Patrons Hope to Save Mountain View’s Beloved Red Rock Café

The quest to save a beloved Mountain View institution is off and funding.

Red Rock Coffee—the award-winning nonprofit coffee shop that has served as a community hub in Silicon Valley for 15 years—probably won’t make it to year 16 unless it receives a huge financial windfall.

Donations have started to pour into the Save Red Rock Coffee GoFundMe account. As of Thursday, $54,718 had been raised since the campaign launched on July 16. But an ambitious goal of $300,000 has been set to help Red Rock not only continue, but to chart a new course for years to come.

Red Rock Coffee has served the community—literally—for over two decades, working with other nonprofits in the area on charitable endeavors.

Now, Red Rock needs the support of the very community it has helped to save it from extinction. In a 30-plus-minute phone call with San Jose Inside earlier this week, Red Rock General Manager Jean Boulanger remarked on how she couldn’t believe she managed to get through the interview without crying.

Even though Boulanger understands Red Rock’s demise could be imminent, she still has hope that this amazing chapter in her life will continue.

“It’s been a wonderful season of our lives, and I understand it could be just that—a season that could close,” she said. “But I’m pulling for it [to stay in business] as much as I can.”

Boulanger and her family moved to the Bay Area from Ohio in 2007, four months before she became Red Rock’s general manager.

Affectionately known as Momma Jean within the Red Rock community, Boulanger said she has a deep and profound love for the coffee shop, a place where people gathered for business deals, counseling sessions, open mic nights, kids’ story time, board game nights, knitting activities and fundraiser concerts for various nonprofits.

Of course, people still meet up at Red Rock to have a cup of joe as well.

Owned and operated by Highway Community—a Christian church with campuses in Mountain View and Palo Alto—Red Rock’s revenues are down 65 percent since the pandemic hit in mid-March, Boulanger said.

The steep decline in numbers was exacerbated by the fact that as a nonprofit attached to a church, Red Rock didn’t have much way of success in accessing any loans or grants since few were eligible for them, said Chrissy Mata, who established the GoFundMe account and is a member of Highway Community.

If the GoFundMe account hits its $300,000 goal, it will enable Red Rock to continue to operate and move toward becoming a separate nonprofit independent from Highway Community. The social mission of this new nonprofit would revolve around a yearlong job training and holistic mentoring cohort for under-resourced teens and young adults.

Highway Community has been a tremendous support for Red Rock, especially in the early years when it helped cover expenses and rent.

There was a period of time when Red Rock was able to fund all of its expenses. However, due to factors such as the increase in minimum wage and expenses,, Highway Community has been subsidizing Red Rock “quite a bit.”

“As our parent company, there’s only so much Highway Community can take on as far as risk and covering expenses,” Boulanger said. “This fundraiser is to stop the bleeding, get us set up for next year and give us time to get a new standalone nonprofit ready.”

Red Rock needs $100,000 simply to cover the losses it has incurred this year. Additional money is needed for the expected revenue shortfall for the next fiscal year, which runs from September through August 2021.

Even though the $300,000 goal number seems daunting, those in the Red Rock community have to be hoping that a couple of individuals with deep pockets step forward to make a contribution to the fund.

It’s steeped in Red Rock lore that, for a decade, WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton regularly met at Red Rock, often times using it as their work space. In 2014, Koum sold WhatsApp to Facebook in a $19-billion deal. In short, Red Rock was a constant hub of activity, bringing in different sectors of the community.

Like Boulanger, Red Rock holds a special place in Mata’s heart. She’s been going there since it opened in 2005, and her son worked there as a barista for three-plus years. Mata has spent countless hours at Red Rock over the years working on various projects, lesson planning for her classes, filing grades and meeting friends for coffee.

More importantly, Mata has seen Red Rock develop a dynamic and thriving culture built on values, relationships and a sense of civic responsibility, one that Boulanger had a huge hand in developing. “Jean has been very good with her employees in training them up and helping them,” Mata said. “She’s been a very good mentor to them, including my son. I really saw him grow up a lot in his time over there.”

When Red Rock’s business was rolling, part of its revenue went to  women’s shelters, organizations that help dig wells in Africa, sponsoring local Little League teams and supporting coffee farmers overseas.

Even with the tight restrictions Red Rock faces now in only being able to do outdoor patio dining, it is still a drop-off spot for community food drives. Even though Red Rock is closed for indoor dining, the knitting club still meets every Saturday via Zoom, and the open mic nights have continued to be a big hit, as a sub community has been created within Red Rock’s community of musicians. The open mic nights meet via Zoom from from 6 to 8pm on Mondays and Wednesdays.

If Red Rock continues to operate through the next fiscal year, one of its next goals is partnering with nonprofits such as Reach Potential and Able Works, organizations that equip individuals with an array of life skills and education, empowering them to strengthen not only themselves but those around them as well.

“We don’t want someone here just to be a great worker; we want to mentor them to be a great person in life,” Boulanger said. “I think it’s really valuable to have connections and find a place where you can meet people and call them your second family.”

Mata isn’t surprised donations have been pouring into the GoFundMe account.

“It shows how much Red Rock is loved by the community,” she said. “Hopefully, we can all continue to rally around it. It’s a special place, and we don’t want it to disappear.”

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