Mexican eatery at the centre of tech revolution

Following in his granny’s footsteps helped one Irishman to build a business

Ivor Bradley: “Use social media to build a map of your city and get to know who is there and what the options are.”

Ivor Bradley: “Use social media to build a map of your city and get to know who is there and what the options are.”

Fri, Jun 27, 2014, 01:00

At the Creamery in San Francisco’s SoMa district, entrepreneurs and software engineers sit huddled over laptops or deep in conversation as they plot how to expand their tech empires.

The cafe, in a once-dilapidated neighbourhood, is at the hub of the city’s tech revolution, surrounded by familiar icons of the industry. Google, Zynga, Twitter and hundreds of less well-known companies of varying success have offices and headquarters nearby.

The Creamery is where they meet, the place where TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington says he has closed more deals than anywhere else.

The cafe and the adjoining Mexican taqueria (taco restaurant) are owned by Galway city native Ivor Bradley.

“When we started here, the neighbourhood wasn’t what it is now,” says Bradley. “We have watched it grow and we’ve grown with it.”

This part of SoMa was, for decades, a dilapidated and dreary part of San Francisco. Forlorn by day and dangerous by night, it has been transformed since the owners of the San Francisco Giants Baseball team opted to build their stadium there.

The tech businesses arrived when the city’s mayor offered tax breaks as an incentive to invest. Bradley opened his cafe, in the former refrigeration room of the Gilt-Edge Creamery, just in time to take advantage of that wave of young entrepreneurs and engineers. The building retains its former charm, with the original wooden beams and industrial architecture preserved.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently dubbed the Creamery “deal central for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, tech journalists and anyone else hoping to rub shoulders with the tech elite”.

There was a line out the door on the first day it opened, according to Bradley. “People were just looking for something new and high quality, and that’s what we offered.”

The Mexican restaurant is unlike most in the city. Its menu contains only organic produce and meat from pasture-raised animals. If you want a calorie filled carnitas burrito, it’s there, but you can also opt for a Mexican tofu salad.

There is a strong Mexican presence among the staff. Two of the senior supervisors arrived from Mexico while Bradley was preparing to open the restaurant.

“They heard that a Mexican restaurant was opening and they came here and stood in the rain for two hours, waiting for me to arrive,” said Bradley.

“They had no resumés and we required a translator so we could speak. I hired them that day, working in the kitchen, washing dishes and chopping vegetables. We got them English lessons and they learned quickly – and today, they are my supervisors.

“Something I have learned from working in this industry is that you have to take good care of your staff. Get to know them and their families and their children. It’s very important because I know that I’m only as good as they are. The business is only as good as they are and we’ve had very little turnover of staff here because we recognise that.”

Bradley came to the US after he landed a Donnelly Visa in 1992, beginning his adventure working for the Ritz Carlton before moving to a number of other high-end restaurants and hotels.

His first self-employed gig was as a consultant for several of San Francisco’s best-loved restaurants, such as Chow and Betelnut, while the Four Seasons called on his expertise to develop its catering.

The idea of opening a Mexican restaurant, Bradley believes, probably germinated when his grandmother would cook him rice and beans as a boy. She had travelled throughout the US and Mexico as a young woman, before returning to Ireland in the 1930s. She returned with a love for the things she had experienced and rice and beans were as comforting to the young Bradley as mashed potatoes, shepherd’s pie or fish and chips to most Irish children.

“Whatever you choose to do when you come over here today, I’d say it is important that you get involved in Irish community groups,” Bradley advises. “Every major city has a support network and they can help you find the right people and get the right advice.

“Use social media to build a map of your city and get to know who is there and what the options are. When you are young, it takes probably a year to get your bearings and get into a work routine. So be aware of your surroundings and save a little money all the time so that when the bad times come, you are prepared.”

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