before and afterInteriors

Before & After: A Coffee Shop on Wheels in San Francisco, CA

by Erin Austen Abbott

What started as a 1948 GMC bread van has since been transformed into one of the best-looking food or beverage trucks I’ve ever seen — and it has an even better story to go with it. Lady Falcon Coffee Club in San Francisco, CA has been serving neighborhoods all over the city since 2017. Buffy Maguire, founder of Lady Falcon Coffee Club, shares the story of the name: “Lady Falcon Coffee Club is a respectful nod to an era in San Francisco Ocean Beach history. In the 1880s, an impromptu neighborhood of abandoned street cars on Judah Street became ‘Carville-by-the-Sea.’ Carville housed many a freethinker. The Falcon Ladies Bicycling Club was one of the first cars in the bunch and helped shape the legend of Carville. With deep roots in Ocean Beach, San Francisco, we sought to imagine the lives of these forerunners who built the spirit of the neighborhood on a sand dune we love so well — with recycled streetcars, grit, tenacity and a passion for fun.”

The transformation of the bread van to a coffee truck was not as easy, laid-back, nor quick, but completely worth the wait. The buildout on the truck took around two years from purchase of the vehicle to serving the first cup of coffee. Chris and Mike at Hellcam completed the truck in two stages. The first stage of the buildout took six months. Major events slowed down the process, like when the refrigerators they ordered were the wrong size and wouldn’t fit in the truck. “Then, we had to special order another set of refrigerators and this was a lot of waiting around,” Buffy shares. “Another interesting story is how we decided we needed more height, light and air, so we sawed off the top of the truck, created metal ribs and installed vintage VW camper bus windows all around the top and re-welded it together.”

Buffy continues, “We chose a vehicle to tell a story about our neighborhood and about our beloved city of San Francisco while sharing our craft roasted coffee. Our neighborhood, Ocean Beach, has a rich history of artists, makers, writers, poets and freethinkers as exemplified by the Falcon Ladies Bicycling Club which we modeled ourselves after.” This story and the transformation is one of the most interesting projects that I’ve had the chance to share with all of you. It’s energizing and it makes me so excited for you to read more. —Erin

Photography by Simone Anne / @simoneanne

Image above: San Francisco’s lovely Alamo Square Park (edged by the famed Painted Ladies houses) recently reopened, and the Lady Falcon truck was there on opening day. Now you can find the truck there every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from 9:30am to 4pm. Follow the truck on Instagram to see where you can find them around the city. 

Lady Falcon Coffee Club on Design*Sponge
Lady Falcon popping up along Ocean Beach, part of their weekly pop-up coffee stops.
Lady Falcon Coffee Club on Design*Sponge
"I'm most thankful that we made the huge decision to cut the entire roof off and add vintage VW camper bus windows around the top and then re-welded it all back together, only taller and with more natural light. I am grateful for the extra height we gained to make it more comfortable for our team and I am also eternally grateful for the natural light that pours into the truck," Buffy shares.
Lady Falcon Coffee Club on Design*Sponge
From the beautiful sea foam green paint job to the airy, light-filled space, Lady Falcon Coffee Club doesn't feel like a shop on wheels.
Lady Falcon Coffee Club on Design*Sponge
What was once an empty steel shell was transformed into the stunning coffee shop it is today.
Lady Falcon Coffee Club on Design*Sponge
"We wanted the feel to be of a recycled streetcar that could have belonged to the Bicycling Club from an era long lost. We kept the exterior grey, recreating the grey you would have seen on in it in 1948," Buffy explains.
Lady Falcon Coffee Club on Design*Sponge
Buffy has made it her mission to lift up women in the coffee industry, running an all-female operation from buyers to roasters to baristas (here, a barista tamps freshly ground craft-roasted Lady Falcon Coffee Club beans).
Lady Falcon Coffee Club on Design*Sponge
"The most challenging part of the Lady Falcon Coffee Club truck is that it is manual transmission. People don’t drive stick shift much anymore. What makes this most challenging is that we did not anticipate it being challenging. We sorely underestimated that many people do not know how to drive stick shift. We have taught a few of [our] staff and now it has become a [rite] of passage at Lady Falcon and a bonding experience, but you can’t throw the keys to just anyone and that can pose some challenges."
Lady Falcon Coffee Club on Design*Sponge
A closer look at the 1948 GMC bread van turned Lady Falcon Coffee Club. You can see just how light-filled the truck is.
Lady Falcon Coffee Club on Design*Sponge

“We had Ms. Jesse Roadkill masterfully hand paint our lovely logo and lettering true to 1940s period style of commercial vehicles, as well. We considered weathering Ms. Roadkill’s work for a moment; we figured it would happen pretty naturally out in the sea air,” Buffy shares.

Lady Falcon Coffee Club on Design*Sponge
"The most unusual [aspect] may be the pop-out we created on the rear passenger side to house the custom La Marzocco espresso machine. Necessity can sometimes be the mother of invention. We were a bit stuck at one point in the process because we realized that once we put the refrigerators [in] we did not have the full width required by the State of California for a coffee truck. We were short 6 inches. And then one day Chris Carney, who was a magician in an earlier career, started to think about creating space out of nothing. And the manual crank out was invented by looking at something they use in RVs, a 'pop out.' It was a brilliant move that saved the whole project and created a showcase for our beautiful espresso machine," Buffy says.
Lady Falcon Coffee Club on Design*Sponge
"With blend names like 'Right On' and 'Atta Girl' [showcasing] our language and our signature pink bags, pretty lady logo and our gold wax seal embrace our femininity."
Lady Falcon Coffee Club on Design*Sponge
Lady Falcon’s signature drinks include a housemade chocolate-ganache mocha with Mexican-vanilla whipped cream, a 4oz Petit Latte made with Street Cred espresso and silky micro-foamed steamed milk, and a Pink Crush, a mix of cascara and hibiscus cold brew topped with whip.

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  • How cool! I live in the Bay Area, so I’ll be on the lookout for this. Sidenote: Learning how to drive manual is tough. Learning how to drive manual in San Francisco deserves some kind of badge of honor. (I’m a manual driver myself).

  • This delights me! I grew up with a dad who did a lot of autobody work in his own shop, and I had a lot of Rod & Custom magazines beside my pony books and colouring books, so I’m very familiar with that garage-scene situation. Everything is torn apart, down to bare metal, weld spots, masking tape. Can’t help but note that a lot of hotrods are chopped, which means the roof is cut off, a couple inches cut all the way around, and then welded back on again. This job did the opposite. You’d see chopped cars at shows and wonder how the heck anybody could see out the windshield and here these ladies have so much room to see out!

    And good for learning how to drive a manual transmission. There’s nothing biologically different about women that prevents us from shifting gears, it’s just a matter of learning how. Super challenge to do it in such a hilly city!!! I think it’s more fun, once you get the hang of it.

    I love it that it’s an all women business. I don’t even drink coffee, but I dig this whole project!

  • Really amazing. I love San Francisco for this kind of creative, free spirit enterprise. Good luck to the owners!

  • Oh gosh, this is stunning. The attention to detail, in every aspect of the business, is absolutely inspirational. Wishing you all the best, Lady Falcon, thanks for sharing your story. x

  • I saw this truck when visiting SF’s Alamo Park from MN a few weeks ago. So fun to hear about its history!

  • I would suggest a tour of the west coast. Say all the way to the Vancouver Washington area. And while you are at it you could make me a chocolate genache mocha with mexican vanilla whipped cream.