Red Rock Coffee, Mountain View's popular downtown coffee shop and hangout spot, will survive the coronavirus pandemic after all. A new owner has purchased the business effective Tuesday, rescuing it from dire financial straits and imminent closure.
The new owner has requested to remain anonymous, and their name has not been released.
Red Rock has been a downtown institution for years, serving the community with far more than just coffee. The shop at the corner of Castro and Villa streets has been the nexus for community meetings, live performances, recreational activities and art exhibits, and is frequently touted as a great place for networking.
But all of that came screeching to a halt in March, when COVID-19 and public health restrictions turned the normally bustling social hotspot into a ghost town. Revenues dropped off a cliff, staff were let go, and by July it was clear that Red Rock would likely have to close. Business has picked up slightly since then, but staffing and revenue remain at about half of pre-COVID levels.
In a Hail Mary, Red Rock turned to the community for support, launching an ambitious $300,000 GoFundMe to pay off debts and restructure the business. Red Rock Coffee was owned by the church organization Highway Community, and the plan was to use the money to separate Red Rock into its own nonprofit. The campaign rapidly raised $95,000 before losing steam, raising questions over whether it was enough.
In the background, however, Red Rock was working with two donors who wanted to give larger gifts to save Red Rock, said John Riemenschnitter, co-founder of Highway Community. One of those donors eventually decided to outright purchase the business, which was finalized this week. The coffee shop will operate exactly as it has for 15 years and won't look any different to customers and community members, though it will be structured as a for-profit business.
The announcement has been a huge relief for Jean Boulanger, who has been the general manager at Red Rock for 13 years. She said it was her goal to be loving and welcoming to people in her countless interactions over the years, and to use hospitality as a means to help people. But this year, there was a real threat that it could all be coming to an end.
"To think that it was all going to go away was really heartbreaking," Boulanger said.
Without the purchase, it's unclear whether Red Rock could have restructured as a nonprofit and made do with the GoFundMe money. It would've been an "extremely daunting" task to get nonprofit status while keeping the business afloat, Boulanger said, and it would've meant giving up Red Rock's second floor to reduce costs. She said all of that was weighing on her for months, and hearing the news from Riemenschnitter that the business had been purchased was a major source of relief.
"He gave me the news, and I think the sobbing that happened was a relief of all of that burden that I had been carrying."
The GoFundMe money, as well as donations made by check and at the register, will be returned as part of the transition, Riemenschnitter said. He said the heart and spirit of the purchase was to rescue Red Rock, and the new owner didn't want there to be any hint that they were trying to scoop up other peoples' money in the process.
Though the money won't be needed anymore, the comments and the outpouring of support has been overwhelming, Riemenschnitter said. Donations described Red Rock as a cornerstone of Mountain View, a sanctuary and a home away from home. Customers reminisced about board game nights, musical performances and open mic nights, and praised the coffee shop for supporting local artists and serving as a hub for tech interviews.
"It was a real gift," Riemenschnitter said. "Not many times do we get to hear about the things that they do and how they affect people. It was a really tremendous validation of the last 15 years of peoples' appreciation of it, love for it and the way it has impacted them."
The new owner of Red Rock has arranged a five-year lease with the building owner, John Akkaya, who owns the nearby restaurant Don Giovanni. Riemenschnitter said Akkaya has been "amazing" in working with Red Rock over the years and for making the deal possible, and said he has a "deep heart" for helping local businesses survive.
As for the identity of who bought the property, even Boulanger said she doesn't know, and she said it's probably better off that way.
"I want to respect the wishes of the owner to be in the background and not a huge part of this," she said. "I think the intent is for Red Rock's story to be the main thing. How we get to be in the community and all of that other stuff can be in the background."