The “Before It Was Cool” series was born from the idea that bars, restaurants, boutiques and more formed a startup scene long before it was labeled as such. San Franpsycho and Green Apple Books, for instance, have each been around for decades.
But even this old-school startup scene is far from static now; new spots continue to open their doors all across town.
In early 2013, one such spot was Stock in Trade -- a bar and restaurant on Lombard Street labeled “A San Francisco Tavern” and featuring everything from brunch, bottomless mimosas and bocce ball to happy hour deals, countless TVs and a nightclub feel on the weekends. But the dream of Stock in Trade began long before.
As co-owner Cass Fegan told me, he and business partners / high school classmates Tod Alsman and Chris Fogarty (who also own R Bar and Wreck Room) are lifers -- both when it comes to living in San Francisco and being a part of the bar and restaurant industry. The three friends had talked about opening something together for years, but the timing never seemed to work.
Until the spot on Lombard (previously home to La Barca) hit the market, that is. “The problem is that in San Francisco, you have to hit the lottery to get a liquor license or a lease,” Cass said. “We didn’t pick the Marina. The place picks you.”
The location affected what you’ll see if you step foot in Stock in Trade today, too. “We had a general idea of what we wanted to do,” Cass explained, “but the size of the space of dictates how much of it you can do, and the neighborhood dictates a lot.”
The size, for instance, gave way to bocce ball. Meanwhile, diners in the neighborhood almost immediately offered feedback that altered the menu.
Stock in Trade’s owners are self-described “bar guys” and sports fans who felt like a casual, sports-friendly spot with a strong menu was missing in the city. As Cass put it: “It seems like you’re either one or the other in San Francisco: You’re a dive bar that has ten TVs … but you have to go next door to grab a burrito and bring it on … or you’re a high-end restaurant that doesn’t want a TV.”
But the original menu was a bit too high-end for having “games on and bros running down the Bocce court yelling,” as Cass put it. So while the food’s quality is still a focus, management decided to lower the expectation of serious diners and make the menu more bar-friendly.
“We’re constantly changing,” he added.
When asked about general challenges to opening a restaurant or bar in the city, Cass again laughed. “How much recording time you got on this phone?” he joked, before listing off the many hoops that must be jumped through: permits, inspections and so on.
“You sometimes feel like you’re just writing checks for like six months and don’t even know where they’re going,” Cass said of the early stages of opening Stock in Trade.
And when asked about the bar’s name? “It came from six months of texting each other on the worst text thread in the history of texting,” he said.
The good news: Customers seem to be okay with the final result.