‘A sense of camaraderie’: San Jose businesses bring life to downtown
Fox Tale Fermentation Project co-owner Wendy Neff pours a beer for a customer. Photo by Elena Neale-Sacks.

    When Wendy Neff heard a knock on her downtown San Jose brewery door, she was greeted by a tall stack of plastic quart containers. Tomoyo Yoshinaga, the co-owner of neighboring bar Cash Only, was dropping them off as part of the businesses’ container exchange program.

    Fox Tale Fermentation Project, which Neff co-owns, and Cash Only are two new businesses that have popped up around Fountain Alley, which is located downtown near the intersection of East Santa Clara and South Second streets. In an area that has historically lacked a range of diverse business owners and has faced a rising number of vacancies, Urban Community cofounders and developers Jeff Arrillaga and Gary Dillabough bought about $300 million worth of downtown properties over the past several years. Their goal: revitalizing downtown San Jose.

    Neff and her partner, Felipe Bravo, opened Fox Tale in 2021 after spending the early days of the pandemic brewing beer and making sauerkraut at home. They found the brick-and-mortar space after meeting Arrillaga, who owns the building, and they lease the space.

    Although Neff said she trusted Arrillaga almost immediately, the space itself wasn’t exactly what she and Bravo were looking for as first-time business owners. Neff said it was small and narrow for a brewery, but Arrillaga reassured them he had a bigger vision to make the space and surrounding community more lively.

    “So when he showed us this space, he was like, ‘I know it’s not exactly what you’re looking for, but we’re going to put a lot of cool stuff here soon. If you guys just kind of hold out for it, it’s going to work out,’” Neff told San José Spotlight. “And you know, I’m glad we did.”

    Several Fountain Alley businesses—including Fox Tale, Hula Bar and Kitchen, Scratch Cookery and Goodtime Bar—are run by women, people of color, young entrepreneurs and first-time business owners. These businesses work to support each other through cross-marketing and sharing goods, among other methods.

    For example, Neff said she makes pickles and sends them over to Cash Only to use, which in turn ends up driving more business to Fox Tale. Additionally, some seasoned business owners have been mentors to newcomers.

    “Cash Only has supported us since long before we opened,” Neff told San José Spotlight. “That relationship has been invaluable because they have more experience than I do in running a business, and I’ve been able to lean on them and I’ve been able to ask them for advice.”

    Wendy Neff rings up two customers at Fox Tale Fermentation Project in downtown San Jose. Photo by Elena Neale-Sacks.

    Now that the new businesses are settling in, Arrillaga and Dillabough’s development dream for a vibrant and enticing downtown San Jose is beginning to come alive.

    “It’s amazing,” Arrillaga told San José Spotlight. “Just by activating (Fountain Alley through) painting the buildings and putting up lighting, how those little things have made the area much more safe compared to how it was in the past.”

    Tasha Ignacio has worked at The City Fish since 2021. She said it’s been refreshing to have new businesses like Hula Bar and Fox Tale move into the neighborhood.

    It’s more lively feeling,” Ignacio told San José Spotlight. “They’re making it more safe and open.”

    Tasha Ignacio, 21, takes a customer’s order at The City Fish. Photo by Elena Neale-Sacks.
    A mural next to Fountain Alley in downtown San Jose. Photo by Elena Neale-Sacks.

    For Neff, she said seeing the demographic shift in the area to bring more diversity has had a huge impact on the renewed sense of community that’s brewing near Fountain Alley.

    “It just brings a sense of camaraderie between all of us,” Neff said. “I want people to come in here and see themselves in myself or Felipe or in our staff and know, ‘Oh, there actually is room for me in this part of the industry, ownership is possible.’”

    Contact Elena Neale-Sacks at [email protected] and on Twitter at @elenaneale17.

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