Chai in Half Moon Bay
I thought the chai drinkers might be interested in this article from the San Francisco Chronicle.
The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
Monday, January 29, 2007 (SF Chronicle)
HALF MOON BAY/Fighting for their chai/Customers rally to keep unique coffee shop
John Coté, Chronicle Staff Writer
Greg Sarab makes his regular stop at Half Moon Bay’s Coastside Gourmet
Coffee and Chai with a bundle of vacuum-sealed pills in his pocket.
The 41-year-old Moss Beach software designer is lactose intolerant, but
that doesn’t stop him from enjoying this endangered coastal institution’s
signature drink — a distinct blend of spiced, sweetened black tea and hot
“That’s over a buck’s worth of pills to drink a $3 chai,” Sarab says with
a chuckle, his chai cup in one hand, his medication in the other. “I don’t
eat ice cream. It’s not worth it. But the chai is awesome.”
Supporters of Coastside Gourmet Coffee and Chai hope such devotion will
help spare this quirky and beloved gathering place from commercial
development. The landlord has proposed evicting the current owner in favor
of a Peet’s Coffee and Tea shop as part of plans to spruce up a strip mall
at the intersection of highways 1 and 92.
Almost 600 people, from as far away as Walnut Creek and Fremont, have
signed a petition at the shop, known to regulars as Raman’s, asking the
City Council to explore saving the shop at its Feb. 6 meeting.
Surfers from Santa Cruz, a real estate appraiser from San Jose and a
couple from Menlo Park are among dozens of customers who regularly make
the pilgrimage “over the hill” — crossing the ridge that separates the
bay from the coast in San Mateo County — for one of owner Raman Bechar’s
warm brews at this corner shop in a nondescript mall.
“He makes the best chai this side of Jaipur,” said Kathy Rehm, referring
to India’s fabled Pink City. “You ain’t going to get the likes of that at
Peet’s, I tell you that.”
Teens from Half Moon Bay High School throng the shop after class, hanging
out, doing their homework and seeking advice from Bechar and his son, Raj,
a teacher at nearby Cunha Intermediate School. A local hardware store
worker and an aging surfer swap tales with techies and real estate types
under Tibetan prayer flags and the watchful eye of the Dalai Lama, whose
photo is perched above the counter.
Bechar’s poems line the walls next to quotes from Boy George and Mohandas
“This place is just like ‘Cheers’ on TV, but with chai instead of beer,”
said mechanical engineer David Jennings, 54, of Moss Beach.
The landlord, Maher Shami, applied to the city this month for a
construction permit to renovate the building and replace the shop and the
coin-operated laundry next door with a Peet’s.
Many of Bechar’s customers see the prospect of losing his shop to a chain
— even one that started with a loyal local following in Berkeley — as an
erosion of their unique coastal community.
“This is our lifestyle,” said David Kovar, 44, an El Granada tech security
consultant. “Having it be displaced by somebody else’s lifestyle choice is
doing a disservice to the community.”
The proposed change is part of the owner’s effort to upgrade the shopping
strip, which was anchored by an Albertsons grocery store that closed last
year. The upscale Santa Cruz-based grocery chain New Leaf Community
Markets is planned to replace the Albertsons later this year, and Bechar’s
coffee shop is facing the end of a 13-year run.
Bechar said he learned of the plan to close him down when Mayor Naomi
Patridge, a longtime customer, told him about the application and asked
him if he was leaving.
“It was then that it dawned on me that I was being evicted,” Bechar said.
He signed a 10-year lease when he opened the business in 1993, but has
been on a month-to-month basis since Shami took over the property in 2003.
Bechar said his son approached Shami about a long-term lease in 2004 but
Shami has yet to offer him a written lease, and the landlord this month
asked the coffee shop owner to present his own lease proposal that
included a rent increase and planned renovations, Bechar said. Shami could
not be reached for comment.
“They’re paying way below market rent,” said real estate broker Greg
Labarthe, Shami’s leasing agent. “The landlord has invited them to step up
and make an offer to stay in the space on an extended term and renew the
Bechar is skeptical about that option and contends it’s the landlord’s
role to propose a lease.
More than a dozen customers in the store on a recent afternoon vowed to be
at next week’s City Council meeting to support Bechar.
The tip jar on the counter was overflowing. Customer Rehm bustled in with
a T-shirt reading “Metaphors Be With You” and a poem in her hand titled
“Real Chai Spoken Here,” echoing the sign in front of the shop and
supporting “a place where our souls can feed.”
Bechar smiled and taped it to the front door.
“I just got a call from a lady in Scotland,” he said later. “Oh my God,
she was crying, ‘My favorite place in Half Moon Bay is going to close.
What am I going to do for chai?’ ”
Copyright 2007 SF Chronicle