For some, coffee doesn’t just bring people together, it builds a community. In culmination of LGBTQ+ Pride Month, Brooke McDonnell of Equator Coffees & Teas in San Francisco looks back on how coffee did just that on Market Street.
“‘Give me a shot of espresso and hold the milk.’ Hardly immortal words, but an auspicious start to my 20s. It was 1978 in San Francisco and I had found a perfect perch at the café Flore on upper Market Street to watch the world go by. An unforgettable cast of characters passed and through its doors —poets, writers, musicians, trans-people, gays, and lesbians; black, brown, and white queer folk. The vibe was welcome and easy to love. North Beach’s Graffeo Roastery delivered daily bags of beans shiny with oil. Dark roasts ruled the Bay, and it would be two decades before a new wave of cafés turned the tide.
Outside Flore, a small group of teenage queer youth would gather. Exiled from their families, they were in search of an audience who would appreciate their posturing bravado and audacious self-expression. They briefly found a community at the café. I soon befriended one, a 15-year-old boy whose signature style involved scarves, a feather boa, and platform shoes. He convinced me that I was not a true San Franciscan until I went to the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Eventually the group including my friend dispersed, but more took their place. The city had exiles from Main Street of all ages.
“As the café expanded my cultural awareness, Harvey opened my eyes to the politically possible.”
I first spied Harvey Milk while sitting at the café. He frequently stopped for breakfast across the street. This was his turf. Known as the unofficial ‘Mayor of Castro Street,’ he would soon be the first openly gay city supervisor. I began catching sight of him more in the neighborhood. As the café expanded my cultural awareness, Harvey opened my eyes to the politically possible. He sounded the clarion call against a proposition known as the Briggs Initiative, which sought to prohibit gay people from teaching in public school.
Ominous political forces were circling, and Harvey galvanized a wary community that was in the midst of its own carefree Woodstock moment. His passion and sense of justice were contagious, eventually leading to an unprecedented victory for the gay community. When he stopped by a victory party on Market Street to thank his supporters, I had the thrill of witnessing the ecstatic crowd cheering madly for Harvey.
That summer, I saw my first Pride parade. Exuberance was in the air and the sound of Sylvester singing ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ with its joyous spirit still echoes through the years.
Coming of age also forced me to confront my thin resume and pocketbook. I couldn’t spend my life in a cafe. But it was impossible not to be inspired by Sundays at Caffe Trieste in North Beach — opera, well-crafted cappuccinos, and international newspapers!
Years later I founded Equator Coffees and set out to carry forward the spirit of the coffee community that raised me. Each June the San Francisco Pride Parade marches down Market Street, right by one of our cafés. Tens of thousands of people stream past; new generations feeling mighty real together.”
— Brooke McDonnell, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer, Equator Coffees & Teas