The Artist Comes Out
Meet my newest friend, Lee. An artist whose sole purpose is to spark joy in people’s lives.
Lee immigrated to the Bay Area from Asia with his family when he was a boy. He attended and graduated from UC Davis with a degree in software development. Upon graduation, Lee followed the career and life path that was expected of him, diving head first into the booming business of software engineering in the heart of the industry in San Francisco, CA.
Money and career success followed. By 40, Lee reached the top of the corporate ladder, yet deep down, he felt a gaping hole in his soul; that his life lacked true meaning. Despite the financial success he had realized, he lacked the kind of wealth he was truly after. Lee felt incredibly unfulfilled.
Feeling like life was pointless and going nowhere other than financial and corporate success, Lee decided to take a leap of faith and turn his back on all his educational training and career success. He was going to pursue his passion as an artist.
Despite all the fear and uncertainty that comes with such a courageous decision, Lee ultimately found his true calling.
Today his life as an artist is on full display at Bravado Italian Coffee Bar and Lounge at 170 King Street, San Francisco, CA.
Bravado is a unique little eatery that Lee now owns, situated right across from Oracle Park. Lee touts his pride and joy as being so much more than a coffee and wine lounge. It’s a lifestyle! Not only does Lee’s artistry come through in what he serves, but also in the design of the space. The atmosphere is full of expression, showcasing Lee’s passion for bringing joy into people’s lives (he designed the entire place himself!).
I met Lee as he was opening for the day, as I was getting ready to order the bacon avocado toast, recommended to me by a friend. That recommendation started a conversation with Lee that has led to the beginning of our beautiful friendship.
After ordering, Amie and I took our coffees and avocado toast outside to sit and people watch. As I was chewing my last bite, wishing another helping would magically appear, Lee walked outside and asked if he could join us at our table.
“If this is your first time here, you have to try my breakfast burrito,” Lee declared. Without waiting for a response, Lee dashed off back inside his café. Ten minutes later he returned as if he could read my mind; that my avocado toast was merely a warmup.
To my delight, he brought out the Bravado breakfast burrito, on the house! If I were to call this creation the best breakfast burrito in San Francisco it might sound a bit cliché. But it was (and is), and not just because of how delicious it was. The simplicity of Lee’s presentation was stunning; a rectangular wooden cutting board, burrito cut diagonally in half, with one side of the burrito gently laying across its mirrored twin. With it were slices of fresh sweet watermelon, next to a bed of bright crispy greens glistening from the citrusy vinaigrette that added the perfect amount of flavor. But the best part was the bright green dipping sauce on the side. A secret recipe that exploded in flavor with just the right hint of breakfast spice.
Lee sat back down with sheer joy on his face, watching Amie and me as we reveled in deliciousness, one bite at a time. While we ate, Lee continued to tell us all about how he came to own Bravado. He talked about the support of his partner, encouraging him to leave his miserable corporate life behind to pursue his passions as an artist.
Lee was so incredibly generous, not only with his artistry in the breakfast burrito, but with his heart. He shared with great vulnerability how he sees the world we live in today; the challenges, the sadness, the grief and the anxiety that he sees walking by his café every single day on the faces of passers-by and customers who wander in.
There was no small talk – no talk about the weather or the news. We did talk a little about sports, being situated across the street from the home of one of the most storied franchises in baseball history. But the talk about sports wasn’t small talk; it was more about the incredible relationships he has developed with current and former Giants players over the years. Lee reveled and shared so many stories about the joy he has experienced with the players and their families by way of his artistic expressions with food and décor.
While Amie and I sat there for hours talking with Lee, the only interruptions to our conversation came as one after another, current Giants players came into the café with smiles on their faces, saying hello to their old friend Lee, for breakfast and coffee. He would stand up and give each one a hug, welcoming them like they were his own children, coming down from their bedroom to join the family at the dining room table for breakfast.
It was so beautiful to watch someone living their life on purpose, knowing exactly who they are and what they are contributing to their tribe. It was especially beautiful knowing that not that long ago, Lee was living someone else’s life, entrenched in a shadow career wondering when his life would actually begin!
Our conversation had to come to an end, unfortunately, as we had to head home. We shared contact info and took some Ussies (group selfies) to remember our first meeting together.
As I walked into my house a few hours later, I got a text message from Lee. He shared how grateful he was for meeting us earlier in the day. But he was wondering why we had never come into his lounge before this day.
A friend of mine had been recommending Bravado to us for quite some time, as we regularly come into the city for Giants games. But for some reason, up until this visit, we stuck with what we knew. I didn’t have a good answer for Lee other than telling him, “If the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is right now.” And I made him a promise that Bravado was going to be our after-game-day breakfast spot going forward.
My new friend, Lee, filled me with hope. He shared with me that he walked away from a lot of money to live a simpler, more fulfilling life as his true self; an artist who was born to spark joy in others. He claims to “have no money”, relative to his former life. But Lee feels wealthier than he ever did working 80 hours a week for a paycheck and the ability to buy a bunch of meaningless stuff.
More proof that living on purpose; where you are part of something bigger than yourself – giving your unique gifts and talents to your community – connecting deeply with others – is the essence of finding true wealth.