Tales of food, sex and friendship




Season 7, Episode 2

July 31, 2012


It was still early when Willow caught the trolley across town to the Saturday morning Ferry Building farmer’s market. Much like her beloved Victoria Markets in Melbourne, it appeared to be the serious foodies who rose early to hit the stalls before the regular punters came through. She had a small pang of homesickness as she wandered past a woman laughing animatedly with one of the stall owners as he piled her basket high with fresh produce. Willow wondered how Lorenzo – her favourite purveyor of fruit and vegetables at the Vic Markets – was doing. He would be wondering why she hadn’t been to visit him in such a long time, and she felt slightly guilty not telling him that she was leaving. Perhaps she’d send him a postcard?

She did a lap of the stalls out the front, marveling at the fact that she was able to buy all the summer fruit she could ever want, in the middle of July. In Australia, this was the time of year for stewing and poaching apples and pears, serving them piping hot with homemade custard, as you huddled inside the stay out of the cold. Here, you still had to huddle to stay out of the cold (that wind was biting!) but at least you could enjoy peaches, nectarines and figs while you were doing so.

To the right of the main building, she noticed a huge queue of people. They snaked from towards the rear of the markets all the way back down the pier. Willow wondered what on earth would possess people to queue up this early on a weekend. Some rare Californian delicacy perhaps that you could only buy on a Saturday?

Curious, Willow joined the back of the line, tapping the woman in front of her on the shoulder. “What are you lining up for?”

“Coffee,” the woman said.

Willow’s mouth dropped open. This was the line for coffee? “Isn’t there anywhere else to get coffee here?” she said.

The woman laughed. “Sure there is. But this is the line for the best coffee.”

Given her previous coffee experiences Willow was sceptical, but she kept her place in the line, slowly making her way towards the small stand where about five people were frantically taking orders and making hot beverages.

“What can I get you?” the dread-locked man behind the cash register said in his easy Californian drawl.

What to order? She’d learned that a cafe latte was a no-no (seriously, no-one needed that much milk!) and a cappuccino was often a mug of froth with some coffee floating somewhere down the bottom.

“I don’t suppose you could make a flat white, could you?” she said, knowing that the answer would be the same as everywhere else she’d tried to find her favourite coffee: “A flat what?”

A freckled face peered around the side of the coffee machine and beamed at her. “‘Course we can make a flat white, mate! Coming right up!” He said in his unashamedly antipodean accent.

Willow grinned. It figured that the best coffee in the city was made by an Australian.

***

Sipping her absolutely perfect flat white, Willow wandered down the pier, gazing out over the bay. The sky was blue, and the sun had risen high in the sky, finally sharing some if its magnificent warmth. In the distance, the bay bridge sparkled in the sunlight. The wind had dropped and the water was perfectly still. A line of low fluffy clouds sat just above the hills of the east bay, giving the otherwise clear sky some texture. Willow smiled to herself. Now this view beat the scenery of the Vic Markets hands down.

“This coffee is amazing,” she overheard a middle-aged man say to his wife, as they too wandered away from the coffee cart. “Best I’ve had since we were in Italy.”

“Shame they don’t do pastries as well,” his wife sighed. “Now we just have to queue up all over again to get a croissant.”

Willow silently agreed with the woman. A flaky, buttery croissant would certainly complete this nearly perfect moment. If only there was someone that did amazing coffee and mouthwatering pastries…  Willow suddenly stopped mid-stride.

“I’m a genius,” she said out loud. A few people looked at her strangely, but she didn’t even notice. Great coffee and amazing pastries. Great pastries and amazing coffee. It wasn’t a new concept, but it was one that seemed to work the world over. And one that obviously hadn’t fully infiltrated San Francisco yet!

***

On the trolley ride home, Willow’s mind was buzzing. She hadn’t been so excited about anything since… well, since Robert. And she knew that this was something that Robert would support her doing, were he still alive. She knew she’d have to look for a business partner. Someone who had experience with setting up these sorts of things and some idea of US rules and regulations.
As she rounded the street to their rented apartment, she stopped in her tracks for the second time that day. On the lamp post, someone had taped up a sign.

Got a startup?  Want to invest in a startup?

Come for Demos, Drinks and maybe meet an Angel at ‘The Lab’ on Valencia St. 4-6pm

 

Willow wrote down the address. Seriously, if this wasn’t a sign, she didn’t know what was.

***

“What kind of startup have you got?” a man said. His name tag proclaimed ‘Brad’ in large red letters and his eyes didn’t stay in one spot for very long, constantly scanning the room to see who was there. “Software? Hardware? Games? Design?”

“Er, no,” said Willow. “Actually… coffee.”

Brad looked dumbfounded for a minute before shaking his head. Willow heard him say “time waster” under his breath as he walked away. Willow blushed and surveyed the rest of the crowd. Surely there must be someone there who would be as excited about her idea as she was? But the more she looked the less confident she became. Everyone just looked a bit… tech. Pulling off her name badge and sighing she made for the door. It had been worth a try.

“Excuse me.”

Willow turned towards the voice. It belonged to a man who looked as far from ‘techy’ as Willow did. His whole composure had a world-weary, defeated look about it, but in his eye he had a little twinkle that said ‘I’m not ready to give up just yet’.

“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” he said. “But I couldn’t help overhearing. Coffee?”

“Yeah,” said Willow. “It was just an idea. But I don’t think anyone here is that interested in it.”

“Would you believe that my business idea is for a mobile coffee cart? Well, coffee and cakes to be exact.”

Willow’s heart sank a bit. That was her idea. “I’m more interested in starting my own business, not really  investing in someone else’s,” she said. “Sorry.”

“Oh, you misunderstand,” the man said. “I’m not looking for an investor. I’m looking for a business partner.”

Willow blinked. “You are?”

He nodded enthusiastically. “It’s an idea that I had a while ago and was all set to launch, but then my… partner left for another… business.” He sighed, his shoulders sagging. “Actually my partner was my wife and the other business was my best friend.”

“I’m so sorry,” Willow said.

He shrugged. “Anyway, it’s left an opening. We’d split everything fifty-fifty, including the initial costs, but we should be able to do it fairly cheaply if we start small. Any experience with coffee?”

“I drink a lot of it,” Willow said. “And I did a dash as a Barista in my university days. Plus,” she added, her eyes twinkling, “I make some of the best pastries and cakes in the whole world.”

The man grinned. “Well, I can’t bake to save myself, but I’ve got years of experience managing world class restaurants – New York, Rome, Paris, Madrid – you name it, I’ve done it.”

“What made you leave the restaurant industry?”

“Too many late nights. And I was always working too hard for someone else.” He smiled wistfully. “All I want is a small coffee and cake business, where I know the regulars by name, the quality is exceptional and everyone is happy.”

“That sounds exactly like what I had in mind,” Willow said.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Wait – are you on a visa at the moment?” he said suddenly.

“Oh,” said Willow. “Just the tourist one. But I’m hoping to get a more permanent one.”

He shook his head, sadly. “That would involve sponsorship and I’m not sure how willing they are to offer it for this kind of industry.” He looked thoughtful for a minute. “Well, there is one other option, but… no, on second thoughts that probably wouldn’t work.”

“What is it?” Willow insisted.

“There is something called an Entrepreneurs Green Card. But it involves a fairly hefty investment in a business.”

“How hefty.”

“A million dollars.”

Willow whistled. “That is hefty.”

He chuckled. “Like I said. Wouldn’t work.”

“I didn’t say it wouldn’t work,” Willow said slowly. She wasn’t that keen on advertising her new-found wealth to anyone, but if it was the only way… “It might work,” she said. “I’d have to see.”

He looked nonplussed, as though he didn’t believe this unassuming girl would have anything close to a million dollars.

“Well, I guess we can cross that bridge when we get to it, hey?” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Fred, by the way.”

“Willow.”

They shook hands.

“Willow, shall we get out of this place and go and figure out if we want to make the best coffee and cakes in the whole of San Francisco?”

Willow grinned. “Fred, I think that sounds like a splendid idea.”

***