By Carolyn Said
San Francisco Chronicle.
Thousands of San Franciscans drive for hire through Lyft, Uber, Sidecar, Postmates, Flywheel, Sprig, Wingz and a host of other on-demand services. All those drivers have one key need in common: A place to heed nature’s call.
A new driver clubhouse called Groove aims to be their pit stop, offering a lounge South of Market where drivers can take breaks, get free coffee, use Wi-Fi and visit the restroom 24/7, as well as buy food-truck fusion cuisine from the likes of Bacon Bacon, Firetrail Pizza, Lil Burma and Dusty Buns.
But more importantly, Groove hopes to help foster a sense of community, said co-founder Emmanuel “Manny” Bamfo, 25. “It’s human nature to want to connect with your peers,” he said.
Groove is located at SoMa StrEat Food Park, a permanent food-truck site in the shadow of the Central Freeway. While the park’s regular hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., drivers will have round-the-clock access to a heated barn-like space with picnic tables and big-screen TVs, as well as a converted school bus with benches where they can stretch out for a quick nap — and of course, the all-important restrooms. (Five stalls each for men and women, Bamfo said.) Another important consideration: The area has lots of free parking.
Groove plans to charge drivers $30 a month, although Bamfo hopes that the ride companies will buy memberships for their fleets. Breeze, which leases cars to ride-service drivers, is the first corporate customer to do so. Groove just opened on New Year’s Eve, so it hasn’t yet drawn hordes.
As one of four team members of Hitch, a carpooling app that Lyft acquired last year, Bamfo got to know lots of drivers and noticed that many asked to drop by the office to use the restroom. That led to his idea for a “co-resting” space, a variation on co-working.
Down the road, Groove plans to add services and products, ranging from classes on generating tips to technology to help manage income.
Groove is among a growing cadre of San Francisco startups catering to drivers. Peers.org recently recast itself as a sharing-economy portal with forums discussing the various services, and an insurance-like product to provide temporary vehicles to ride-service drivers whose cars are in the shop. SherpaShare provides software for drivers to analyze and increase their earnings. Zampl gives drivers free samples of candy, cosmetics and other items to share with passengers. Breeze offers car leases.
“It makes sense that there’s a tide of innovations for drivers,” said Bamfo, who estimates that there are 10,000 to 20,000 folks in the city driving for hire, including taxi and limo drivers.
Will they mingle?
Taxi drivers famously loathe Uber and Lyft, blaming them for siphoning off passengers, and resenting that they operate with looser regulations. Won’t it be a recipe for disaster for cabbies and Uber drivers to mingle?
Bamfo has a kumbaya answer.
“At the end of the day, we’re all drivers,” he said. “We know there are tensions, but this is an opportunity for harmony.”
Marshall Goodenough, who’s been driving for Uber for a year after retiring from the military, said he thinks Groove will quickly become a nexus for drivers. “It’s a unique opportunity to sit in a communal environment with our peers,” he said. He could see more-experienced drivers sharing informal tips or leading classes for newbies.
StrEat Food owner Carlos Muela said he liked the idea and even felt a family connection to it. Growing up, his dad owned Picara Restaurant in the Mission, which became a late-night hangout for cabbies.
In another cabbie connection, the StrEat Food site was once the headquarters for Veterans Cab and still sports a sign from those days.
A major contrast
In ambiance, cost and egalitarianism, Groove is at the other end of the spectrum from Battery, the invitation-only social club in the Financial District. With a particular eye for technorati, Battery charges $2,400 a year for access to a space that includes a high-end restaurant, four bars, a wine cellar, a library, meeting rooms, a gym and spa, an outdoor garden and 14 hotel rooms.
Bamfo and his co-founders/advisers Eric Xu and Philip Thomas are bootstrapping Groove for now, but hope to find investors.
Krys Freeman, an East Bay resident who drives for Lyft and Uber in the city, said having a place to take a break without crossing the bridge would be great.
But it was another amenity that spoke to her.
“The skee ball won me over,” she said.