Man in the Mission: Local politician serves coffee with a civic twist


Dressed in a blue sequined dress and Cruella de Vil wig, Manny Yekutiel takes care of the piece. His venue, an eponymous café and Mission District event space, is full of San Francisco politicians, and he knows everyone. It’s special election night to decide whether to recall Governor Gavin Newsom, and Manny’s is throwing the biggest party in town.

Despite the requirement for vaccinations and masks, the excitement is too high for social distancing. Manny’s is packed, voters and journalists rub shoulders with city overseers, state assembly members and members of California’s most prestigious political families.

“Tonight someone is holding me a beer and I’m going to drink it and have a little fun,” said Christine Pelosi, the MP’s daughter, after the election for Newsom was called. “Then we’ll all come back to Manny’s and get back to work so that Nancy Pelosi remains the spokesperson for the house!” “

Founded in 2017, Manny’s has gained more press than most restaurants and cafes in the city, mainly due to its high-profile political events featuring politicians like the Mayor of London Breed and District Attorney Chesa Boudin. If you only knew San Francisco politics from what’s printed in the newspapers, you might think Manny’s is the city’s only civic gathering space.

Manny Yekutiel released cleansing sage smoke following a lecture at Manny’s Cafe, which has become a hotspot for San Francisco politicians and other arts and culture leaders. (Kevin N. Hume / The Examiner)

But some residents of Mission don’t know this at all. Mireya Leon, who has lived in the area for 19 years, said she “knows this area very well and had no idea that (Manny’s) was there”.

That’s because, despite all the media attention it garners, Manny’s is not the center of San Francisco’s political universe. Yet it is the center of Yekutiel’s world.

Take a look around Manny and his fingerprints seem to be everywhere: Yekutiel is religiously Jewish, and a mezuzah hangs near every door. He’s also proudly gay, and Simón Malvaez’s artwork of handsome, half-naked men with colorful designs hangs on the walls. Persian rugs, rich jewel tones, and meandering vines give the space a vaguely Mediterranean feel, which Yekutiel says is meant to recall the intellectual cafes of the Ottoman Empire.

But Yekutiel says he doesn’t want to attract attention. “I don’t want it to sound like ‘this is a place for Manny, and what Manny believes in, and what Manny cares about,” he explained. “I want people who work in civic, political, nonprofit and social justice to feel that they own this space.”

Coffee is an extension of Yekutiel’s lifelong interest in learning more about others. He grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community in Los Angeles, something he fondly remembered but which he said imposed many rules on his social life and made him curious to meet people who lived differently. When he traveled by plane as a child, he would ask his parents to reserve a seat for him in a different row, so that he could get to know the strangers who were sitting next to him.

“Growing up in a very isolated environment aroused a deep and deep curiosity for the world,” he said. “I’m really interested in other people’s stories. “

Today, Yekutiel’s social life is more eclectic than his childhood ever imagined. He spends his weekends dancing at clubs like the Powerhouse and Casements, sharing a bottle of rosé or a joint with friends in Dolores Park, or heading out to see a movie at Alamo Drafthouse. Sometimes he texts his friend, prominent tech journalist Kara Swisher, to see if there’s time in their two busy schedules to take a quick class at SoulCycle.

Yet even when he’s not at work, he’s not. Until July 4 of this year, anyone who called Manny was calling Yekutiel’s cell phone, not a landline. One weekday afternoon when the Examiner followed Yekutiel, he alternated between shopping and stopping to mediate disputes between surrounding businesses and dismiss an unruly guest. When he first opened the place, Yekutiel said he had almost no free time, constantly working 12 to 14 hours a day.

Booking events, according to Yekutiel, is for the most part “a good old school scramble.” His professional background, however, certainly helps. He worked in the Office of Public Engagement during the Obama administration, served as chief of staff for the immigration-focused political rights group FWD.us, and was deputy director of finance at the start of the presidential campaign. ‘Hillary Clinton in 2016. Although about a third of events at Manny are the product of organizations that contact staff, he and his small events team spend time each week tenaciously emailing editors. books, politicians, nonprofits and media staff.

Yekutiel says he interfaces with a more diverse range of people who run Manny’s than he ever did in politics. His business is located at a living crossroads, between two very different scenes in the life of the Mission. The 16th Street BART station is one block away, surrounded by street vendors selling a variety of accessories and snacks. Cleaner sidewalks and upscale shopping can be found around Manny’s perch on Valencia Street.

“I have seen humanity up close and I have the strange honor of sitting at the intersection of leaders discussing solutions to problems and existing problems right in front of me,” he said via text message. . “It’s a trip sometimes.

It is hard to ignore the tension between different backgrounds and the discomfort of some clients. At Manny’s, politicians can’t sweep the streets of homeless people for an unobstructed photoshoot. After an event with Boudin, a man living in the alley next door feasted on the same food, the meal was hand delivered to him by one of Yekutiel’s staff.

Manny Yekutiel, left, chats with Chesa Boudin after a panel discussion in Manny ?? s hosted by the San Francisco District Attorney's Office on September 30.  (Kevin N. Hume / The Examiner)

Manny Yekutiel, left, chats with Chesa Boudin after a panel discussion at Manny’s hosted by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office on September 30. (Kevin N. Hume / The Examiner)

Still, Yekutiel hopes to engage clients in new ways and expand their worldview. “There are all these people in our city who never see themselves as politicians and who might never make it to a political event if they haven’t been brought in the right way,” he explained. . “I want to bring people who are just trying to get a beer, or who just need a place to work, and say, ‘It’s good, come work. But also, while you are here, you may meet a member of Congress.

When asked if he had his own political aspirations, he replied that he was not sure. Yekutiel is already a director of the board of directors of the San Francisco municipal transit agency and a member of the board of directors of the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association and the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco.

It keeps him busy as is, he said. He’s too busy with the all-consuming work at Manny’s. “I’ve never been the type of person who plans far in advance,” he added.

But when asked where he sees Manny in 10 years, Yekutiel has a slightly clearer vision. He doesn’t want to franchise his place, but he would like to use his experience to advise other small business owners who want to create civic spaces. He envisions a nationwide network of political cafes, providing advice and connections and helping to alleviate the political polarization that has Americans in their grip. In the meantime, he wants Manny’s to be a “fundraising powerhouse”, offering “free space to as many organizations that need it”.

More immediately, however, he wishes his eponymous business was a little less closely tied to him. “In less than a year,” he said, “I want Manny’s to operate independently of me.

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