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Restaurant Love Letters: A Window With a View
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COMMENTARY

Restaurant Love Letters: A Window With a View

In this new column, contributors, readers, fellow chefs, and casual diners share their “Restaurant Love Letters.” It’s our hope that this series highlights the spirit of hospitality, the importance of restaurants and dining culture to our economy, and more critically, to the fabric of our daily lives. This is our way of saying thank you to the industry, we appreciate you, and we’ll be waiting here for you when you get back.

MAY 20, 2020
BY GIA HUGHES

I started sitting in coffee shops alone when I was twenty years old. It was in college in San Francisco where I spent much of my time with my then-boyfriend. But on the morning he came home after the night he didn’t, I started spending much more time on my own. 

I was still in school with a year left to go. But while at home all I could do was lie in bed and stare at the ceiling, or if I made it to the hallway, stare out the window to the street outside, or if I made it to class, stare out the window onto the campus walkways. I was haunted by my specter of self, and of what could’ve been. It was the first time in my life I felt the weight of loss muffling my senses at all hours of the day. 

Little did I know, this loss was the best way to become who I am today. One day at a time, I began spending more time with myself, inching along towards the light. I began going alone to try new things I’d always wanted to try, taking myself to see the sights of the city. To the movies I wanted to see in the little independent theaters all around town, ordering a small popcorn just for me—one of life’s simple joys. And taking myself to a charming neighborhood I’d passed through many times, but never actually spent much time in. 

It helped immensely to get out of the house, I realized; it helped me get out of my head. But more pressingly, I had to get my schoolwork done. So one day, I wandered into the Starbucks at West Portal Station with my book bag in tow, ordered a coffee, and sat in the window seat, looking out onto the rainy, fog-cloaked tunnel where the Muni disappeared into the hills before the city, where people ran to swipe their cards before their train left with or without them, or pulled hoods over their heads as they walked back into the muted city light. None of these people knew or cared who I was, but there I was. Finally, my perspective began to clear.

I had quickly stopped into this particular shop a few times and admired the view from this window before, but I never stayed. But on that particular day, I opened my assigned book, sipped my drink, and finally, for what felt like the first time in ages, sighed with relief. The stress that was pent up in my chest dissipated just slightly enough, releasing the valve of months past slightly enough for me to no longer feel like I was completely holding my breath. I spent the next two hours sitting there, and was able to focus. I found I could submerge myself into the words I needed to study, and the essays I needed to write. I could take myself out of myself, enjoy the caffeine held in a cup in my hands, and release myself into my work. I could exist entirely in the present moment.

Over the next year, I picked new shops and saw the city this way. I ordered a latte from the newly-opened Four Barrel and walked around the Mission. I checked out the Blue Bottle in Hayes Valley and sat in the square. I grabbed a cup, browsed City Lights, and took photos of a fresh Banksy painting around the corner in Chinatown. I explored the city, cup in hand, waiting for no one or anything. I was anonymous, and I was free. 

After graduating the following spring, I moved home to suburban Los Angeles, and quickly craved the feel of the city. Any chance I had, I jumped in my car, drove thirty-five minutes down the 5 freeway, exited Fletcher Drive to Silver Lake, and ordered a coffee at Intelligentsia, sitting on the patio off Sunset Boulevard and reading or writing until the sky grew dark. Displaced from the city life I built for myself brick by brick, in chasing that cup of coffee, I chased my self. 

I now live in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Larchmont Village, which reminds me of West Portal in many ways. It’s historic, it’s a true boulevard, and it feels like a small community in the midst of a vast city.

In my mid-twenties, I started a new job with a new workload. I was overwhelmed and living alone, and I once again needed to focus. I found, within walking distance to my apartment, a coffee shop known as Coffee + Food—named for just the essentials—which opened the same year I moved to the neighborhood. That first time I walked in, I ordered a drink, opened my laptop, took a sip of coffee, and was able to breathe for the first time in weeks. I could do this.

Seven years later, I still frequent the shop where the baristas know my order when I walk through the door. Where I’ve had countless coffee dates with my partner, as well as with old friends and new. And there’s even a window seat that’s always open, where I can look out onto the city streets.

These days spent at home, I miss the feeling of a café’s comfort, and when we’re able to go back to work, you’ll know where to find me.

Have a restaurant love letter you want to submit of your own? Reach out to us.

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