When our favorite eateries become casualties of the pandemic
The news about the closing of Specialty’s Cafe & Bakery hit me harder than I thought any business closure could.
Specialty’s a fixture in San Francisco’s Financial District, where I’ve worked since the mid-90s. But in more recent years it became a safe haven during a challenging chapter in my life, and perhaps that’s why this was such a gut punch.
I’m legally blind, and after some additional vision loss in 2013, I began using a white cane because everyday activities became more challenging. What followed was about six years of cautious steps (literally and figuratively) toward adjustment and a new way of navigating the world.
Enter the Specialty’s at One Post. Nestled at the base of the building I worked in and conveniently en route to and from the Montgomery BART station, the cafe had always been a place to grab their famous cookies or a much-needed treat on a cold morning.
For three or four years following my vision loss however, it became so much more than a tabernacle of tempting treats. I would ask friends and colleagues to meet me at there so I wouldn’t have to venture out to the busy streets of San Francisco. And even when I felt more independent and confident, Specialty’s was still the place I’d go because it made my life easier, and was often where I felt most at home after making my way through those bustling streets of San Francisco all day.
The Specialty’s staff may not have known my name, but they knew just how to help me with compassion and respect. They would patiently wait for me to put my wallet back in my purse, grab items AND manage the white cane I was learning to use.
They would gently place a lid on piping hot tea so I wouldn’t burn myself or enthusiastically tell me what was in the display case so I could find the right sugar fix in the afternoon.
And then there were those who went the extra mile, without me even asking, and who happily brought my favorite breakfast sandwich out to me, just so I wouldn’t have to balance a tray and stumble through swarms of people glued to their phone and oblivious to my challenges.
For all these reasons and more, Specialty’s was my life raft when I wasn’t sure if I could stay afloat. I realize now that what put the special in Specialty’s for me was the compilation of otherwise seemingly mundane moments of a significant segment of my life’s journey.
For while the food, service and ambience might be what makes us choose a specific restaurant, cafe, or bar on any given day, what magnetically draws us back to the same places over and over again is a bit more intangible — familiarity, comfort, belonging and safety. When these elements exist something authentic within us is freed, connections happen and memories are made.
From first dates to reunions, heartfelt conversations to epic gossip sessions, creative bursts of ideas to doing nothing while staring out the window, celebrating milestones to treating yourself or someone else during a tough time, these eateries become a part of us. They are the backdrop in the theatrical production of our life.
If all the world’s a stage, then we need sets that bring every scene to life, a thoroughfare for the characters that witness or participate in those moments that transform us and a space for us to experience the range of emotions that accompany every twist we experience and every turn we take.
You may have your own Specialty’s out there — a place that holds a far deeper significance for you than you may even realize. Here’s hoping that your special place can weather this storm. And even if it can’t, know that nothing lasts forever, but we can certainly be forever grateful to those special places whose impact remains far beyond when the lights go out.