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Out of the Pastry Case, Into the Tendernob

Rebecca Flint Marx | May 12, 2014 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

Sitting outside of Saint Frank on a sunny afternoon last week, Ry Stephen sipped an espresso and pondered what may be the last unexplored niche in San Francisco dining: The café that occupies a middle ground between coffee shop and restaurant, where third-wave coffee is matched in quality (and price) by the food menu.

These cafes exist in abundance in his native Melbourne, where, Stephen said, gesturing to Saint Frank, “you wouldn’t spend money on a café like this unless you were spending money on a kitchen inside.”

Stephen has recently been responsible for greatly increasing the quality of the baked goods found at a number of the city’s better coffee haunts. If you’ve been to Saint Frank, Stanza, Rapha Cycle Club, Coffee Cultures, or Ma’velous in the last eight months, you’ve likely tasted the cream-filled brioche doughnuts, outsize salted chocolate chip cookies, and impossibly tender muffins he makes under the nom de beurre Mr. Holmes.

They’re part of a wider trend that has seen coffee shops place greater importance on the pastries that accompany their $5 pour overs—after all, why undermine your scrupulously roasted brews with particle board scones ?

But while most of the bakeries that supply coffee shops are wholesale only, Stephen, who trained in both Melbourne and Paris, is opening a storefront at 1042 Larkin St., a Tendernob strip that’s seen some recent action with the opening of Jane, an outpost of the popular Pacific Heights coffee shop, and Analog Tattoo Arts Kolectiv, a gallery-workspace-tattoo parlor.

Stephen, who lives nearby, is betting that his neighbors would appreciate being able to get a good croissant in the morning; his menu will emphasize the French end of the pastry spectrum, though he prefers to label his repertoire as “contemporary classics.” His partner in the endeavor is Aaron Caddel, Stanza’s founder—and no, there is no Mr. Holmes. Or maybe there is; all Stephen will say of his identity is that “he’s a friend.”

Stephen, however, is unequivocal in his hope to be open by July or August, a time of year when the Tendernob—and the rest of us—will doubtless crave tender mercies, wrought of butter and sugar.

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