When I was a young queer, my local coffee shop was crucial to my existence. The coffee wasn't important; it was the community there that mattered. It was the place I took my first girlfriends on dates and the place I played music in front of an audience for the first time. But in the late 1990s, the coffee culture shifted toward national chain stores, and the small community shops started to disappear.
Despite the decline of mom-and-pop coffee shops, kinky San Francisco transplants Ryan Galiotto and his wife decided to assume the risk of opening one in 2009. But they wanted it to be different from the Chicago shops they had frequented in the early '90s: They wanted to create a place that would cater to the local kink, Leather, and fetish communities. And thus, Wicked Grounds, America's first kink café and boutique, was born. Galiotto describes it as a place where “people don't have to worry about saying the word 'dildo' and offending the soccer mom at the next table,” a place where one can kneel to lap up a latte from a dog bowl or enjoy a freshly made waffle inside a cage. Located in the heart of SOMA at Eighth and Folsom streets, the café follows in the footsteps of other kinky businesses that have made their homes in the neighborhood. Though Wicked Grounds has a vibrant community of kinksters who frequent the shop for weekly gatherings called “munches,” the place has had a rocky five years — financial hardships, changes in ownership, and even divorce. Galiotto has experienced firsthand the challenges of owning a brick-and-mortar business in this city, sometimes working over 60 hours a week as barista, bookkeeper, and manager. His commitment to the café is unwavering, and he is the first to admit that it is a nostalgic labor of love.
Asked why he has devoted his life to this quirky little coffee shop that sells sex toys and has pictures of naked women in bondage on the walls, he responded with a story about a long-running event at the café, the monthly Littles Munch.
At the Littles Munch, adults who like to engage in age-related role-play socialize, color in coloring books, wear onesies, and drink milkshakes. Galiotto's eyes light up as he recounts the tale: “Early on in the Littles Munch, there was a guy in his 50s, professional, went to work in a suit and tie every day. [When he] came home, he'd switch to a onesie, watch cartoons, and eat his cereal. He heard about us, came and checked out the Littles Munch. He sat at a table away from it, watching it, and eventually felt comfortable enough to go to the bathroom, change into his onesie and join the party.” Galiotto wants do more than serve coffee to people in leather; he wants to provide a space to “help people come out of their kinky closets.”
Wicked Grounds has acquired two new owners this year: queer coffee roasting duo Mir Bilodeau and Mo Stoycoff of Spikey Jane's Coffee. They believe that the world needs spaces like Wicked Grounds, where, as Bilodeau says, “kinky people, leather people, and queer people can come in and bring all of who they are to the table.” As its five-year anniversary party approaches, it seems that the shop is getting some new life breathed into it — or at least Galiotto will get to take a day off now and then. With plans for kitchen renovations, new bondage furniture, and even a podcast, Wicked Grounds is earning a reputation as the little kinky café that could.
In this city we take coffee far too seriously. Four Barrel, Ritual, Blue Bottle — these places don't host open mics or poetry readings, and you certainly won't find a colorful stack of fliers in the bathroom advertising punk shows, let alone books on BDSM for sale at the counter. But never fret, kinky nostalgic San Franciscans, the spirit of the 1990s coffee shop is alive and well at Eighth and Folsom.