A couple of weeks ago we got word of a new San Francisco t-shirt company called Red Choo Choo launching a design honoring our hood – aptly named ‘Loin‘. Thanks to The Loin (a cool underground print shop that we visited recently) we already own cool t-shirts showing our proud love to the neighborhood. Of course, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to add one more to the collection to flaunt a full-frontal Loin when the occasion called for it.

Two days after my online order, the shirt came in the mail. Unfortunately, it was bigger than I had expected, so this morning I emailed the engineers running, Red Choo Choo asking if I could change it. Just a few hours later, Mike showed up at my place with a smaller Loin t-shirt (and wearing one himself, as you can see on the picture). So I took the opportunity to catch up with him and ask him a couple of questions. I found not only out that he loves Barcelona and would like to move there one day, but also how he started his t-shirt company.

It turns out Mike is not a designer or an artist by training. He actually has a background in finance. He moved to San Francisco over 10 years ago and was working as a mortgage markets analyst (or something boring like that), but then the company he worked for was bought out. So about a year and a half he decided to start his own company. He told me that he taught himself Photoshop, Illustrator and how to make a website, and so Red Choo Choo was born. I couldn’t help but asking him about the cute name, which has an equally cute logo that is printed on every t-shirt. Mike said that he wanted a name that was easy to remember, and toy trains are usually the first memorable toys kids have.

Red Choo Choo is based in the Mission and sells its designs in a number of stores around the city (such as Molte Cose in Nob Hill, Rag in Hayes Valley & WinkSF in Noe Valley), but none in the Tenderloin. So why did Mike decide to create a t-shirt on this particular neighborhood? The Red Choo Choo website says the following:

The Tenderloin district in San Francisco is filled with unique characters and establishments that would not fit neatly into a monthly catalog. As the city tries to market the area as a gritty, urban enclave (NY Times), we know the reality of crime and drugs will always be a part of what is ironically, also the area filled with most of the hotels for tourists. Show your love to the area that I would rather spend time in than Fisherman’s Wharf.

Mike added that he likes the Tenderloin because it’s probably the only part of town that hasn’t been gentrified (or not completely, at least) and that it still has a city feel. It’s also an area where real people live, you can still find mom & pop shops, and really good unpretentious food. He also said that every city has a Tenderloin, so Tenderloin means history, and San Franciscans often don’t appreciate that enough. It’s also funny that so many tourist hotels are located in this area, but so few of those tourists actually hang out in it. Some might say it’s for the better, but it’s still a neighborhood that has a lot to offer beyond the general perceptions of hookers, meth, and booze. As the t-shirt says, it’s the tender part of San Francisco. If you know where to chew, that is.