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Small Biz Story | Z011 Coffee Roasters in San Francisco

CNoteSmall Businesses

A whole new coffee experience

For San Franciscans, coffee drinking has become a ritual and an experience to be savored. And discovering coffee shops offering new flavors, aromas, and brewing methods has become a popular pastime in the city. In 2015, Belen and her husband decided to offer a completely unique coffee drinking experience to the San Francisco coffee-loving community. Combining their passions for baking and coffee, they opened Zo11 Coffee Roasters on Fillmore St. While starting the business meant a major step into the unknown, Belen believed that because they were doing what they loved they would be able them to face and overcome any challenge together. And they did exactly that.

A founder driven by passion

“Follow your passion” became Belen’s compass to navigate. And for Belen this meant working tirelessly and taking deliberate steps towards attaining her goal. Upon arriving from Ethiopia in 2001, Belen embraced her love for style and clothes and enrolled in a San Francisco-based program to become a fashion designer. After her first son was born, she exited the fashion profession to spend more time with her family. But her new job at the dental office was not satisfying to say the least. This is when her husband Alex started conversations about opening a cafe.

Local business offers an authentic experience flavor

For Ethiopians, coffee is not just a drink that wakes you up in the morning to prepare you for work. Coffee is ingrained in their identity and culture. The couple envisioned a space where they could replicate the atmosphere and the magic of the coffee ritual as it is experienced in Ethiopia. Alex has been supplying authentic Ethiopian coffee to local farmers markets for years, so finding high quality beans was not a problem. Belen, who had basically lived in her mom’s kitchen since she was a child grew up baking and experimenting with recipes. Banana bread became her specialty.

Alex and Belen had the skills and experience to pursue their passion, but getting the actual real estate seemed impossible at times. Having lived in the Fillmore neighborhood for a few years, Belen knew exactly where she wanted to have her cafe. However, the spot was owned by the local Ethiopian church and renting it out was not an easy task. It took two years of negotiations, lots of patience, and many repairs before they could even step foot into the space.

Difficult decisions for a local business

When it came to funding their business, Belen and Alex decided not to take any outside money because they were scared of being taken advantage of by a complex financial system. Instead, they maxed out their credit cards and put their life’s savings into the business. It was a risk they were willing to take, which ultimately enabled them to open their cafe. Belen was waking up every morning at 4 am to make pastries with freshly sourced ingredients from local farmers markets, getting inspiration from Youtube and Pinterest, and modifying recipes to make them healthier with her unique twist.

Lessons of a small business owner

Now, almost two years later, Belen says that despite the hardships she would not change a thing. Through her experiences she has noticed that life is all about learning. You can’t change the past so you’d better treat it as a lesson, brush off negative feelings and carry on. Today, Belen and Alex continue to dream big and are planning to expand with a second floor of seating and to redesign the whole cafe area.

A business that fosters community (and delicious donuts) 

With a confident smile, Belen proudly shares that the coffee shop for her and Alex is not just a business – it is a community they built through their determination and compassion. They genuinely care about their customers and cherish each conversation and interaction. And Z011 customers especially love Belen’s authentic donuts made every Sunday. Hope you can try them soon too!


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