Yesterday marked the three-year anniversary since VentureBeat and Jolie O’Dell’s focus group of one correlated expensive toast to the decline of San Francisco.
The O’Dell discourse came with jagged edges, damning the tech industry for a cycle that goes something like this:
- Someone creates a business for consumers with too much money and pretensions of superior taste. It might be a physical good, like toast; it might be a service.
- Tech folks, being one of the largest demographics in the city with ample disposable income, patronize, promote, and even invest in said business.
- Aforementioned business prospers and grows its profile.
- People both within and outside the tech community are inspired to create more bourgie euro lotto online businesses that cater to the bored and overprivileged, peppering their descriptions with buzzwords like “organic” and “fair trade” and “artisanal.”
- San Francisco becomes saturated with overpriced crap that is comparable in quality to less overpriced crap.
- Middle class and working class families and individuals in the community find themselves priced out of goods and services. Small businesses in those sectors languish.
And it all started with a stop at The Mill for a single piece of toast with butter and jam for four bucks.
As you can see on The Mill’s toast menu – right, toast menu – a slice with butter, strawberry jam and salt sets you back six bucks. I guess they don’t have salt shakers on the table to add your own salt. Regardless, we can conclude that The Mill’s business model still enjoys a decent margins on toast.
As for the bigger question, I don’t believe expensive toast has ruined Silicon Valley. I say Silicon Valley because I don’t live in San Francisco and can’t speak for City dwellers. Still, when it comes to cost of living, I think it’s fair to wrap San Francisco into the larger land mass called Silicon Valley.
Riffing on Robin Williams in “Good Morning Vietnam”: “What’s the living like in Silicon Valley? It’s expensive. No, make that damn expensive.”
I moved to Silicon Valley in 1981. My friends told me I was crazy, that there would be nada left from my paycheck after taking care of the essentials and weekend bar tabs. I shared a two-bedroom apartment on the fringes of Palo Alto. Butting up against East Palo Alto reduced what was still an outrageous price at the time, $440 a month. But the combination of weather, liberal politics, restaurants, commerce, mountains, diversity, ocean, sports teams and Haight Ashbury qualified Silicon Valley as utopia. Keep in mind that was before the IBM personal computer set in motion the tech uprising that we see today.
.Here’s the point.
Silicon Valley was expensive in 1981. It’s expensive today. It’s going to be expensive tomorrow.
This is what happens to desirable places.
And make no mistake, it’s still a desirable place.
Just last week came the news that Silicon Valley now employs 746,100 in the tech industry, exceeding the record set during the dot-com heyday by 21,000 jobs.Further proof of desirability can be found in the parade of mostly 20-somethings from around the world who march into Silicon Valley each year on a quest to change the world and make money (not necessarily in that order). For the record, most of these arrivals choose to make toast at home, which according to my back-of-the-envelope math brings the cost down to 20 or 40 cents per slice depending on how long you amortize the toaster and whether you choose branded or generic jelly.
Are there pretentious people in Silicon Valley — as O’Dell puts it — who will joyfully overpay for goods and services to show off their “superior taste”? No question, but one man’s pretentiousness is another man’s lifestyle. As far as I know, Louis Vuitton luggage finds buyers in places other than Silicon Valley.