The entrepreneurial neighborhood of Palo Alto

Something is in the water in the neighborhood surrounding Emerson Street in Palo Alto. View map of neighborhood.

This is the neighborhood that’s brought us Google. Paypal. Facebook. HP. Java. BarCamp. Among other things.

But the entrepreneurialism doesn’t end with the big tech names. Gordon Biersch, a popular chain of microbreweries, started on this street.

I first learned about some of the entrepreneurial activity happening in the shadows of bigger companies back when I first took my car to a little garage in this neighborhood back in the early 1990s. If you visit Ole’s Car Shop you’ll meet Ole Christensen. This is no ordinary mechanic. He was so sick of the management systems available to car mechanics that he wrote his own in Microsoft Access and Visual Basic.

He’s not the only guy who has a college degree that’s coming up with new ways to run small businesses in this neighborhood.

On Thursday I went roaming around the neighborhood looking for other entrepreneurial stories.

Mahmut Keskekci, Owner of Sumner Frames

I met up with Mahmut Keskekci. He’s worked in a small retail store, Richard Sumner Gallery, in this neighborhood for 23 years. He moved here from Turkey and has a degree in Electrical Engineering. What does he do now?

He frames Silicon Valley’s most expensive artwork at the shop he now owns, Richard Sumner Gallery. Just a couple of weeks ago he had a million-dollar Picaso in his shop. Today he’s hosting professional photographer Marc Silber, blog, who swears by Mahmut’s work.

Marc Silber, pro photographer

I met up with Mahmut and Marc in the shop and videoed them. Here’s Marc talking about his photography and why he loves Mahmut’s work. Mahmut told me he does framing for the local Stanford University hospital, and local museums, among others. The video gets a little choppy, cause I’m using my cell phone but you get an idea of Mahmut’s philosophy. I restarted the video and we continue the discussion of Marc’s photography and Mahmut’s framing work.

Marc Silber and Mahmut Keskekci

This afternoon if you drop by the gallery you’ll meet both Marc and Mahmut at 3 p.m. for the opening of Marc’s exhibition.

Jessica Gilmartin, co-owner of Fraiche Yogurt -- new Silicon Valley hot spot to hang out

If you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss the Fraiche Yogurt Shop where you’ll probably meet Jessica Gilmartin, co-owner. She gave up a job in finance to follow her dream of owning her own business. Instantly you’ll see that she has created something special. Just ask the customers, which includes famous Facebook employees and venture capitalists like Jeff Clavier, who says: “People, these things are SOOOO good. You have to try them out.” (I caught him eating one of Jessica’s treats).

Her store was packed the day I came in. I asked Jessica what her secret was (the shop has been open less than a year and it’s rare that such a new retail business gets so busy so fast). She said she was lucky to have a location nearby Facebook, which brings her lots of customers, but then she started talking about her product. Says she’s one of the only stores in the United States that makes their own yogurt on site. She also said that she spends almost every moment of her life in the store and watching her serve customers I realized that she not only is putting in the hours, but also pouring her soul into her work.

Fraiche Yogurt

Chocolate block in Yogurt shop

She told me that she wanted to make treats that were healthy, not just sweet. Even her toppings are pretty unique with a good mixture of fruit, nuts, and a block of chocolate that caught my attention.

Anyway, if you find me in the shop, now you know why. Damn these things are yummy!

Jessica Gilmartin serves at Fraiche Yogurt

More photos from my walk around the neighborhood are on my Flickr feed along with some snaps I made of Larry Lessig. Maybe I’ll see you over at the yogurt shop this afternoon. Who knows what kind of entrepreneur you’ll run into there!

37 thoughts on “The entrepreneurial neighborhood of Palo Alto

  1. dan: with one difference: famous neighbors and a lot of interesting business success stories. I just found out that the Whole Foods on the corner on this street was one of first in nation, too.

  2. dan: with one difference: famous neighbors and a lot of interesting business success stories. I just found out that the Whole Foods on the corner on this street was one of first in nation, too.

  3. Robert — If you did one of these posts a week it wouldn’t be too often. Great to see my old stomping grounds (The 90s! GASP) continuing to thrivolve. Keep ‘em coming.

  4. Robert — If you did one of these posts a week it wouldn’t be too often. Great to see my old stomping grounds (The 90s! GASP) continuing to thrivolve. Keep ‘em coming.

  5. Robert – LOVED this post. Not just because I used to work in downtown Palo Alto but because you went out with your camera and walked around looking for something interesting, and found some stories that probably wouldn’t be told otherwise.

    Please channel Charles Kuralt like this more often ;).

    Andrew

  6. Robert – LOVED this post. Not just because I used to work in downtown Palo Alto but because you went out with your camera and walked around looking for something interesting, and found some stories that probably wouldn’t be told otherwise.

    Please channel Charles Kuralt like this more often ;).

    Andrew

  7. Yah know if you follow this homespun formula beyond just the Valley, your FastCompany.TV might actually half work. Go all ‘Made in America’ style…not techies, and not the fakery conference celebs…

    Talking to Web 2.0 widget makers for hours, or droning Microsoft developers…just blame it on Microsoft/Podtech, they owned your soul.

    I gotta agree, good stuff going…if this is the Scoble Show of the future, you will do well.

  8. Yah know if you follow this homespun formula beyond just the Valley, your FastCompany.TV might actually half work. Go all ‘Made in America’ style…not techies, and not the fakery conference celebs…

    Talking to Web 2.0 widget makers for hours, or droning Microsoft developers…just blame it on Microsoft/Podtech, they owned your soul.

    I gotta agree, good stuff going…if this is the Scoble Show of the future, you will do well.

  9. Come back to Cambridge, UK, soon and video the punting and all the lifestyle entrepreneurs that make Cambridge a fun place to live. Even video some of the academics; after all that is why we live here!

  10. Come back to Cambridge, UK, soon and video the punting and all the lifestyle entrepreneurs that make Cambridge a fun place to live. Even video some of the academics; after all that is why we live here!

  11. Robert,

    This is perhaps one of your finest posts ever. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It’s nice to read about people whom you may never had heard about save the Internet.

    More of this kind of stuff in future, please…

  12. Robert,

    This is perhaps one of your finest posts ever. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It’s nice to read about people whom you may never had heard about save the Internet.

    More of this kind of stuff in future, please…

  13. Devin,

    Kes lives a short walk from the arrow too, so I spent a good deal of time there, back in the day.


    Ryan

  14. Devin,

    Kes lives a short walk from the arrow too, so I spent a good deal of time there, back in the day.


    Ryan

  15. Robert,

    I love how you wove this all together and showed my work together with my friends. I grew up here so this neighborhood has deep memories. It’s great to see the small-town culture preserved, in spite of the new towering giants like FaceBook, ideo, et al in the neighborhood.

    We need to add much more real culture to the valley (every time I take a trip to Europe and look around here upon return I look in shock: where are the multitude of museums, galleries, cafes with live music, small bookshops, etc… (unless we redefine “culture” in terms of number of restaurants, and square footage of mega-bookstores…)

    Looking ahead to the legacy we leave our kids, if we really are the center of the new flat-earth we better start catching up…this is one of my passions, which is why I love to show my work, teach photography and go out and “capture the moment” as Henri Cartier-Bresson put it… thanks for doing just that.

  16. HA! I used to live exactly two blocks away from the arrow on Google Maps, on the corner of Emerson and Santa Rita. Maybe I’m biased, but I was an entrepreneurial kid back then, too :-)

    Haha, this post definitely got a chuckle out of me. Cheers!

  17. Robert,

    I love how you wove this all together and showed my work together with my friends. I grew up here so this neighborhood has deep memories. It’s great to see the small-town culture preserved, in spite of the new towering giants like FaceBook, ideo, et al in the neighborhood.

    We need to add much more real culture to the valley (every time I take a trip to Europe and look around here upon return I look in shock: where are the multitude of museums, galleries, cafes with live music, small bookshops, etc… (unless we redefine “culture” in terms of number of restaurants, and square footage of mega-bookstores…)

    Looking ahead to the legacy we leave our kids, if we really are the center of the new flat-earth we better start catching up…this is one of my passions, which is why I love to show my work, teach photography and go out and “capture the moment” as Henri Cartier-Bresson put it… thanks for doing just that.

  18. HA! I used to live exactly two blocks away from the arrow on Google Maps, on the corner of Emerson and Santa Rita. Maybe I’m biased, but I was an entrepreneurial kid back then, too :-)

    Haha, this post definitely got a chuckle out of me. Cheers!

  19. Robert, I think this is one of your best posts to date.

    Why? It has interesting and engaging information, that’s original, and something that most people probably wouldn’t think to ask about (the small businesses that make up the heart of towns and cities.)

    It reminds us that there are thousands of folks out there making money doing what they love. That business doesn’t always have to be cutthroat and filled with venture capital and crappy negative articles like Valleywag.

    Well done.

    -Erica

  20. Robert, I think this is one of your best posts to date.

    Why? It has interesting and engaging information, that’s original, and something that most people probably wouldn’t think to ask about (the small businesses that make up the heart of towns and cities.)

    It reminds us that there are thousands of folks out there making money doing what they love. That business doesn’t always have to be cutthroat and filled with venture capital and crappy negative articles like Valleywag.

    Well done.

    -Erica

  21. Excellent stuff Robert. Your gift of never ending curiosity and what you discover, passed on to us via blogging, has been a joy to follow.

  22. I’ve started your reading recently (after hearing about it from friends at work). Its great to see you cover different types of entrepreneurs with varied skillsets. Not every great idea has to have
    a dot com prefix.
    Ans as far as Photography is concerned, right from my college days I had a great interest in image processing , graphics . There are things which such visible beauty in these fields and I just feel they seem to be kindof in todays Internet time .
    Just for fun – In my free time – I am coming up with a graphics editor/image processing kit project which should help hobby photographers without them havin to empty wallets on a product – ( I know many exist already , but I have a slightly diff image for what I want my fun creation to be) ! I look fwd to the coding-after-work :)

  23. I’ve started your reading recently (after hearing about it from friends at work). Its great to see you cover different types of entrepreneurs with varied skillsets. Not every great idea has to have
    a dot com prefix.
    Ans as far as Photography is concerned, right from my college days I had a great interest in image processing , graphics . There are things which such visible beauty in these fields and I just feel they seem to be kindof in todays Internet time .
    Just for fun – In my free time – I am coming up with a graphics editor/image processing kit project which should help hobby photographers without them havin to empty wallets on a product – ( I know many exist already , but I have a slightly diff image for what I want my fun creation to be) ! I look fwd to the coding-after-work :)

  24. Thanks for the update on a place i use to live in on and off. Great to learn of the new shops and I’ll be sure to visit Fraiche on my next business trip from the east coast.

  25. Thanks for the update on a place i use to live in on and off. Great to learn of the new shops and I’ll be sure to visit Fraiche on my next business trip from the east coast.

  26. So nice of you to recognize these “micro” businesses which keep each community going …they are entrepreneurs too even though they will never see a VC or ever cash out in an IPO or get too many write ups in media or blogs

    Keith, our Chrysler service manager has serviced our cars for 15 years. Blanca, from Puerto Rico, has trimmed my hair for 18. Lee, my Korean leather guy has polished my shoes and taken care of all our household leather needs for 16. Jorge, our Cuban handy man has taken care of house needs for 12…

  27. So nice of you to recognize these “micro” businesses which keep each community going …they are entrepreneurs too even though they will never see a VC or ever cash out in an IPO or get too many write ups in media or blogs

    Keith, our Chrysler service manager has serviced our cars for 15 years. Blanca, from Puerto Rico, has trimmed my hair for 18. Lee, my Korean leather guy has polished my shoes and taken care of all our household leather needs for 16. Jorge, our Cuban handy man has taken care of house needs for 12…

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