How did toast become the latest artisanal food craze? Ask a trivial question, get a profound, heartbreaking answer. John Gravois, Pacific StandardIn San Francisco, there is outrage over $4-$6 slices of toast, the latest indication of the slide into quality of life destruction caused by the "tech industry."
The butt of all this criticism appeared to be The Mill, the rustic-modern place on Divisadero Street. The Mill was also, I learned, the bakery that supplies the Red Door with its bread. So I assumed I had found the cradle of the toast phenomenon.
I was wrong. When I called Josey Baker, the—yes—baker behind The Mill’s toast, he was a little mystified by the dustup over his product while also a bit taken aback at how popular it had become. “On a busy Saturday or Sunday we’ll make 350 to 400 pieces of toast,” he told me. “It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?”
But Baker assured me that he was not the Chuck Berry of fancy toast. He was its Elvis: he had merely caught the trend on its upswing. The place I was looking for, he and others told me, was a coffee shop in the city’s Outer Sunset neighborhood—a little spot called Trouble.
The story of Trouble, and its owner, Giulietta Carrelli, is one that touched me in a place that has been locked and barred for many years. She is a precious inspiration I feel compelled to share. Her courage humbles and astounds me, and gives me a perspective I can use to carry on more effectively, in a spirit of acceptance of the way things are.
THE TROUBLE COFFEE & Coconut Club (its full name) is a tiny storefront next door to a Spanish-immersion preschool, about three blocks from the Pacific Ocean in one of the city’s windiest, foggiest, farthest-flung areas. As places of business go, I would call Trouble impressively odd.Carrelli has had schizoaffective disorder since high school, and learned to cope with it with opiates and alcohol, as it was not diagnosed. She enrolled in universities and would work until she had an attack, be evicted, lose her job, be hospitalized. She moved around to nine cities in her twenties, and finally started moving on when she sensed an attack was coming on, to avoid the unpleasantness of rejection. She cultivated large numbers of acquaintances to be visible, to feel safer--coffee shops became her workplace of choice.
Instead of a standard café patio, Trouble’s outdoor seating area is dominated by a substantial section of a tree trunk, stripped of its bark, lying on its side. Around the perimeter are benches and steps and railings made of salvaged wood, but no tables and chairs. On my first visit on a chilly September afternoon, people were lounging on the trunk drinking their coffee and eating slices of toast, looking like lions draped over tree limbs in the Serengeti.
The shop itself is about the size of a single-car garage, with an L-shaped bar made of heavily varnished driftwood. One wall is decorated with a mishmash of artifacts—a walkie-talkie collection, a mannequin torso, some hand tools. A set of old speakers in the back blares a steady stream of punk and noise rock. And a glass refrigerator case beneath the cash register prominently displays a bunch of coconuts and grapefruit. Next to the cash register is a single steel toaster. Trouble’s specialty is a thick slice of locally made white toast, generously covered with butter, cinnamon, and sugar: a variation on the cinnamon toast that everyone’s mom, including mine, seemed to make when I was a kid in the 1980s. It is, for that nostalgic association, the first toast in San Francisco that really made sense to me.
At bottom, Carrelli says, Trouble is a tool for keeping her alive. “I’m trying to stay connected to the self,” she says. Like one of her old notebooks, the shop has become an externalized set of reference points, an index of Carrelli’s identity. It is her greatest source of dependable routine and her most powerful means of expanding her network of friends and acquaintances, which extends now to the shop’s entire clientele. These days, during a walking episode, Carrelli says, a hello from a casual acquaintance in some unfamiliar part of the city might make the difference between whether she makes it home that night or not. “I’m wearing the same outfit every day,” she says. “I take the same routes every day. I own Trouble Coffee so that people recognize my face—so they can help me.”Carrelli had met an elderly man named Glen at China Beach years before, and one night he said to her:
“Giulietta, you don’t have enough money to eat tonight,” Glen said, bringing her down to Earth. Then he asked her a question that has since appeared in her writing again and again: “What is your useful skill in a tangible situation?”Trouble was born from that. Carrelli has since been diagnosed and is receiving treatment.
All quotes in this article are taken from the article A Toast Story by John Gravois, Pacific Standard. It is a beautiful, beautifully written story, and I hope everyone can take the time to read it.