“My grade-school niece designs the packaging for all the buttons we produce. We as a family voted on her designs, and she created eight designs of color with no text, and we picked the top three. And every time I see her, she asks if any buttons have sold. And that's what I want to pass along, because that's how I was put onto the scene here in the City.”
Solo behind the immaculate white counter at The Family Room on Hyde Street, Andy Alvarado reaches over a cup of black pour-over coffee to indicate a pegboard hook hung with small rectangles of white cardstock, each printed with striking bands of color done in a child’s hand. The hand-crafted buttons represent just one of The Family Room’s large selection of small-run products and publications; the vibe of the space reflects Andy’s understanding of the aesthetic and experience of a modern Filipino family room.
“It’s my take on the Filipino family rooms I grew up in. We keep the traditional sculpture of Mother Mary in the corner, incognito, a white piece on a white wall, blessing people as they enter and leave, but we’ve also created a more modern grotto around her. Growing up, the family room at my house was the place where everybody kicked it after school. And thats what I wanted The Family Room to be — a part of the community where people can chill and check out the things we’ve made and the things I’ve seen that I like, and share a good cup of coffee.”
Andy says that the coffee bar element of The Family Room is just as important to the experience of the space as the wares and décor, emphasizing a feeling of quality in simplicity: a cozy, comfortable setting that welcomes creative thinking.
“The inspiration of the store, being very small, was the Japanese idea of a one-man shop, but I wanted to have a Hawaiian, chill vibe, and also bring the Filipino culture that I had grown up with. I use Spam cans as my planters in the window, and of course I serve the fifty-cent Pan de Sal. In this neighborhood, everyone lines up to buy the Cronuts, and pays lots of money for expensive donuts. I wanted to showcase a simple bakery good for a good price that represented a powerful childhood memory for me. And it goes well with the coffee I serve -- and the coffee I serve is always, always black. Paired with the Pan de Sal, it’s like an Asian-American version of tea and crackers.”
Creating lasting experiences of design — where elements of food, style, and art intersect — has been, Andy says, a primary challenge of The Family Room since it opened in December 2015, and something he stresses is only truly achievable through the development and upkeep of a physical space.
“I get a lot of inspiration from Benny Gold right now. When he moved to his store in the Mission, he talked about the importance of having a brick-and-mortar store because it's not just the products, it's the relationships you build through being a place where people hang out. So, us being The Family Room in the Tenderloin, we're trying to be that entertainment space for the people around here who have small apartments. They can come chill and have a drink, check out the goods, and see one of the art shows we have hanging, or peep the newest issue of Franchise and have a conversation.”
The Family Room’s Tenderloin location keeps it plugged in with other destination boutiques like Handsome Oxford and Hero Shop, as well as the art crowds spilling out of the galleries on Larkin. Andy says that local skaters bombing Hyde hill often stop in for coffee, but that he also gets visitors from around the globe — something he enjoys not just as a businessman, but as a person trying to grow community around good quality design.
“I don’t want to be one of those online-only, Instagram brands. Handsome Oxford is a great example of that, just up the street from us -- people from Japan fly into the City, and Handsome Oxford is their first stop off the plane. I want that to be a thing here at The Family Room. Once, a customer flew in from Korea. She had followed us on Instagram, and she said we were her first stop once she checked into her hotel. A space like this is cool because it is so small that you get to meet the creator, you get to meet the designer, and get the story of how it came about. It’s important to recognize that it’s a hard thing to have a small store, to maintain and to do all the things it requires, and as a customer about. It’s important to recognize that it’s a hard thing to have a small store, to maintain and to do all the things it requires, and as a customer you get to see that up close. Sometimes, I feel like my mom, always trying to clean and fix things! But it's a great joy. My wife and I have met a lot of people through this physical store that we just could not meet online -- bar owners, restaurant owners, artists, and without this store, we might not have made those relationships.”
Andy’s personal emphasis on relationships and conversations is something he’s proud to present through The Family Room, and something he sees blossoming through the tremendous network of Filipino creators gathering each month at Undiscovered SF.
“I think things are looking up for Filipinos in the City right now. With this new push through Undiscovered SF and SOMA Pilipinas, we’re seeing younger Filipinos want to get engaged and help create a future for Filipinos in the City. We’re seeing more and more Filipino-owned restaurants and more Filipino-owned shops, and I'm so glad that Undiscovered is providing those opportunities for all of us to be seen as vendors, as chefs, as artists, and as tastemakers.”