Bi-Rite owner Sam Mogannam grew up in the ’70s and ’80s watching the blocks surrounding Dolores Park and his family’s 18th Street market act as a gathering ground for rallies, performance groups, and sunny-day revelers. In the late ’90s, his gritty turf started turning to gold as dot-commers, coffee houses, and condos arrived to take advantage of the neighborhood’s low overhead. Charles Phan’s original Slanted Door on Valencia Street was followed by Delfina and Tartine bakery, helping make Mogannam’s short block a foodie destination. “I love that it’s become such a center of engagement in the city. Every weekend’s like a celebration,” says Mogonnam, who also watched the aftermath of the Internet bust and the most recent economic tanking in 2008. “The economy had a huge impact. Many longtime businesses, like an old automotive repair shop, closed, and as a consequence, large spaces are now available to creative and independent-minded entrepreneurs.” (See Dave Eggers’ 826 Valencia and McSweeney’s for inspiration.)
Since the New College of California closed in 2008, the stretch of Valencia between 16th and 19th streets has been picked over by the city’s restaurateurs, getting in on the food-as-recreation scene. By the fall, we should see Delfina’s new Roman-inspired Locanda, Farina’s spin-off Antica Pizzeria Napoletana, a wine barrel room from Town Hall, the Marina’s Tacolicious (co-owned by 7x7 senior editor Sara Deseran), Mission Cheese shop, an expanded Bar Tartine, and construction on the old Slanted Door space as Phan plans his return to the Mission. Also in the works is Preservation Hall, a New Orleans jazz venue that should anchor the hub with a nightlife that goes beyond the trendy dining that started it all.
Beyond Valencia, the scene is slowly making its way deeper into the Mission. Around 24th Street, out-of-towners and (gasp) Marina types come for a short row of boutiques that popped up over the past three years and to taste the inner Mission’s wild offerings (hello, Humphry Slocombe’s foie gras ice cream sandwich) that are changing the flavor of what’s traditionally been a taqueria-saturated corridor. So, too, is this August’s third annual SF Street Food Festival, which turns a usually empty Folsom Street into an al fresco food court with thousands of visitors and more than 50 pop-up kitchens. Further in, and away from the neighborhood’s two BART stops, candlelit dining room Heirloom and nearby pasta mecca Flour+Water have helped skew what’s been a dense residential area into a place with more foot traffic.
This spring on 20th Street, down the road from a parking lot on Folsom that’s just been approved for a community garden, Flour+Water is launching a foodie compound that will house a new Humphry Slocombe Parlour, Salumeria delicatessan, outdoor dining hall Central Kitchen, and Trick Dog Bar from hotshot bartenders Bon Vivants. “It’s a slow, steady change,” says 37-year resident Tree Rubenstein. “We’re in the middle of an economic collapse, but at the same time, we’re still very rich here—in great open spaces and, of course, food.”
Timeline: The Mish Mashup
November 1995: Chef Charles Phan opens the Slanted Door on a gritty stretch of Valencia Street, bringing in diners from all over the city. Meanwhile, over on 18th Street, a new generation of Mogannams takes over their family store, Bi-Rite, rebranding it as a high-end gourmet grocery.
November 1998: Craig Stoll opens Delfina on 18th near Guerrero, next door to Bi-Rite, launching SF’s version of a “gourmet ghetto.”
October 1999: Century-old Freed, Teller, and Freed, the longest-running coffee and tea seller in the city, closes its doors at the height of the dot-com bubble to be converted into condos.
November 2000: Proposition L, a measure that would have banned new office space in the Mission, is narrowly defeated.
February 2005: La Cocina, an incubator kitchen on Folsom Street, opens to help low-income entrepreneurs develop food service businesses by providing commercial kitchen space, mentorship, and business training.
October 2007: The San Francisco Superior Court extends a preliminary gang injunction (targeting Norteño gang members) to the Mission, which the SF city attorney’s office now credits as a contributing factor in SF’s reduced crime rate.
June 2008: Tartine Bakery husband-and-wife team Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt win the national James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chefs.
March 2010: The first batch of startup companies takes residence at The Summit, a coffee shop/workspace/ startup incubator/investment fund that offers mentoring from business elites.
April 2010: La Mission, a low-budget drama starring Benjamin Bratt as an ex-con Muni driver, opens in Bay Area theaters.
July 2010: The neighborhood’s first farmers market, Mission Community Market, opens on Bartlett and 22nd streets.
August 2010: Steve Jobs is turned away from at-capacity Flour +Water. Hey Steve, make a reservation.
January 2011: A movie crew working on an animated film for Disney moves into a former chocolate factory at 16th and Folsom streets.
January 2012: The renovation of Dolores Park, set to include a world-class playground with an emphasis on natural materials, should be completed if kept on schedule.