Skip to main content

The weird vibe at OpenAI’s office, where secret security guards roam

A man watches another man walk past along a sidewalk in a photo.
A man who identified himself as a maintenance worker named Jose watches the entrance to OpenAI’s office on Florida Street Monday. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Walking around OpenAI’s office in the Mission on Monday afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being watched.

Near the 575 Florida St. building’s back entrance on Bryant Street, a man wearing sunglasses and a black jacket stood outside the door, tracking my movements as I walked down the block. I tried faking a phone call to see if he would turn away. He did not.

A photographer for The Standard had recently spotted what they believed to be an additional security guard outside OpenAI’s office, leading us to wonder if the tech company was beefing up security. So we decided to check it out.

Though the observant man in shades and others standing guard refused to say whether they were security—or even if the building where they were posted was indeed OpenAI’s office—people who live and work near the building say they most certainly are.

The lack of confirmation only adds to the mysterious presence of one of the most influential tech companies in the historic neighborhood.

“The vibe is secretive,” said Iain Langlands, a cashier at pet supply store George, which is down the block from OpenAI’s office. “They have this security, and they look at me when I walk by the building or when I park.”

A cashier stands behind a counter inside a pet store.
Iain Langlands, a cashier at pet store George, says OpenAI is a "secretive" neighbor. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard
A ceramics showroom is seen in a photo.
Workers at the Heath Ceramics showroom describe OpenAI as a "secretive" and "mysterious" neighbor. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

James, a salesperson at the Heath Ceramics showroom down the street, said he’s asked the people standing by the office’s entrance multiple times if they are security, but “they never admit to it.”

“[OpenAI] is not a bad neighbor, but they’re secretive,” James said.

‘I know you’re OpenAI’

Candice Combs, owner of In-Symmetry Spa and president of the Mission Creek Merchants Association, said she has spoken with the supposed security guards before, though she didn’t ask who they were. They wouldn’t, however, confirm who worked in the building they were obviously guarding.

“I asked, ‘Is this OpenAI?’ And they were like, ‘We can’t say,’” Combs said. “I was like ‘Well, I know you’re OpenAI. We’re a spa that does massages, and here’s coupons for 10% off.’ So it’s like an open secret.”

Some residents are convinced the people standing outside OpenAI’s office are security guards.

“They’re definitely security,” said Qorey Globo, who has lived on Alabama Street for 20 years and often walks her dog past OpenAI’s office. 

Given the uncertainty, The Standard wanted to learn more about these maybe-or-maybe-not security guards ourselves.

The tech company’s four-story, ivory-white office building sits adjacent to a picturesque courtyard with benches, grass and palm trees. The plaza is cordoned off along Florida Street by a black metal fence and gate where employees enter the property. As I approached the entrance, two men stood outside watching the door. One had a shaved head and wore a black Arcteryx jacket and backpack. The other man wore a brown jacket, sunglasses and an earpiece.

An office building is seen in a photo.
The lack of confirmation about whether the men outside OpenAI's office are security adds to the tech company's mysterious presence in the Mission. | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard

When I asked the shaved-head man if he was a security guard, he just shrugged. When I asked him if he could confirm the building housed OpenAI’s offices, he said he didn’t know who worked there.

The earpieced-man said his name was Jose and that he was with building maintenance—not security. Jose said the earpiece alerts him to requests to fix leaks and replace faucets as well as summon janitors on his radio.

When I asked the shaved-head man if he was also building maintenance, he refused to talk to me.

“I don’t want to answer any of your questions,” he said. “You’re very questiony.”

Out of luck, I sauntered over to the Bryant Street entrance to talk with the guy who had been watching me earlier.

He too wore an earpiece, along with white pants, a black jacket and sunglasses. The man told me that his name was Joey and said he was a “private contractor.” But he would not share details about his job at the building, only saying that it was confidential and that he travels frequently. I asked if the building he was standing in front of was OpenAI’s, but he said he didn’t know.

A man wearing sunglasses and an earpiece stands outside an office building.
A man who identified himself as a private contractor named Joey stood outside the Bryant Street entrance to one of OpenAI's offices in the Mission. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

After the face-to-face approach went nowhere, I tried getting some clues from the California agency that regulates security guards, to get a sense of whether these men standing around were security or not.

A spokesperson for the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, which issues licenses for private security guards, told me that unarmed security guards don’t need to wear a uniform or badge, but they must be an employee of a security guard company or an employee of a lawful business or public agency. They must also disclose licensure information to law enforcement and bureau representatives.

‘Sorry, but I’ve got to run’

Attempts to chat up three suspected OpenAI staffers Monday elicited many “uhs,” “ums,” and insistence that they had no time to chat.

The Standard approached some (sorry) nerdy-looking people who were seen leaving the Florida Street entrance with employee badges dangling from their hips. The badges didn’t say OpenAI, but they had the same gray color scheme as the company’s logo. The IDs were otherwise sparse with only a headshot and a first name.

One worker, whose tag said his name was Kyle, said, “Sorry, but I’ve got to run” when I asked if the building he was exiting was OpenAI’s office. When I followed up to ask if he worked for the company, he said, “I’m just heading out. Sorry.”

A courtyard fronting an office building is seen in a photo.
The front courtyard behind the gate of OpenAI's office at 575 Florida St. has grass, benches and palm trees. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Two other men with similar-looking badges also would not say if they worked at OpenAI or if the building they left was the tech company’s office. When I flagged them down, they just looked at me and shot nervous glances at each other before one of them said, “Sorry, we’ve gotta go.”

The company did not respond to The Standard’s requests for comment.

People who work at restaurants near the building said OpenAI employees dine at their businesses but don’t speak openly about their jobs. They do, however, often take their coffee cold and with milk, according to one barista at Dandelion Chocolate.

The barista, who declined to be named out of fear of retaliation from their employer, said staffers will come to the 16th Street cafe for coffee, usually just one or two workers at a time. He said they’ll admit they work at OpenAI.

“A lot of iced lattes,” the barista said. “And it’s usually just the grunt coders who come in.”

At Tartine Manufactory at 595 Alabama St., waiter Marco Rojo said a group of 10 to 15 Open AI workers comes in every weekend, with at least a few sporting jackets with the company’s logo. He said they come in the morning and often order the $14.95 breakfast sandwich.

People eat inside a restaurant.
Tartine waiter Marco Rojo says a group Open AI workers comes in every weekend and orders the $14.95 breakfast sandwich. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard
A man rolls balls of dough.
Osito chef Harry Choi says he doesn't know if OpenAI staff have ever dined in his restaurant. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Rojo said he has never seen CEO Sam Altman or any other OpenAI executives dine at Tartine. He doesn’t walk by the company’s office and hasn’t seen the maybe-or-maybe-not security guards. When asked for his thoughts on the company and generative AI technology, he deferred to his general manager.

Rolling out flatbreads, Osito chef Harry Choi said he has never knowingly served an OpenAI employee but said the restaurant catered an event at the company’s Florida Street office last summer. They served smoked chicken, poke and prime rib.

“They don’t really make themselves known,” Choi said.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at