Eco-friendly cafe ‘Chasing Lions’ opens in March on Phelan Ave.

By Thomas Figg-Hoblyn
The Guardsman

Their motto is “Fresh local food and fresh local pride.”

Overflowing with character, Chasing Lions Café, a community-based coffee house, is scheduled to open on March 21 at the northeast corner of the Multi-Use Building on Phelan Avenue.

The café will offer “direct trade” coffee grown on sustainable farms from around the world, including Ethiopia. Similar to fair trade practices, direct trade growers are paid top price for their premium coffee.

Chasing Lions Cafe’ held a blessing on Feb. 8 in honor of the Lunar New Year, offering free coffee, tea and organic snacks to passersby. The café was still under construction, so everyone was celebrating out front in the parking lot.

Owner Keba Konte said the name Chasing Lions is derived from concepts in lion mythology that are prevalent in Chinese, Rastafarian and other cultures from around the globe.

Konte grew up in the immediate neighborhood, next to the El Rey Theater on Ocean Avenue. Several volunteers from the area helped out at the blessing, including Gregory Mitchell and Solomon Tyson, demonstrating a strong sense of community.

“The sun came out for the blessing,” said Mitchell, as he handed out free organic tangerines to guests. People raved about the coffee and snatched up free packs of gourmet tea.

“It’s cool,” said student Vivian Liang, adding that free coffee is always nice.

Assistant Manager Kori Chen was on hand with his clipboard, signing up City College students for a Chasing Lions job fair scheduled for Feb. 15.  Chen said they were looking for enthusiastic and outgoing students.  “We’re hiring City College students and training them to be ‘top notch’ baristas,” said Konte.

Chen also works at Konte’s other business, The Guerilla Café, located on Shattuck Avenue near the University of California, Berkeley.

Laurie Scolari, associate dean in charge of the Multi-Use Building, said that the Chasing Lions Cafe’ was a perfect fit for City College. They were the best choice for the location based on their adherence to green standards, fair trade and a commitment to supporting local markets.

“We’re just thrilled that we’re working with Chasing Lions Café,” said Scolari.

Chasing Lions competed against other businesses, including several coffee houses based in the Financial District, to earn the right to do business on campus. Scolari said that City College students on the selection committee were influential in picking Chasing Lions Café.

Konte said that he felt strong during the proposal process, even with the stiff competition, based on their cultural advantage and appeal to students.

The Multi-Use Building has stringent “green” standards, and the use of reclaimed materials is mandatory. Aside from a top of the line, customized La Marzocco espresso machine and a few energy-efficient appliances, everything at the café is reclaimed.

The construction at the café is not quite finished but the place already has an abundance of character.

The counter top was once a bowling alley lane and the counter ends are recycled solid-wood doors.  The artwork hung on the wall is made of re-purposed lumber covered with cool lithographs of neighborhood kids skateboarding.  Even the sign is made out of reclaimed plywood.

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