Diary of a visit to a coffeehouse run by a madman.

(Edit: Welcome Asymmetrical Information readers! And Consumerist readers! Wow, there are a lot of you. Stick around!)

(If one must break one’s own no-images rule, one ought to break it big.)

Yesterday, a friend dragged me to a place called Sufi Coffee Shop in Mountain View (El Camino just north of Castro). The coffee was actually quite good — it had better be quite good, the cheapest cup of drip — of drip was $3.50. (The most expensive was $6.75. Admittedly, it was Blue Mountain.)

But the attitude. Wow, the attitude. The place is covered from wall-to-wall with angry signs admonishing the customers for various sorts of misbehavior. I took a photo of the first one, and the owner turned around, sternly instructed me “no photos!,” and then demanded, as an implicit condition of selling me any coffee, that I delete the one I had taken.

Fortunately, the owner isn’t terribly iphone-literate, and so, well, suffice it to say that not only did I not delete the first photo, but I took numerous more besides. Investigative Journalism, thy name is Paul Gowder. And now, I share my ill-gotten photographic gains with you, so you can learn what not to do when you run a small business.

The first sign was fairly benign — it was merely an admonition to not leaf through the books (on Sufism, naturally) without buying. Ok, fine. I’ve seen this at other coffeeshops that sell books. Except this sign added a nice dose of snottiness that’s usually not present:

The bottom says “Sufism needs not to be promoted.” And this apparently is the case, since the desire to learn about the owner’s religion is met with, according to this sign, a stern instruction to take it to google and shut the fuck up.

But that is by far the least obnoxious sign.

So, another virtue of this coffeeshop is that it is very pretty. There’s a lovely little covered balcony out back, with couches, and it’s was pretty empty when I was there (for obvious reasons, I’d suspect that to be its usual condition, considering the prices, the owner’s attitude, the terrible location, and the signs). It’s… almost… kinda… romantic. I could see bringing a date here. This, it would appear, is not approved:

There are at least five of these signs around the place, including one — not the only sign — defacing a piece of (admittedly terrible) artwork on the walls:

“But,” perhaps the owner would say in its defense, “we’re a small business! We’re allowed to be quirky!” Well, it’s pretty quirky to demand that your customers justify their presence:

That’s a little blurry. Here’s a transcription:

We are not a corporate entity. Please try to walk in our Moccasins and justify your being here and be fair.

Somehow, I doubt they have too much of a problem with people sitting around and not buying anything. The place reeks of so much hostility to the customers that one might be afraid that being around for longer than 20 minutes will send the owner after you with a hatchet. But, just to drive the message home:

Do they really think anyone enjoys the ambiance of the place? Really? Who enjoys the ambiance of being constantly ordered to justify their presence? The ambiance here is the same as the ambiance in The Castle; the customer is K.

Surely, you might think, if they don’t want customers sitting around forever (or, it would seem, at all), they wouldn’t offer wifi. But they do:

Note how the deranged ever-increasing price scale for the wifi is on the back of a statue of the Buddha. I guess it doesn’t count as sacrilege to put an insane greedfest on the Buddha, since the place is run by a Sufi — but then one has to wonder what a statue of the Buddha is actually doing there.

But the real fun starts when you go into the bathroom. For surely, one might think, the owner’s insanity does not extend into the bathroom. Hehehe.

It starts off fairly mildly:

Ok, fine, perhaps someone was just really gripped by Peter Singer. That’s cool. That’s cool.*

But then things go downhill swiftly:

You really need to be able to make out the fine print in this one. Sadly, I didn’t get a very good photo, possibly because I was too horrified to get up close. But here’s what said fine print says:

Please refrain from going to big toilet. Thank you.

Now, here, the more innocent or optimistic of my readers may be thinking it can’t possibly mean THAT… can it?

Yes. Yes it can:

Sufi Coffee Shop: drink good coffee, then die of catastrophic systemic excretory failure.

Never go here.

Edit: I just wrote a nasty review on Yelp. It’s not quite as nasty as my review of another of Mountain View’s institutions, the “Zen Lounge,” (easily the worst club in the world), but it’s up there. My most popular yelp review, however, involved logarithms.

* Easter joy note: my freshmen in intro to political philosophy a year and a half ago fell in love with me when, in section, I gave them the case of a life well-spent repeatedly pushing a button that would give an orgasm to every bunny in the world as a counterexample to hedonistic utilitarianism. Sorry X.Trapnel, Richard, et. al.


70 Responses to “Diary of a visit to a coffeehouse run by a madman.”

  1. sam Says:

    You realize this makes me want to go and gawk, yes?

    Also, the Zen Lounge is not the worst club in the world, just California.

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    Yeah, I’ll probably create a small blip in the guy’s profits. But, hey, amusement from gawking at his signs is a nice little public good. I just hope he doesn’t find this post and then take them down.

  3. Paul Gowder Says:

    Also, please tell me if a no photography sign appears — that would make me very happy.

  4. BR Says:

    I broke into laughtears when I got to the last toilet sign. Very nice journalism, Paul.

  5. Rob Says:

    Hilarious. Despite the lack of passivity involved, perhaps you should consider sharing this with http://www.passiveaggressivenotes.com/

  6. homais Says:

    My god. Next time I’m on the Peninsula, I have to go. Provided he hasn’t been driven out of business yet by too many toilet-flushings.

    I mean, in fairness, it sounds from those signs like English is a problem for him. Please make this story even better by telling me that he’s as American as you or I.

    As the Prophet said, “Only #one please not #2″.

  7. Amanda Says:

    Oh my god Paul, I just read this and died laughing. Cackled so loud I disturbed my neighbors. You definitely have a talent for telling stories, but this source material is just priceless.

  8. eric Says:

    If someone was raised by wolves and upon reaching human civilization were dropped off at the Sufi Coffee Shop, he would undoubtedly conclude that the fundamental principle of Sufism is “Be a petulant asshole”.

  9. Stuart Buck Says:

    I laughed over this post more than anything else in a long time. If there’s one thing you don’t do, it’s tell Paul Gowder not to go to “Big Toilet.” :)

  10. Bradigan Says:

    yes, but check out the signage in the wahhabi coffee shop down in the mission.

  11. Nonsensical » California coffeehouse run by madman Says:

    [...] the blog post here. Keep on to the very end. The payoff is worth [...]

  12. theantibush Says:

    The only thing missing is a sign outside saying “customers will be shot on sight”

  13. alan Says:

    Having once done a #2 in a coffee shop that went horribly, horribly wrong (a mortified pleading for a mop from the disinterested counterpeople as the overflow crept out the bathroom door followed by a slinking towards the exit followed by a humiliated half-mile sprint around several corners followed by never walking by that place again), I can sympathize with this fellow.

  14. Sufi Coffee, Customers Not Tolerated | Venture Chronicles Says:

    [...] But the attitude. Wow, the attitude. The place is covered from wall-to-wall with angry signs admonishing the customers for various sorts of misbehavior. I took a photo of the first one, and the owner turned around, sternly instructed me “no photos!,” and then demanded, as an implicit condition of selling me any coffee, that I delete the one I had taken.[From Uncommon Priors » Diary of a visit to a coffeehouse run by a madman.] [...]

  15. Ed Says:

    One comment, though: true Sufis (according to Idries Shah, which is another little controversy right there) do not promote their religion. Which is probably what “Sufism needs not to be promoted” means.

    That said, since Shah says that Sufis often claim not to *be* Sufis, calling attention to the fact that you are one might well mean that you’re not. Or something.

    Last I heard, there were lots of places to get coffee in California.

  16. Rob S Says:

    I’d encourage anyone that decides to go and “gawk” at this place take lots of pictures. A constant stream of photo takers might drive him over the edge.

    Is this guy trying to become the coffee equivalent of the soup nazi?

  17. Paul Says:

    Where were the angry signs? I saw plenty of signs, but nothing that would give me the feeling they were being angry. I guess the anger came from the attitude of the employees (kind of something you had to experience).

  18. Escuerd Says:

    “I guess it doesn’t count as sacrilege to put an insane greedfest on the Buddha, since the place is run by a Sufi — but then one has to wonder what a statue of the Buddha is actually doing there.”


    Perhaps the owner was a Tleilaxu, and feels he needs to lay down the law for all the powindah scum he has to deal with.

  19. Julaybib Says:

    There was one sign missing, surely — abandon Allah all ye who enter here.

  20. agnostic Says:

    I had a comment, but it turned into four paragraphs, so I’ll shamelessly link to my blog post instead.


  21. Uncommon Priors » Megan McArdle is my new hero Says:

    [...] to her linking to the coffeeshop post, I’ve had more hits today than in each of the first four months of this blog’s [...]

  22. DeerJohn Says:

    sounds as if the coffehouse is a secondary thing with him, like maybe a front for other business? Coffee customers are only a bother.

  23. sean Says:

    “Then I remembered: it’s irrational to take sunk costs into account in decision making. I fled. Economic rationality saved the day.”


  24. Amy Says:

    You really should submit this to http://www.passiveaggressivenotes.com
    it’s right up their ally.

  25. DYSPEPSIA GENERATION » Blog Archive » Sufi Coffee Shop Says:

    [...] Read it. [...]

  26. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » April 16, 2009: Perfunctory linking Says:

    [...] [Your not-comics link of the day] Diary of a visit to a coffeehouse run by a madman. [...]

  27. Ambles Says:

    Haha. Never go there? But then you would miss out on an amazingly awful story to tell your friends… and you know, random strangers!

    Sufi Drip Coffee is definitely “justifying it’s presence” by being so ridiculous.

    And thanks for this post… you officially handed me my first laugh of the day. Yes!

  28. Spencer Says:

    I’ve thought about opening my own coffee shop, but you have to wonder how to differentiate yourself – maybe that’s this guys thing?

    Anyway – nice piece of journalism – love the post.

  29. WH Says:

    Descendent of The Soup Nazi?

  30. Jennifer Says:

    Free wifi is $3.00? Mystified.

  31. jmndos Says:

    Wow…soup nazi….

  32. jmndos Says:

    Not just an arab, but a Right Wing Nut…Sharia…and not just that…but a mentally insane one….

    Just call DHS….they’ll take care of him….*cough* GITMO

  33. stinkystan Says:

    In the review for The Counter:
    “So here’s the thing, yo. Imagine the graph of log(x). You know how it starts to rise steeply and quickly levels off, and stays leveled off for, well, forever?”

    That aint how logarithms work, yo. A logarithm rises without bound. An asymptote might serve your analogy better.

  34. Paul Gowder Says:

    Jmndos: Hold on there. No anti-Arab/anti-Muslim comments please. Any other comments of that sort will be deleted. (That’s really the number 2 of blog commentary. Kissing around, however, is a-ok with me.)

    Stinkystan: heh, I was thinking more of the overall shape (the second derivative, if you will) than whether there’s actually a bound.

  35. Jake Says:

    @ Rob S

    What’s the point doing that? It’s his store, he can do whatever he wants as long as he isn’t breaking the law.

    If you don’t like his policies then just don’t go there.

  36. Lena Says:

    This was hilarious. LOVED the photos…will definetly watch your blog now. ^^

  37. Is this how you would treat a customer | Risk the Reward Says:

    [...] http://uncommon-priors.com/?p=2214 Posted in Editorial | Tags: communication, customers, marketing [...]

  38. Joel Says:

    Jake: Well yes, he *can*. Doesn’t mean it’ll keep him in business long. Unless he’s found a neighborhood where the demographic is one of social masochists.

  39. Michael Leung Says:

    Back to Starbucks it is, then.

  40. Paul Gowder Says:

    No! If you’re in the Valley, go to Barefoot. If the City, hit Ritual or Coffee Bar or somewhere else civilized.

  41. Wendy Says:

    I totally worked for this guy. Well, this guy if he was a woman who has a cafe in Yreka. I actually quit because I couldn’t take the attitude and passive-aggressive part of policy hostility toward the customers. Which is a weird turnabout if you’ve ever worked food service. The customers were great, but we had similar signs and embarrassing coffee quality.

  42. Keith Says:

    This is not journalism. It is however very telling of a white, insecure, bourgeois wannabe. Sad.

  43. Paul Gowder Says:

    Congratulations Keith for being the first no-sense-of-humor commenter on this post. Welcome!

  44. This Coffee Shop Has A Lot Of Rules [Sufi Coffee] - 307th Edition · debitprepaidmastercard.com Says:

    [...] fact: some coffee shops can be havens of passive-aggressive behavior. Reader Paul discovered what might be the most passive-aggressive coffee shop we’ve ever seen, and he’d like to [...]

  45. Bob Sergent Says:

    You removed my comment. It was true and the truth can only be censored by those that wish to silence free speach.

    Even though he is an idiot and a poor business man, at least the guy referred to in this post – with the signs – had the guts to post his views.

    You deleted mine – now remain true to your posting and remove yours.

  46. Paul Gowder Says:

    I deleted your comment as I said I would, because it was anti-Muslim. Bigotry is not welcome here.

  47. Bob Sergent Says:

    I looked it up on Wikipedia.

    It was true. Do your research.

    What I said was I was not surprised. I said nothing about a muslim. I said what wikipedia said. Still, you have a website and it’s your website to censor. Just know that it is censorship.

    You made fun of his business – as censorship – to make him look like a business idiot (and some would say that’s bigotry).

    You deleted my posting – as censorship.

    It’s just ironic, hypocritical, to demand free speach on one hand (as you did when you took your photos without consent of the business owner) and deny it on the other.

    Really, my comment wasn’t an Islam-bashing thread. You were afraid to become a target and it’s easier to hide behind calling me a bigot, while censoring me.

    As I said in my comment that you deleted, “I am not surprised”.

    Instead of censoring me, confront me. Why don’t you try to prove me wrong? Compel me to prove my point.

    That’s the way debate in America can correct issues such as this. What country are you from? I’m not too proud to admit if I’m wrong, how about you?

  48. ECW Says:

    You write all this about the Sufi Coffee Shop as if you feel you are so cleaver. What would really impress me is if individuales like yourself whom would likely preach fairness, feedom, and open-mindedness could just let this one business be as it will. But you couldn’t, could you? I see a man who came in to another mans place and didn’t even have the decency or respect to even try to appreciate a shop that isn’t typical, one that doesn’t fit the standard you can find anywhere. A place that clearly doesn’t see itself as a typical corporate entity whos sole purpose is to earn profit, and in turn follow all the standards that a customer has come to expect. Most typically as a customer they have the habit of needing to feel wanted, important and having no need of self-justification. You don’t like being at a place where you pay for coffee and yet still need to justify your presence, then just don’t be there. I see no anger in his rules, and certainly no maddness. I am willing to bet that if one gives them their best, he will do the same. For those who can’t get over the idea of a business that doesn’t put earnings, and welcoming any walking-wallet before all else, there is a Peet’s up the road.

  49. Andy Brice Says:

    If I am ever in Mountain View I’ll be sure to have a big egg Vindaloo curry the night before and head over to the Sufi Coffee shop for some *BIG* toilet action.

    Ps/ Lighten up people.

  50. AJ Says:

    To those who complain that if Paul doesn’t like it, he doesn’t need to go there–well, sure, he doesn’t. But he can also warn me so I can steer clear. Thanks for the tip, I think I’ll avoid this place as per my right of not patronizing shops where I have to “justify my presence!”

  51. JL Says:

    Reminds me of the “Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld.

  52. Toukakoukan Says:

    Very odd! Only experience I’ve had of sufiism was attending one of their weekly events in Lahore (Pakistan).
    As far as I could make out Sufiism had a lot to do with getting very stoned and making rather atonal music, but I dare say I’d have learnt more if I knew urdu.

    Still, the sufis I met were very easy going and friendly, unlike that coffee shop owner!

  53. Lisa Says:

    Paul, thank you for the light hearted laugh.
    Bob, if you need a debate use your breath on something more worthy than Pauls decision to not post a comment on his page. March on Washington or your local city hall instead. You seem to be full of “spirit” and our country needs more of that.

  54. Steve Says:

    This place is now on my “bucket list”.

  55. Dingledoodie Says:

    I just LOVE how he asks customers to conserve paper towels so that the trees will live longer and the animals will be happier. Yet, I’m sure his copious notices and signs are having a worse impact on tree life!!! PMSL!

  56. DirtCrashr Says:

    Wow! I’ve lived in Mountain View over twenty years and been by there many-many times, but have never felt like going in since my interest and study of Sufism (a Persian (not arab) religious tradition which extends back to a pre-Islamic era) waned considerably after College.
    I imagine one of the *issues* may be due to the fact that over on *that* side of El Camino, the infrastructure *cough* is less up-to-date, remains un-renovated, and the location is much less desirable – it just doesn’t resonate with the Realtor’s favorite word: Location. So rent must be cheap but it’s also usually temporary since foot-traffic is too low to sustain many businesses.

    It quite reminds me of a conversation I once overheard at the, “Happy Buddhist Hindu Hippie Bookstore” down the street (next to the Mongolian Wok), where two clerk-Students-of-Enlightenment were ringing up customers and slyly going at each other, tooth-and-claw hammer-and-nail, eyes like daggers, as to who was *MORE* enlightened, knew more (or better) Koans, and had studied more or harder and taken more (or harder) classes under which Great Teacher. Sheesh.

    And they flubbed my change, a matter of which I didn’t enlighten them.

  57. Paul Gowder Says:

    (Discussion with an idiot troll deleted, idiot troll banned.)

  58. Stephen Bank Says:

    good decision!

  59. Manual Says:

    This is sad. Looks like in this country the more irresponsible and unpleasant you get the more successful you are.

    Only a few handful criticized this post! ! !

    Ibsen was right in saying “the majority is always wrong”.

    read “The Enemy of the people”.

  60. Christina Says:

    this is deeply unempathetic, childish and shallow. There is no attempt to understand where the proprietor might be coming from and I am deeply saddened by everyone’s willingness to laugh – which is presumably the general attitude that lead the man to put up the signs.. did you try to talk to him about his life or religion, or does your iphone not stretch to that level of investigative journalism. Thankfully authors would not get away with this crass behaviour in England.

  61. Paul Gowder Says:

    Where might the proprietor be coming from precisely?

  62. Mike Reddy Says:

    First of all, the coffee is great, the food is great, and the back seating area is an awesome hideaway. And unlike many small establishments of this kind, he takes cards.

    I know the owner from chatting with him a few times, and he is indeed from the dark side. I wouldn’t want him in government or anything, but I do quite like him.

    He makes a lot of openly bigoted comments, which turn out to be pretty benign, he just doesn’t know how to be PC since he’s a crusty-ass old persian goat, which is adorable. (The first time I met him, he told me he doesn’t like persians coming into his place and trying to get comfortable “through the shared language”) Most amusing is what he says about the way I take my coffee- “Again without milk!? you are not Indian!”

    When I suggested he put a sign up outside to tell people about the parking in the back (his location is HORRIBLE) he said “I don’t want all kinds of people coming here, I want people to discover it by themselves”.

    I can’t help but be deeply in love with it, and I’m sure the author feels the same way on some level.

    Anybody who cares about honesty and authenticity knows that this hard-to-digest place is the real deal. Not everybody is welcome, there are rules, take it or leave it, and that’s the point.

    I don’t want any aspect of this adorable old dude’s asshole nature to be undone, and I don’t want him to take down any of his ridiculous signs. I realize that on some level he’s the enemy, but who cares?

    I remember to go to the big toilet before I get there, I check my sense of outrage at the door, and it’s good times.

  63. Paul Gowder Says:

    Mike, this comment amused me — do stick around, I like your attitude.

  64. Phoenixism Says:

    That’s awesome.

    I had a Seinfeldian flashback to the Soup Nazi…

  65. Aaron Says:

    Nope, that not how it is…

  66. April Says:

    “Thankfully authors would not get away with this crass behaviour in England”

    hahahahahaha wow Christina do you even live in England to have written that?! I do and I couldn’t possibly disagree more. The free papers you get on the tube could have been written by a catty 12 year old girl…

    Paul though – funny stuff, I never usually post comments but just felt compelled since it wasn’t so hard to sign up and so many people seemed to have gotten their panties in a bunch over your innocent funny post… C’mon who can’t see irony in ridiculously high priced “free” wifi posted on the back of a Buddha and any business establishment that refers to #2 and “big toilet” bahahahaha

  67. Michael Says:

    Paul – you need to break in after hours and get pictures of the signs backstage directed at the staff. Even if the staff have all left presumably the signs are still up.

  68. Amanda Says:

    Hi Paul,

    I was intrigued by your random comment about yelp and logs…What exactly did you mean by that? I tried to figure it out by looking at your post for the counter, but didn’t get it. I am a college student (art major) and just finished my math requirements. I always found math terrible, but am intrigued at how you were applying it to yelp. Fill me in!


    Amanda ;)

  69. The Culture Vulture: Coffee House Rules? Shut Up and Play Nice. Please. | A2Politico Says:

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  70. abdulQahhar Says:

    Sufis do not always teach on a straight line. If a teacher puts up offensive signs, he may drive away people who are easily offended, who would not be able to profit from him anyway.

    Americans are used to certain kinds of commercial transactions; they expect to be flattered and courted by merchants.

    They expect to be fixed like a car being taken to a garage, instead of engaged as a being with a world they may never have suspected existed.

    And Sufis don’t just learn from their mistakes; they learn from other people’s mistakes.

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