Calling Bullshit

It'd Be Nice if Valencia Street Restaurants Stopped Blaming the Minimum Wage for Their Failures

It was reported today that Valencia Street beer hall and restaurant Abbot’s Cellar will close at the end of January. In an interview with SFist, co-partner Nat Cutler trots out the tired excuse that his decision to close the restaurant was a response to the voter approved increase in the minimum wage:

While the restaurant was very well received, the long-term sustainability just wasn’t there — and that’s before two recent wage increases: 3% in January (2015), and 14% from 2014 levels in May.

This is not the first time we’ve seen a restaurant owner use the looming specter of a minimum wage increase to justify closing shop. But despite owners’ protestations to the contrary, there’s a more likely reason for these Valencia Street closures. Local blogger/dude Mr. Eric Sir puts it succinctly:


In other words, perhaps there’s just too damn many of them.

Restaurants are, quite famously, one of the riskiest business ventures one can embark on. In recent months, we’ve seen a few high-profile places along Valencia shutter. It’s not unreasonable: the street is saturated with restaurants certain they’re worthy of a place in the foodie pantheon, yet that are unable to draw a steady crowd. Empty tables lead to loses and eventually restaurants give up and shut down. But instead of owning failure (or just closing quietly a la Grub), sometimes owners throw a fit and attempt to excuse it away.

Take Abbot’s Cellar: a four-dollar-sign reclaimed-wood nightmare that opened in 2012. While they originally benefited from a bit of hype, their tables didn’t remain full for long. Now they’re shutting down with the stated reason that the city raised the minimum wage, not that customers didn’t dig their dishes.

We understand that Cutler is likely bummed about the closure of his restaurant, a sentiment probably shared by other owners when the decision to shutter is made, but that doesn’t excuse the ongoing efforts to cast the minimum wage in the role of villain.

[Photo: Abbot’s Cellar]

Comments (50)

Agreed, but I wouldn’t expect anything affordable to move into that space.  The area gets more wealthy every passing year (and month).  Unless this is a sign that wealthy millennial techies want something more affordable even though they can afford it?  But then how does that explain lazy bear?

Even if you and I can afford an occasional meal with friends and maybe business people at places like Abbot’s Cellar, with friends one still want value, and with business people, throwing around money wastefully isn’t always a good process.   

My experience is that the meal at Abbott’s wasn’t good enough compared to the alternatives, especially once one considered the costs.

To be honest I’ve never eaten there.  Actually I’m not even sure I knew it existed, I knew there was some restaurant next to Dandelion (which I love), but wasn’t sure what.  I guess I never noticed it being that busy.  For beer I mainly go to city beer store, though I used to like monks kettle when it opened. 

I casually know the owner/chef at Lazy Bear, and look forward to trying it one day.  He’s a great guy, and I don’t personally mind high end places in the Mission if they’re done with some passion from the owner, and the prices are commensurate with the cost of food/wages/rent.  I remember when Saison was in the Mission and loved it when I went once, now it costs what, double?  And by the ball park → easy pass for me

Yep, a friend was similarly disappointed. Me, I saw the place, and was just never inspired to go in because … well, it looked like it came straight out of a Valencia St. restaurant factory. I have plenty of other places serving $20-30 new American plates around here that I can count on, thanks.

But “We lacked originality and/or sufficient quality” isn’t as easy for a failed entepreneur to swallow as “The gub’mint screwed us”.

I would not have guessed much minimum wage labor was involved in Abbott’s Cellar.  Make me look askance at Monk’s Kettle.

I feel the same about Monk’s Kettle now, too.

I’m genuinely curious as to why you wouldn’t think much minimum wage labor isn’t involved in places like that, especially for tipped workers.

Everybody gets minimum wage. Front of house employees (waitstaff, hosts, bussers, food runners) get tips on top of minimum wage. For high-earning servers and bartenders, sometimes the minimum wage is just enough or not enough to pay taxes on tipped income. Back of house employees (cooks, dishwashers) get an hourly that’s minimum wage, more than minimum, or they get a salary (because they work more/often way more than 40 hours a week.) In some establishments, back of house is tipped too.

Ah! They have to pay people the absolute lowest amount the law will allow! That is so unfair.

This has nothing to do with their claimed minimal wage. They were overly ambitious, paid a ton of cash to put that wooded monstrosity in place and then tried to make people believe that beer was on the same plane as wine and folks aren’t ready yet to pay $$$$ for that experience considering their yelp reviews are horrid. I’m not a fan of yelp but honestly, if you don’t react to your client base, you will shutter and most likely they paid premium pricing to lease that space. One complaint was that one patron couldn’t eat their $16.00 burger at a table but had to sit at the bar. They had the vision of Mr.Magoo. Good riddance. 

I’ve been to this place once and the service was horrible and the food was not memorblue. This interior was all wood which I thought was absolutely georgous. I really wanted to like this place but the service the first time I went stuck with me and made it so I didn’t want to go back. To bad they didn’t try a new concept in the space. Maybe a beer/wine hall with pool tables and small snacks… I think that would have had a better chance.

I keep expecting an overall Valencia correction, but this is the only sign I’ve seen. How can Thread Lounge sell enough of its Pier One crap and flowing garb to cover its rent? Is there enough call for tchotchkes for Aggregate Supply, Needles & Pens, etc., etc., to keep their doors open? AND DEAR GOD, how does Fine Arts Optical afford those thousands of square feet when there is NO ONE ever in there? I guess I’m glad that there’s money enough to keep everyone in their idiosyncratic businesses, but I don’t know how it’s possible. 

Is that the store in the old Modern Times bookstore space?  

The more legit concept, is that some commercial lease take a lower monthly rent, for a portion of total monthly sales.   Maybe the lease was written that way.

Or the movie exciting version is the store iis there to laundry drug money.

And now another high-end eyewear store has opened at 19th and Valenica. Because that corner really needed a third spectacle option I guess. 

Owners of only six locations, keeping them well under the chain limit! It’s too bad this godawful ad they run on local TV doesn’t count as 50 locations:

Seriously. People at those designer eyewear shops have a total lack of vision.

I see what you did there.

That Thread Lounge place baffles me. The last time I went in there they had two doves in a cage for whatever ~whimsical~ reason, but it just made the whole place smell like bird droppings. Ugly stuff on top of that. 

Also, I thought Luna Park was supposed to have closed late last year?

Luna Park spot has been sold to Gavin Newsome’s group… It is now officially The Marina.

Who will claim the reclaimed wood? Would that make it re-reclaimed wood?

How much wood would a wood reclaimer reclaim if a wood reclaimer could reclaim reclaimed wood?

Thank you for making me lol. 

Do you respect wood?

Lazy Bear is destination dining (ala Atelier Crenn, Benu, Saison).  Abbott’s Cellar is not.  It’s a fancy beer bar with $16 burgers which makes it more expensive than Spruce/Marlowe’s/NOPA.  Frankly, I’m not even sure how good their chef is (and if I’m going to pay in the 20s and 30s for an entree, I’d rather go to AQ or Flour and Water).

I would agree with you but sadly, AQ is now $65 and up prix fix only.

I live 3 blocks away. Went there once soon after it opened. Food was very good, beer pairings were well thought out,and service was good. The bill though was over $200 for 3 of us and I never thought of going back. Just too many other, cheaper options in the ‘hood. West of Pecos seems to be doing alright with their formula in a very similar space. Give people a healthy portion of good food for a fair price and they’ll come back. Tasty cocktails dont hurt either. 

And, that minimum wage BS makes me never want to go to Monk’s Kettle again either

when Hawker Faire out of Oakland opens….all will be well on Valencia - 90’s prices - good stuff.

Great place.  Also if anyone hasn’t been to the dock at linden st in west(ish) oakland, then hot damn make your way over there.

Boo Hoo.  Don’t blame paying your employees a living wage, shitbag.  Blame yourself for (another) generic, uninspired restaurant in the already generic, uninspired restaurant-saturated mission and the real estate speculators who have made opening a restaurant nearly impossible in SF without either an (gasp) original idea or deep pockets.  Good riddance!  

As someone who took a couple year venture into a restaurant that ultimately shuttered, I can tell you minimum wage was not the issue. We paid $4.00 over minimum. The struggles came with quality, consistency, getting stuff on plates, and getting people to show up for work when we needed them. Then there was overhead of city fees maintenance on appliances etc. that came at us constantly. Normal stuff in running any business. Then we had weird internal struggles about whether the chicken we roasted should have had a good meaningful life before we murdered it and plated it. In the end, our customers didn’t want to pay for petted pasture raised chickens. Then again, even if we went to caged chickens and if we had cut our wages to minimum, we weren’t going to consistently make a profit because we weren’t getting the volume of customers we needed. That wasn’t anyone’s fault. But we decided in the end, the work to get profitable wasn’t worth the continued investment, and shut down. 

I get everybody’s being irked by this place blaming this on minimum wage, but how many people that are complaining here own businesses and pay everybody top dollar? That is what I thought.

Oh, and a lot of these minimum wage workers, i.e. servers and bartenders, make 100,000 dollars per year. Less bleeding heart, more facts and science.

So, it’s a scientific fact that “a lot” of minimum wage bartenders make over $100k a year? Got a link to the source of your “fact”? My wife and many of my good friends are bartenders and none of them make $100k a year

Yes, that is scientifically accurate. A lot do. Maybe your wife and her friends should work their ways up to better bar jobs. I know plenty that do.

What is your definition of  ”a lot?” That’s not a very scientific term.

Even if 100 people make the salary that you claim, that’s still a gigantic minority and not statistically relevant. The fact remains that 99% of bar and restaurant workers work part-time so their employers don’t have to provide benefits.

Regardless, your argument is stupid. Even if his wife and friends worked they way up to $100k/Year bar ending jobs that wouldn’t mean that the jobs they left behind would suddenly be filled by people that would also get a payday upgrade.

Yeah… I’m calling bullshit on this as well. I’ve worked in the bar industry in SF for over a decade and I don’t know a single server or bartender that makes anywhere near six figures. If you’re going to challenge people to post facts you better come correct with your links to sources.

Agreed.  I have close friends that tend bar at some of the most hyped (and pricey) bars in town and none of them make any where near $100k.  Not even 75% of that..

The author is quite vehement that he would like restaurants to stop blaming the closures on the minimum wage – but he doesn’t provide any evidence to show that the minimum wage was not a factor.  I guess what he is really saying is that he doesn’t want the real world to in any way intrude on his ideological vision of the world, and he certainly is not going to let facts interfere with his political opinions.

I can’t be sure why Abbot’s Cellar did or did not close, but there is no disputing that labor costs are a significant portion of any restaurant’s total expenses.  Laws that increase those costs will mean that some restaurants will not longer be viable.  That obvious point seems to elude the author.

Rather than “throwing a fit” and writing a whiny article  when someone brings up an uncomfortable point, the author should try learning a bit more about the real world.  In other words, sometimes the truth hurts.

Empirical evidence would imply they just weren’t getting enough business.

So condescending.  

Why would minimum wage make the difference in failure for Abbot’s Cellar, but not Monk’s Kettle?  Or any other non-failing restaurant in the city?  A minimum wage creates a flat playing field, on which Abbot’s Cellar could not cut it.  

Even Cutler admits that the restaurant was doomed even without the minimum wage increases.  But don’t let logic interfere with that little world view you’ve got going.

Yeah, I guess that minimum wage is what’s behind the fact that all restaurants in San Francisco have recently failed and you have no options for dining out anymore.

Are you kidding me? After a $500k build out with stone multistory beer cellars they are going to say that it’s PAYROLL COSTS?! What an awful thing to mismanage and then blame the workers.  

It’s real simple, he wasn’t making enough money to pay the cost of labor and in the free market when that happens, you fold. Some people do not understand the difference between the cost of labor and the value of labor, minimum-wage just make sure that you’re paying the cost for labor and is not being carried by the government in the form of food stamps and housing subsidies. 

Also the new techies  in town that are driving up the rent prices, are also shitty tippers and rude to wait staff.

Now that the minimun wage will rise, prices will rise also and make those new higher wages will get erased by inflation. There is a reason poor people stay poor…. it’s their economice ingnorance. I’ve did not even graduate from high school , but I understand capitalism and have 5 million dollars.

Nat Christian–the failed owner of Abbott’s Cellar, but successful owner of Monk’s Kettle–gave an interview to Michael Saltsman, who is the director of communications for a man nicknamed, I swear to god, Dr. Evil, aka Rick Berman.  They have a national agenda, funded by restaurants, of preempting all local minimum wage laws across the country.

I wish Nat Christian would complement the minimum wage law, for creating a good pool of potential customers through higher wages, for its role in the success of Monk’s Kettle.