Eats and Beers

Our New Supermarket Could Close Before It Even Opens

The DeLano's on South Van Ness closed exactly two years ago yesterday, striking a blow to anyone looking to buy Fruity Pebbles or days-old bagels past 9pm.  Things were all good within six months, when the British supermarket chain Fresh & Easy (not to be confused with the Mission-based garage rock, produce-free band The Fresh & Onlys) announced they were taking over the space, saving us from the nightmare of walking to Noe Valley to satisfy our not-so-late-night breakfast cereal cravings.

But after 18 months, almost nothing has been done to the space, save a few murals painted along it.  SocketSite got the heads up a few weeks back:

I LOVE [Fresh & Easy] but they just announced last week that they're stalling almost all of their US store openings due to the chain's inability to gain traction and likely won't open more than a couple more in the next year. I think the proposed ones (such as this and the South Van Ness location, which they still haven't begun work on) are unlikely to ever open.

Today, The Chronicle confirms the entire chain is likely to go away:

British supermarket chain Tesco is considering closing down its 200 American Fresh & Easy grocery stores - 19 in the Bay Area - after they failed to deliver acceptable shareholder returns, the company announced Wednesday…

Officials are not giving a timeline for the review, but have hired a private firm to assist them with the study and hope to announce some of its findings in April. In the third quarter this year, Fresh & Easy's sales fell 2 percent, according to the company.

Turns out spending $1.6b to open 200 stores near lousy housing developments before the subprime mortgage crisis hit ended up being a bad investment. Crazy.

Anyway, considering it was taking Fresh & Easy over two years just to get through the permitting process to open, we could see a real grocery store open in the neighborhood as soon as 2016.  Maybe that Rainbow Annex everyone has been dreaming about?

Stuffed to Stuff Us With Pierogi and Midwestern Beers

Over the weekend, we happened to notice that Mission Sub on corner of 24th and Mission was turning into a very voguishly named spot “Stuffed.” What will Stuffed be bringing us? According to Grub Street, they're angling to become a pierorgi spot, the gross Polish dumpling that my grandmother always guilted me into eating but I now somehow absolutely love. Eater also reports:

Decor-wise, they've fully gutted the former Mission Sub, thank goodness, and they're going to put a long oak wooden bar along one wall, playing into the narrow, shotgun orientation of the space. There will be bar-style seating outside, in the sidewalk gated area, and a raised wooden booth in the back of the space. They've got the man who designed McTeague's bar doing all the workmanship. The finished product will sport the original dark hardwood floors, and walls painted to “a nice light shade.”

They're also “modeling Stuffed around a Midwest theme,” which I guess means there will be paintings of corn and more corn.  Presumably, the floor will be perfectly flat and giant dead bugs will decorate their front window.

Sorry, I'm done.

There is one red flag here: they plan on putting a “San Francisco spin” on pierogi (their words, not mine), which is either going to be a weird and tasteless disaster that sees us paying Tacolicious prices for traditionally peasant food, or delicious as all hell.  (For example, their veggie pierogi is made of “potato, portabella mushroom, spinach, goat cheese” and “served with parmesan cheese sauce or pesto sauce.”  The lack of sour cream and cheese curd is alarming, but not necessarily a deal breaker.)

Anyway, they'll also be stoking the place full of Midwestern beer that you cannot get in SF (and, presumably, Old Style) and opening mid-January.


[Grub Street]

Little Chihuahua Lifts TCB Courier's Logo in Search of Mission Cred, Still Hawks Boring Mexican Food

With the Lower Haight and Noe Valley-based Mexican restaurant already two weeks into their arrival on the “hot” Valencia Street corridor, we're only now realizing that their 'edgy' rebrand for the Mission looks eerily familiar to Mission-born TCB Courier's.  We can only assume the Chipotle-esque chain paid a marketing firm good money to create a brand that “captures” the spirit of the neighborhood, but they accomplished that goal in the lamest way possible.

It's worth noting that TCB's logo itself is an update of the New York Hardcore insignia (and, by extention, every other logo made ever), albeit a much more creative—and appropriate—refresh (especially considering TCB, at the very least, meets the very minimum requirement for “hardcore” and Little Chihuahua makes 8 different varieties of tostada salads with lime-cilantro salad dressing. But, I digress…).

Anyway, I'm sure we can look forward to some backpedalling from “TLC” in the near future.

[TLC signage photo by bubbletea1/Eater SF]

Frjtz's New Meyer Lemon Hot Sauce is So Good It's Like Having a Cop Pepper Spray You in the Face

Frjtz, Valencia Street's remarkably unremarkable fries joint and 24 point Scrabble word, is getting in customer's faces with just how epic their new hot sauce is.  Of course, some people don't find it funny and are calling for a boycott.  SFist fills us in:

SFist talked to an employee at the Mission District Frjtz on Monday to learn more. “Yes,” someone at Frjtz explained to SFist when asked if the flier in question upset some patrons. The controversial yet eye-catching fliers, we were also told, are still being used to sell sauce.

Noted photographer and Occupy rabble-rouser Justin Ryan Beck joins the call to boycott, asking the restaurant, “Hey @frjtz what kind of tasteless bullshit is this?”  Which makes us wonder: is he asking about the ad or the food?


Smoked Bacon Bacon

There's one less food truck in San Francisco today and Fecal Face (who faced a similar fate last year) was there to watch it burn:

Sorry to have seen our local Bacon Bacon truck go up in flames 15 minutes ago as it was turning onto Fredrick just a block from their headquarters. The truck was pretty well decimated by the fire and by the two explosions heard… We're sure they're insured and hope to see their truck bouncing about town in the near future.

[Fecal Face]

Sunflower to Open a Probably Legit Burmese Restaurant in Mariachi's Taqueria

The restaurant news along Valencia has been pretty shitty lately, so here's a slight pick-me-up: a tipster tells us that the folks from Sunflower Vietnamese a bought up the old Mariachi's Taqueria next-door and plan to turn it into their next cheap and assuredly delicious venture.

Not sure if this is out there yet or not, but Sunflower is apparently opening a Burmese joint in that shitty old Mariachi's Taqueria place in a month or two. Dunno much, but they're even bringing in a chef from Burma or Myanmar or whatever, so it'll prolly be legit.

Prolly legit! Sounds good to me!

[Photo by pensarepink]

Is it Time to Ban New Restaurants From Opening on Valencia?

Photo: Maren Caruso/Modern Luxury

Walking down Valencia Street, it's hard not to notice the radical change that the corridor has undergone in the last two years: hours long waits for “Marina Girl Salads” at Tacolicious, tables full of wine-sippers on the sidewalk outside of Farina Pizza and Mission Cheese, that weird techno lounge that apparently serves Indian food next to Luna Park…and that's just to name a few.  Sixteen new restaurants have opened between 16th and 19th street in the last 18 months, reportedly adding “nearly 1,000 new restaurant seats on these three blocks alone.”

“Overall, it's good for consumers. It reminds me a little of North Beach in the '80s, with all these restaurants popping up at different price points,” Slanted Door and Wo Hing General Store's Charles Phan told the Chronicle last month. “It's a good vibe here. To me, it makes it more San Francisco than a lot of neighborhoods.”

But many don't want to see the Mission become North Beach 2.0—a neighborhood exclusively defined by its former glory and largely dismissed by Mission residents, who understandably want nothing to do with a mainstream tourist trap.

“Valencia needs to be a cohesive neighborhood for people who live in it,” Deena Davenport, proprietress of Glama-Rama Salon & Gallery and President of the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association (VCMA), told us over the phone. “We have no florist, no hardware store, no large grocery store.”

“Restaurants are taking over so rapidly, it's as much as tripling rents lately and creating daytime dead zones that are uninviting to shoppers.”

The Merchants Association has become so alarmed by the changes that they added a line to their mission statement specifically addressing the problem: “We endeavor to combine our voices and views toward the goal of maintaining the unique identity and independent spirit of the neighborhood.”

“It's not change that we're against. I think that we all get that change is inevitable.  And that while sometimes uncomfortable, it's not always bad,” explains Jefferson McCarley, General Manager of Mission Bicycle and VCMA board member. “But there are a variety of concerns with so many high-end dinner-only restaurants opening up at such a high rate.”

He breaks down their concerns for us:

  • The impact it has on our rents.
  • The impact it has on foot traffic during the day when these restaurants are only open at night.
  • The impact that valet parking has on the safety of our cyclists.
  • The impact it has on where we can get an affordable meal as locals.
  • The lack of variety of businesses in the hood. (We want a hardware store!)
  • The impact it has on traffic and parking (the patrons of the businesses are almost always driving in from other parts of the city or from other cities).
  • The impact it has on the spirit and vibe of the street.

At a point, it sounds like retailers rebelling against restaurants, but that's not the case.  Some restauranteurs and cafe owners hope to prevent a similar fate that The Summit had earlier this year, when their landlord tripled their rent and tried to bring a La Boulange Bakery into the space.  This includes the proprietor of 780 Cafe Jose Ramos, who's trying to save his cafe after the same landlord raised rents from $9,000 to $30,000 in hopes to bring a multi-million dollar sports bar to the location.

So what is there to do?

Well, there's doing nothing and letting Valencia become a high-end truck stop for Uber cabs crisscrossing the city, but everyone seems to agree that's a lousy idea.  So that leaves us with two viable options: putting a moratorium on full-service restaurants or setting up a Special Use District along Valencia, requiring any new restaurants to meet community approval before opening.

The Valencia Merchants voted Wednesday to approve a combination of the two ideas: a 1-year temporary moratorium by the Planning Department on any new full-service restaurants (counter-service and cafes are exempt) from opening between 16th and 24th, followed by the Special Use Permitting process for restaurants.  The proposal has already received support from Supervisor Scott Wiener, who will take the proposal to City Hall for a final vote.

It's not perfect, as it burdens prospective new establishments with higher start-up costs (potentially making restaurants even more expensive).  Never mind that it threatens 24th and 20th Streets with hyper-gentrification as would-be Valencia restaurants look for alternative locations for expensive eateries.  But as the legislation is expected to stabilize—if not collapse—rents along Valencia, it strikes us as the right approach for the problem.

(Note: we're told merchants along 24th are considering similar legislation before it's too late, but we were unable to reach anyone to discuss it.)