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On The Last Dime I’ll Ever Spend at Wicked Grounds

December 4, 2012

For those of you who don’t know, Wicked Grounds is a café in proximity of Folsom and 8th in San Francisco that caters to the kink subculture in the community. Signs on the outside caution that only those above the age of 18 may enter and it is very clear why once you step inside. Erotic photos line the walls in a sort of perverse gallery. They vary from artistic nudes to hook-in-flesh-suspensions (which can be rather cringeworthy, if that’s not your cup of tea) to blatant legs-wide pornographic-mag worthy crotch shots. To add to the atmosphere, there’s a person-sized cage (which may or may not contain an occupant) sex toys and fetish gear on display (should you be interested in getting a dildo the size of your arm with your coffee) and much of the furniture is modified bondage racks or chairs that cater to fantasies and fetishes.

I adored the café from the minute I first set foot inside a couple years ago. The staff were lovely, the coffee and food items were notably good (Porn Cake, YUM), the wifi was free and the atmosphere of the place was welcoming to anyone who sat outside the stereotypical norm. The problem with catering to a niche culture, however, is that it takes a toll on the budget. When Wicked Grounds fell upon financially difficult times, I was one of many people who poured hundreds of dollars into the café in attempt to keep it open. But when the co-owners eventually divorced, the doors were unsurprisingly and immediately closed. Luckily, Wicked Grounds was given a second chance through the infusion of fresh blood and finances through some generous partnerships with the owner and was able to reopen.

I will note that I was one of many who found it very frustrating and off-putting that the closing and subsequent reopening of the café were done with minimal communication to the public who fought to keep Wicked Grounds alive and running. I am happy they were able to reopen. Unfortunately, I must say that I do not believe those doors will stay open for terribly long and I am one of many who will no longer be voting with my dollars to keep them open.

As someone who has worked at a mom-and-pop coffee shop before, I have been frustrated for quite some time with the owner (Ryan Galiotto) and his mismanagement of his business. I’m sorry, but it is beyond unacceptable the the café has been known to run out of staple items because the staff wasn’t really sure who was supposed to be making the store run this week. The food has taken a sharp dive since the grand re-opening; no longer is it something to talk about – the best of it is okay, if mentionable at all. Of note: nothing is really terrible, in that mediocrity is not significant enough to develop that much of a feeling for. The quality of the coffee depends on who happens to be on duty behind the counter. The owner, to date, still slings the best cup of coffee. The rest of the staff tends to be frustratingly hit and miss; which proves even more awkward because the café is a strictly “dine in” location.

Let’s talk about the staff for a minute. While some are incredibly lovely people, some are outright hostile; which leads to the assumption that many are hired because they are the stray puppies of San Francisco – tattooed, pierced or somehow so perceptibly freaky or unstable that they simply cannot be employed elsewhere. I would grant Mr. Galiotto a consideration for his kindness, except he seems to be completely unaware of the blatant contempt and lack of skill displayed my some of his employees that drives customers away.

Last but not least, let’s talk about the customer base. The San Francisco Kink Scene is large and perfectly capable of supporting Wicked Grounds without so much as blinking. I am sure I was not the only customer who told my friends from inside and outside the area about the café and urged them to pay it a visit. But I cannot, in good conscience, do that anymore. The local scene leeches off Wicked Grounds, evidenced by the fact that the major complaint when the shop closed up originally was that there was no longer a free place to hold meetups and munches. If the major appeal to a location is that you can take over the majority of it, driving would-be paying customers to find somewhere else to go, because there is no place to sit… Well, unless you actually contribute back to the business by ensuring that you spend at least a certain dollar amount per person, per hour of the meeting, don’t be surprised when the business closes its doors on you. Wicked Grounds is currently catering to the folks who go there for meetings: look at the operating hours. If you want the café to stay open, give feedback with your dollars and your honesty to the staff members there about what will keep you returning as a paying customer.

I’m sure someone in the great wide interwebs will insist that my commentary here is cruel, mean, I just don’t understaaaaaaaaaaand. Please understand, I have a lot of love for Wicked Grounds as a concept and for many of the members on its staff. However, I cannot continue to pour my money into something that I see breaking my heart again in the near future. Mr. Galiotto, you are a very darling man, but it is time to let someone run the business for you who will make decisions based off keeping the café alive, not based off how you feel about the scene, employees or groups who regularly float through there.

Until Next Time,

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