Lea Sabado has been an inspiration to us ever since we met her. Forever riding the most drool-worthy vintage bikes and bringing good vibes wherever she goes, it’s not hard to strike up a conversation with Lea. After a weekend of basking in her two-stroke exhaust while chasing her around Washington State on her Yamaha RD 350 in 2015, we became fast friends.
A lot has changed since we last caught up with our dear friend and Atwyld Voyager Lea Sabado. She is now a momma to Mr. Cruz, who is about the coolest lil’ dude ever, and she and her husband have opened up their own coffee shop in their neighborhood, the Excelsior District of San Francisco. The juggle is real and we wanted to get the low down on how she is mastering her world these days.
Hugest congratulations on Excelsior Coffee 1 year anniversary! Tell us about the shop and what inspired you to open it?
Thank you! One year down and many more to go! Excelsior Coffee is a neighborhood + family joint and labor of love. Partners in life and love, my husband Andre and I have always dreamt to run and own a business together. Having a background in civic and customer service, coffee shops have been a community fixture for ages and to be one in our neighborhood, where we reside, is truly an honor. We were inspired to open it here specifically to build, nurture, and preserve a vastly changing demographic in San Francisco. Our district is culturally rich because of its working class stronghold and a product of where we both come from: immigrant families. Our mission is to continue to educate and build neighborhood pride in a diverse, working class neighborhood through coffee, and to bridge the connection of coffee with our passions: San Francisco history, vintage scooters and motorcycles, and classic cars.
Why coffee? What do you love about coffee?
Coffee, to us, is more than just a damn good cup of brew. We chose coffee because it’s a great vice to have and the history behind coffee is super interesting! There are so many levers to pull and curiosities to dig. For us, it’s easy to prepare, inexpensive, and most importantly, offers a safe space for community, exploration, and learning. You can’t get a bad cup of coffee here in San Francisco and our goal was never to compete with other heavy-hitter type of shops, or to recreate something that has already been done. Instead, we wanted to interpret and serve coffee our way: by being a trusty neighbor and a genuinely nice human being, with implementing our own flare.
Tell us about the Excelsior community and why you chose to open up shop there?
Aside from living in the Excelsior District, we decided to open up shop here to invest in our neighborhood, a corridor that provides for families, elders, and dreamers. We are committed to our neighbors and the history here, one we are proud to share and the one we help to shape. We hope to add to the tapestry of minority small business owners who protect the electric authenticity of this beautiful spot in the city. And like its namesake, keep onward and be as bold as we (and our coffee) can be together.
Was venturing into being a business owner scary? Do you consider yourself entrepreneurial?
Becoming a business owner is definitely intimidating, especially in coffee, where the industry has its stereotypes of being ‘pretentious.’ I wouldn’t say I’m in expert in this coffee industry, but moreso, a coffee enthusiast. The most important thing that I have learned by being a business owner is that people rely on you. Staff relies on you, our neighbors rely on consistency, and secondarily, your peers expect you to maintain and protect this coffee culture specifically in San Francisco. We also all have our own little internal (personal) expectations to meet and exceed, but nevertheless, our experience as being owners have allowed us to stay open-minded, to always think and push forward, to take risks, and to never stay idle or complacent.
What has been the hardest part about opening and running the shop?
Hands down, the hardest part is the process: from creating a business plan with forecasts and projections to navigating San Francisco’s weird permitting rules, both environmental and health directives, building and planning intricacies, to budgeting the initial capital investment, and finally, monitoring and maintaining operations. I always say: Making coffee is the most fun part of it all.
What is the most rewarding part about opening and running the shop?
As cliché as this sounds, serving coffee or espresso to our customers is actually the most rewarding part, especially with what we had to go through just to open. Coffee, for being such a small gesture, brings so much joy to people and goes a long way. In the scant one year we’ve been open, coffee itself has already created genuine connections within our community.
You started working on the Coffee shop around the same time as you got pregnant with Cruz right? How has mom life and work life balance been? How do you juggle it all?
Yes! I began the initial permitting process and buildout while pregnant with Cruz. He was then born in May 2018, in the middle of heavy demolition and leasehold improvements. It was at that moment where life just comes at an abrupt halt. I put the coffee shop project on hold around then to focus on motherhood, something I always strived to be, but something I had NO idea about. Relying on family and friends has contributed to this delicate sense of balance, and oftentimes, we sort of “roll with the punches.” You have to. Every day is different, and everything is instinctual. There’s not a handbook for motherhood and work/life balance, whatever that means. Til this day, I struggle with time management, balancing between my family and the shop, while also trying to maintain my clients with my accounting/tax practice. In the midst of it all, my little creature is growing up so fast, rapidly learning, and demanding so much more of my attention. When Mothers say “time flies, savor every moment,” wow – it really does. Despite the hurdles, it has been very rewarding to see both human baby and coffee shop baby grow into their own(s).
Has becoming a mom changed your perspective on the world? If so, how?
Absolutely 100% yes. First, it’s a complete honor to be a part of the (mom) club. I come from a predominantly matriarch family and raised by strong women. I mean, my mother has 4 sisters, her mother (my grandmother) had sisters, I have 4 sisters – I mean it just goes on. Plus, many of my friends and women I admire are mothers and aunties. Anyway, to be a mother in today’s time comes an unspoken responsibility that you take, especially as a woman of color and mother to a Black and Brown child. With a global pandemic and social & racial injustices prevalent today, I’ve become more aware and even more deeply invested in our children and their future. Sure, there are always inherent pressures as a mother, but my current perspective/focuses are to continue to protect my children and act as a buffer between them and the world, to constantly educate/prepare them for the world that has to be convinced of their worth, and to create ample opportunities for them to dictate their own narratives.
Tell us about your love for motorcycles and vintage cars?
My love for cars started with my Dad – he was very into James Bond as a character and style icon. After countless trading and upgrading vehicles left and right, the ones he settled on were: an early 60s Porsche 356 convertible (though it was a remake), 73’s Datsun/Nissan 240ZX, and an ’89 Chevy G20 van, which is the vehicle I learned to drive in. I was first introduced to motorcycles by my half-brother, where he was the one responsible for teaching me the idea manual gears and shifting. It was only when I moved to San Francisco 14 years ago where I actually began riding – my first bike was a 1963 Vespa GL. Since then, my love has grown to anything motorcycle-related that aligns with two-stroke engines. And somewhere between that 14 years, I purchased my first classic car – 1964 Ford Falcon. Without the help of my personal mechanic, my husband Andre, there is no way I would upkeep this love and obsession on my own. He has helped grow and shape that love today.
Whatcha got in your garage these days?
Haha, this is your judgment on whether we are a hoarder versus a collector. Between Andre and myself, we own: 1964 Ford Falcon Sprint, 1966 Ford Mustang Fastback GT350, 1973 Lambretta Jet 200, 1964 Lambretta TV175, 2002 Yamaha YZ250, 2016 Yamaha YZ250FX, 1966 Bultaco Metralla, 1939 BSA WM M20 and 1967 BSA WD B40, 1971 Yamaha R5, 1973 Yamaha RD350, 1977 Yamaha DT250, 1971 Ossa Pioneer 250E, 1977 Honda 400F, 1989 Honda GB500, 1971 Kawasaki Triple H1 (not mine, don’t want anything to do with it) and 2001 Kawasaki W650. Oh and Cruz’s 1984 Yamaha PW50!!!!
Got your eyes on anything new to add to the collection?
This is a popcorn dream, but personally, I would love to own a First Gen 60’s Ford Bronco or an International Scout. I’d also love a 1973 Yamaha XS650 in gold and a 1977 Harley Davidson XLCR. I would trade our RD350 and R5 hands down for a 1977 Yamaha RD400 Daytona Special. Oh and if possible, I would love to own an original Exclesior Auto Cycle for Excelsior Coffee. And if we, as a family, could also own anything Carroll Shelby-related, that would be optimal. Are these too much to ask for?
What motorcycle do you ride most often and why?
My commute these days between my home and the coffee shop is very short. I oftentimes ride the 73 Yamaha RD350 because it is lightweight, easy to maneuver around town, and can charge up those steep grade San Francisco hills. I also have expansion chambers that sounds like an angry bumble bee, so drivers can hear me and take note that I’m there! We just got a new (to me) motorcycle, 2016 Yamaha YZ250fx, which I have to ride. I’ve got the bug.
What are your favorite Atwyld pieces you’re ripping around town in lately?
Hard to choose! You can guarantee to always find me in any and ALL Atwyld Tee’s – the fabric is so soft and comfortable, with nothing but banger graphic designs. No lie, I love them all. It will always be considered my basics. Atwyld’s gear is versatile on and off the motorcycle. So, for essential riding, my go-to’s are: The Alltime Moto Jacket, Voyager Jeans, and the new (black) Two-Wheels Overalls. When I’m working at the shop, find me in my Roadside Shirt Jacket as well – it hides the espresso splatters. No one likes to compromise comfort and functionality, so thank you Atwyld for keeping me safe while looking great!
How has the madness that is 2020 been treating you? What are you doing to stay sane, happy driven and focused?
2020 is already so weird and the year hasn’t even finished. I’ve got mixed feelings, but I know I am fortunate to work and continue to be working through Excelsior Coffee and my own tax practice. Quarantine life has allowed me to spend more time with my family, read new books, accomplish small household improvements, stretch (more), and hang out with my ol’ faithful, Zozo, my #1 (dog). To stay sane, it’s literally the little things such as: going out for a drive in the Mustang and discovering different neighborhoods in the City, working the coffee bar & interacting with customers, consolidating and re-arranging the garage, throwing out junk, etc etc.
What’s next for you, Excelsior Coffee, Cruz Man and life in general.
What’s next? That’s a hard one – but I’d really like to start focusing on my house and make it more of a ‘home.’ I can envision myself and my family in San Francisco for next 10 years or so, so we’d like to expand the bottom of our home and do some remodeling. For Excelsior Coffee, our immediate goals are to highlight our lifestyle outside of coffee - With access to Andre’s newly upgraded & restored Auto Shop, the only one in the SF high school district, we are hoping to organize an annual classic car & motorcycle show, while amplifying Andre’s automotive program for students and parents alike. Being in the infancy stages of our business, we’ve got a ton of room to grow and explore. I can only hope that in the next couple years, we can sit back and say we did something impactful for ourselves and our neighborhood. As for little man, Cruz… the little dude needs a future sibling. Eeeeek!