more than a few love connections sparked at Java Beach over the years. Most of Patrick's brothers met their wives when they were working behind the counter at the café, according to Buffy, who says she has 29 nieces and nephews in the Sunset alone.

"It's really amazing to be part of a community where people bring their kids here for the first time after the hospital, and then it's the blink of the eye and they're putting their money up on the counter. Fast forward a couple more years and they're applying for a job and they work for you, and then they're going to college." said Buffy. "It's been an amazing life experience to see so many different lives coincide and coexist together." 

The cafe isn't done evolving, either. Although Java Beach has always roasted its own coffee, it has begun selling its beans wholesale for the first time. The brand is called Carville Coffee, a nod to the beachside community's past. A Java Beach coffee truck is also in the works, and should debut in the next few months. "We have a 1948 GMC red van that should be ready soon," said Buffy. "We sort of tackle things as the inspiration hits us."

Java Beach Café is located at 1396 La Playa St. Hours are Monday–Friday from 5:30am–11pm, and Saturday–Sunday from 6am–11pm. For more information, visit their website


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