How did your business get its start?
We were originally just looking to expand our catering business in November 2019, so with an offering of delicious banana bread, we approached the managers of the DocuSign Building on Main Street to see if there were any upcoming events we could help them with. You can imagine our surprise when they asked if we had any interest in opening a restaurant on the ground floor which had been unexpectedly vacated by a delicatessen before the end of its lease. While we were foodservice veterans, neither of us had run a retail restaurant before, but we agreed and the roller coaster adventure began!
What were the biggest challenges you faced in starting your business?
There were multiple challenges. First, what to call it? Based on the size of the space and its two-story glass front, our branding expert came up with The Lightbox Café, which was also a good fit with the mesmerizing lightshow on the ceiling of the patio walkway outside the unit. The logo and the tagline, For Enlightened Food Lovers, quickly followed.
Second, the space itself was a mess. Demolition and a complete build-out were required with all-new kitchen equipment. We also wanted to create a truly unique space, so we had interior tables custom-made from just three Marin redwood trees, and commissioned unique art and props inspired by the lightbox theme.
Third, and the biggest challenge of all, was – and continues to be – the pandemic. We opened in August 2020 with the focus on outdoor dining, event catering, pick-up & delivery due to the need for masks & social distancing. But just as we were starting to grow, the wildfires began bringing smoke & misery to our fair city, which forced us to go on hiatus in October that year. But quitting is not in our DNA: we re-opened mid-June 2021 and are grateful for all the support we are getting from local businesses and residents both in the restaurant and with off-site catering deliveries and events.
What makes you different in terms of culture, product & service?
We are a tightly-knit team with a “whatever it takes” approach and a fun disposition. We always go above and beyond for our restaurant & catering customers, from cookie decorating parties to a late order of 300 boxed meals. We’re also dog friendly: we have a jar of dog cookies on the counter with a sign that says, “Why your dog has brought you here.”
Our mouthwatering menu is American Casual with Verve Coffee, breakfast & lunch favorites, salads, sandwiches, beer & wine, grain bowls, pizza & taqueria items. We also have a lot of delicious vegetarian & vegan dishes.
What are some challenges you see facing your industry?
The pandemic has hit our industry very hard indeed and it’s sad to see so many restaurants closing in San Francisco. It’s also been hard finding the right staff as so many restaurant workers seem to have left the industry. So we feel blessed to have found our talented team and very grateful to be serving the local businesses and residents in the area. We are also very excited to be expanding our kitchen space in April when will be open on the weekends for Brunch!
What are some projects that your organization has been a part of here in San Francisco?
Since June of 2021 we have become a regular & growing catering service for multiple companies in the surrounding neighborhood. From DocuSign HQ and Schwab to Salesforce and Indeed, we are now serving over 30 companies in the East Cut Community. We have also been honored to provide many custom-styled private parties at The Lightbox Café and other beautiful venues such as Bix and Bimbo’s 365 Club.
How can your business help other businesses as well as people in their everyday lives?
We are already helping other businesses by purchasing all our food locally and by responding to local business’s needs in terms of high-quality catering and on-time deliveries. We are part of this local community, and we will continue to play our part in every opportunity that comes along.
To learn more about the San Francisco Chamber Member Lightbox Cafe please click here.