Anthony Sturkey is unable to limit himself to just one word to describe the kind of business he runs at Dork’s Tec Cafe in Berkeley.
“I consider myself a tech hybrid,” said Sturkey. “Technology and culture. Coffee and computer lab.”
Sturkey, 53 years old, spent most of his life in Long Beach, where he was born, grew up, and spent seven years with the Long Beach Police Department while he worked towards a degree in computer science and programming. He stayed in his hometown until an unfortunate street encounter with someone who recognized him from his officer days convinced Sturkey it was time to get out of Long Beach.
“It’s just an unwritten rule that when you retire from law enforcement, you relocate,” he said.
He first relocated to Hollywood where he moonlit as a musician and then, out of financial desperation, opened a computer repair shop called Dweeb’s PC. When the Great Recession hit he closed shop and floated for a few years, taking a job as an IT consultant that sent him overseas to Moscow, London and Amsterdam. When he returned stateside, he moved to Sacramento, then bounced around Silicon Valley, working for a firm that did analytics and support for companies like LinkedIn and Akamai until he had amassed enough capital to open his own small business. He now lives in North Berkeley.
“You want to stay in that nerdy theme for IT.” — Anthony Sturkey
Dork’s is something of the second incarnation of Dweeb’s PC. But when he went to register his business in Berkeley he found the name was already taken, so in his new city came a new name.
“So I wound up going with the only thing available,” said Sturkey. “You want to stay in that nerdy theme for IT.”
Sturkey acquired the lease to the property two years ago and opened the IT portion last summer. He renovated the interior himself before soft opening as Dork’s Tec Café in December, just before the holidays.
Customers at Dork’s Tec Café can find standard coffee shop offerings, like coffee, espresso drinks and pastries, as well as Mac and PC repair, phone repair, laser printer repair, as well as copy, print and fax services. (“Sort of a mini business center,” said Sturkey.) But one of his most sought after services is one he only began to offer once customers asked for it: late night hours.
Dork’s opened its doors the same week that final exams started for both UC Berkeley and Berkeley City College. Students studying at the café asked Sturkey to consider staying open later than his original closing time of 9 p.m.
“So I started staying open until 12 a.m. for them,” said Sturkey. “And that’s just sort of continued.”
“Most of the traffic happens late, after five,” he said. “I really think it’s due to the parking.” Meaning, once parking meters are no longer enforced.
Also, Sturkey notes, most businesses in Berkeley shut down by 9 p.m., and the ones that stay open are bars, making Dork’s one of the few places in Berkeley available to those looking to work, study or socialize someplace sober.
Another factor, Sturkey pointed out, is that he tends to hang his old officer’s jacket up front, where it’s visible from the street. He couldn’t say that this has been a deterrent to theft and vandalism that have happened at other Berkeley coffee shops, but he has had customers tell him that they feel safer at Dork’s than they do at other cafés.
“The community has been really, really warm and really, really welcoming,” said Sturkey. “And I think me being an ex-officer has really helped out.”
The late-night hours may have started on account of students, but Sturkey has gotten a much more mixed crowd since. He described a list that includes disability support groups, crypto-currency developers, lawyers representing indigenous tribes brainstorming court strategy, and a professor who regularly conducts lessons at the café, simulcasting them to his engineering class in India. “This has turned into a place for techs, they’re starting to gravitate here,” said Sturkey.
As yet one more example of the law of unintended consequences, Sturkey told of a recent encounter at the café.
“I’m here one night — 10:30, almost 11 — and in walks James Franco. And his brother Tom was with him,” said Sturkey. “[James] said his brother told him about this place and he had been meaning to get here. And I said, ‘You came from Hollywood to get some coffee?’ ‘No no no no,’ he said, ‘We want the walls.”
Tom Franco is the owner of Firehouse Art Collective in Berkeley, and he had been looking for space where artists in the collective could display their work. Franco and Sturkey worked out an agreement to showcase some of the artwork from the collective. Shortly after that encounter, artist Stephen Bruce came in. “And he said, ‘I want the walls,’” said Sturkey.
So now, in addition to coffee and computers, Dork’s Tec Café has also become a space for the arts.
“Any and everything else is happening except my initial intent,” said Sturkey.
Dork’s Tec Café is open from 9 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Saturday; 1-9 p.m., Sunday.