By Paolo Bicchieri
Bianka Parrish left her home of Lakewood, Washington to attend the University of San Francisco. Her love of hazelnut iced lattes has kept her working in the service industry.
That is to say, she is one of those brave souls you will find who will pull an espresso shot, mop a bathroom floor and usher in the neighborhood’s caffeine-deprived denizens.
Parrish was a high school athlete with a brother who lived in Palo Alto. Being close to her large family, San Francisco felt far away, but still close enough. She had a friend who worked at Hollow, a coffee shop and cafe located between 14th and 15th avenues on Irving Street. She needed a job and liked the cafe, so she started working there.
For more than 12 years, the lime-green sliver of a building has been doling out small-batch goodies. What was once a garage, and later a barber shop, is today a nook for people to catch a breath, enjoy a coffee and grab a bite.
“It’s a neighborhood cafe, so you see the same faces every day,” Parrish said.
She has a customer named Carmen whom she sees nearly every shift. The two catch up off to the side of the shimmering La Marzoco espresso machine as Parrish gets Carmen her order.
Dawn Kirker, co-owner of Hollow with her husband William LaMontagne, says Bianka is a hard worker.
“She has a calm demeanor and sense of humor that I think works well in Hollow and with the Richmond and Sunset districts, which have an almost small-town community feel to them,” Kirker said.
Kirker and her husband have other jobs, too, working in interior design and in the tech sector, respectively. She lives in the neighborhood and wanted to open an espresso bar that served excellent espresso and baked goods. She wanted somewhat of an escape from the stresses of city life.
“It’s homey,” Parrish agrees.
Inside the cafe is a spread of just-baked goodies, like the oatcake with a coconut caramelized glaze on top (Parrish’s favorite). She says the pastries at Hollow are the best she has ever had. Quiet music hums as customers, in the open-windowed front or the back dining room, read and write. It is just what you might picture when imagining an ideal place to relax.
“We all get along well,” Parrish said.
Even as a woman of color in the City, Parrish says she is treated kindly and respectfully. She had worked at Peet’s Coffee in the Presidio, but said it was a “go, go, go” environment. The wealthy people in the neighborhood, she said, treated her presumptuously and instructively, but in the Sunset folks are warm.
“When something happens, or prices change, customers tend to put it on us,” she said. “Be mindful of things we don’t have control over. Put that anger somewhere else.”
For Kirker, Hollow serves the community just by being three blocks from her home and two blocks from her kids’ schools. It means somewhere people from all cultures and ages can come and feel welcome.
Parrish will keep her aspirations high as she heads back north to pursue graduate studies at the University of Washington in the fall. She wants to be an occupational therapist who works with kids.
“I don’t know if I’ll still be working at a cafe, but there are a lot of things I’ve learned from working here,” Parrish said. “Serving others, working with people who are the complete opposite of you, and voicing your voice.”
Kirker says Hollow is like the zodiac sign Capricorn, which is hard-working and grounded. Parrish, as a thoughtful and dedicated employee, holistically represents this image. For now, she, Kirker and the rest of the team at Hollow, will keep being a neighborhood reprieve.
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