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Tour of the Tenderloin

So many companies have fantastic lunch policies, offering epically cool and free onsite meals as an employee perk. Employees love Google’s 30 places to dine on campus, Twitter’s 19th century log cabins in its cafeteria or Facebook’s new menu every day. And employers love people to stay in and eat their lunch at work and never leave the office. It’s obviously a great way to get a lot of work done.

We don’t have free lunches at Zendesk. It’s not that we don’t want people to get work done. Sure we do. And it’s not that we predicted the IRS might crack down on this. We thought about these policies, debated the idea of it, and ultimately decided not to offer free meals because we wanted our people to get out of the office and support the little ground-floor retail businesses that are so important to a neighborhood. We’re not in Silicon Valley; we’re in San Francisco. We believe in the concept of an urban campus: using the City for our pathways, with offices located within a block or two of each other, connected at street level by the sidewalks, restaurants, and cafes that make up the neighborhood.

We believe in the concept of an urban campus: using the City for our pathways, with offices located within a block or two of each other, connected at street level by the sidewalks, restaurants, and cafes that make up the neighborhood.

We moved to the Tenderloin in 2011, and as we grew we decided to stay here. I love this neighborhood with its turn-of-the-twentieth-century architecture, its storied past of corruption and vice, and its happening future with a booming tech and creative scene. I like being a part of the hustle and bustle of the streets and I want our team to experience it as well. This city and this neighborhood have been very good to us, and in return, we want to be good to them.

Here’s a roundup of our favorite spots in the neighborhood to spend your money, also known as the Zendesk off-campus meal plan.

Tu Lan. I love this legendary Vietnamese place that’s older than our average employee. You have no idea what you’re going to get when you order, but it’s always a huge portion and a delicious meal. It was once recommended by Julia Child, and yes, I know it was once shut down by the Department of Health, but it’s been back in business for a while now, and I’ve never gotten sick. Pro tip: Eat in, and you’ll smell like your lunch all day.

farmerbrown. Southern recipes, locally sourced. No substitutions, and that’s fine because it’s good as-is. Pro tip [by Relate editor and New Orleans resident, Sarah Reed]: Pack your patience. Like a good Southerner, no one here is in a hurry. You may come for lunch, but you’ll still be at farmerbrown for dinner.

Equator Coffees & Teas. If you like your espresso strong, you’re in the right place. Equator is located in the historic Warfield Building and has state-of-the-art brewing technology. They also have outdoor seating for those (rare) sunny days in San Francisco.

Chai Bar by David Rio. This one is right in our building! The space is nearly 2,600 square feet—a lot of space for chai, even when the “flavor library” includes vanilla, mango, and maple. The café also serves a Japanese-influenced menu for breakfast and lunch, plus small plates and drinks in the evening when it turns into a lounge. You can read more about this spot over on the Zendesk Neighbor Foundation blog.

The Mikkeller. Despite the name, no relation (really). 42 taps and specialty bottles from around the world. After work, not during work, please.

If you’re too far away from the Bay Area to enjoy these good eats, don’t worry! We’ll be in a city near you soon. This year we’re hitting the road for Zendesk’s Future of CX event series and we’ll be publishing city guides wherever we go.

Next up? Mexico City.

Mikkel Svane is the CEO, chairman, and founder of Zendesk, a global company that builds software for better customer relationships. He has driven the vision, culture, and growth of the company for the last 10 years. Under his leadership, the company went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014 and currently helps more than 100,000 organizations around the world better help, engage with, and understand their customers. Originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, he is a published author of the book Startupland, a father of three, and a lover of handcrafted cocktails.