Fire Destroys Squat & Gobble, Vin Debut, Neighboring Buildings Damaged

A fire burned Squat & Gobble, 1 West Portal Avenue, as well as Vin Debut, 9 West Portal Avenue, the West Portal Medical-Dental Building, 15 West Portal Avenue, and 823 Ulloa Street, a mixed use, residential and commercial building next to 1 West Portal Avenue, said Mindy Talmadge, public information officer, San Francisco Fire Department. The West Portal Medical-Dental Building is home to Warren Orthodontics.

Four days after the fire, with plywood removed from at least two windows on the north side of 1 West Portal Avenue, a passerby could see the fire burned the inside of the building and the roof. Little of the roof appeared to be intact.”

The Fire Department reported two minor firefighter injuries in the blaze. No civilians sustained injuries, nor was anyone displaced from a residence, Talmadge said.

A passerby reported the fire to the San Francisco Fire Department at 4:40 a.m. Friday, October 12, 2012, according to information released by the fire department.

The fire department estimates Squat & Gobble suffered property damage of $900,000 and content damages of $1 million. For Vin Debut and Warren Orthodontics, the fire department estimates property damages total $1.1 million and contents damages total $3.5 million. At 823 Ulloa Street, the fire department estimates $750,000 in property damages and $100,000 in content damages.

Squat & Gobble has been able to absorb the employees from the West Portal store into its other establishments in San Francisco. “Yes, we’ve already done that,” said J.J., the manager at the store on Fillmore Street in the Lower Haight. “We did that last week.” J.J. said he is aware of the fund to help employees of the West Portal store, and he said employees will be able to take advantage of the fund. But he said he doesn’t yet know how the fund works.

The San Francisco Fire Department’s media relations office has said the fire is still under investigation and the point of origin and cause may not be known.

Four days after the fire, with plywood removed from at least two windows on the north side of 1 West Portal Avenue, a passerby could see the fire burned the inside of the building and the roof. Little of the roof appeared to be intact. At 823 Ulloa, the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection had posted a notice on the window that said “enter the top floor with caution” and only “brief entry allowed for access to contents.” At 9 and 15 West Portal Avenue, metal gates surrounded the entrances, and little could be seen from the street.

A fire inspector was on the scene October 16.

Fund established to help employees

The West Portal Merchants Association has established an account with Bank of America to help employees of the businesses that burned in the fire at the southeast corner of West Portal Avenue and Ulloa Street.

“We’re not trying to sustain them, but trying to show them that we care,” said West Portal Merchants Association president, Maryo Mogannam, owner of The Postal Chase on West Portal Avenue. The name of the fund is West Portal Avenue Association Fire Fund. “Any teller can look it up,” Mogannam said. Donations can be made at any Bank of America branch; all the branches in Northern California received notice of the fund.

All of the employees have insurance and will be getting unemployment, but the donations are for gaps and surprises, Mogannam said. Mogannam said 60 to 70 employees have been affected by the fire; he is hoping each employee can receive a gift certificate of $25, $50, or $100.

The manager of the Bank of America branch in West Portal was unavailable before press time, so the number of donations made and the total amount donated is unknown at this time.

Keith Burbank is a free-lance San Francisco reporter.

November 2012

food truckOfftheGrid Reconsiders Food Truck Event for West Portal

In a surprise move, OfftheGrid has withdrawn its application to hold an event this fall in West Portal—the company will think about a permit for February or March 2013. “If you don’t want us here, then we won’t be here,” said Matthew Cohen, owner of OfftheGrid San Francisco, at a West Portal Merchants Association meeting in October. Cohen came to the meeting to hear merchants’ concerns about a proposed food truck event for this fall in West Portal. While some merchants see the event as a way to boost business, other merchants are afraid it will take away their business.

“People my age don’t know where West Portal is,” said Michelle Eichelberger, 27, owner of the Pawber Shop, a pet grooming store at 323 West Portal Avenue. “Those are people that will come” [to the food truck event].”

“We want to be respectful of everyone,” Cohen said a few days later by telephone. At the meeting Cohen said OfftheGrid is trying to take the least aggressive approach toward establishing an event in West Portal, and said OfftheGrid will be doing more to hear the concerns of West Portal shopkeepers.

Alison (Al) Werger, co-owner of Citipets on West Portal Avenue, said that people don’t know West Portal exists (see the September 2012 issue of the Westside Observer). Werger said the food truck event will help people discover the neighborhood. Another merchant seemed to agree.

“People my age don’t know where West Portal is,” said Michelle Eichelberger, 27, owner of the Pawber Shop, a pet grooming store at 323 West Portal Avenue. “Those are people that will come” [to the food truck event].

But Pankaj Shah, owner of Roti Indian Bistro at 53 West Portal Avenue, told Cohen, “You’re looking at your bottom line and not our bottom line.” Shah is concerned that a food truck event will reduce available parking in the area, driving his customers away. Shah said many of his customers come by car. If they cannot find a parking spot within a block or two, Shah said, they will turn around and go home.

Shah added that Cohen does not have any objective evidence the event will benefit the neighborhood’s merchants. “All I have is subjective evidence,” Cohen admitted.

One or two groups, including OfftheGrid, were planning to place sensors to count foot traffic in a few West Portal businesses. It is unclear if the sensors would count foot traffic before a food truck event, after, or during. But perhaps the sensors will indicate how the event will affect West Portal businesses.

Before the meeting OfftheGrid had modified its proposal to the West Portal neighborhood, including the location of the event. Rather than 14th Street, OfftheGrid proposed the parking lot located at 174 West Portal Avenue, plus sections of the street on either side of the lot.

“I’m sitting here in total shock,” said Linda Kapnick, owner of Ambassador Toys at 186 West Portal Avenue. Kapnick said her customers use that parking lot, and parking is a problem for customers of her West Portal store. Ambassador Toys is open until 6 p.m. Tuesdays, the night OfftheGrid considered hosting the event, and Cohen had planned to have the lot closed by 4 p.m.

Kapnick said that parents frequently tell their children to hurry up because the parents fear getting a parking ticket. Or customers ask Kapnick to leave the package at the door. “Parking is one issue that is so critical,” Kapnick told Cohen and merchants in the meeting.

An important consideration for Ambassador Toys and Roti may be the kind of customer each shop serves. OfftheGrid’s clientele are typically single professionals 20 to 40 years or age, or young couples 25 to 45 years old, with children.

“Seniors, are they your best spenders?” Maryo Mogannam, president of the West Portal Merchants Association asked merchants at the meeting. “Yes,” Kapnick said. “They’re the grandmothers....”

But some merchants at the meeting think that customers of an OfftheGrid food truck event will be good spenders, too.

In another neighborhood hungry for better business, Craig Becker, owner of Caffe Mediterraneum in Berkeley, said some restaurants lost business when OfftheGrid established a food truck event near his cafe on Telegraph Avenue.

Becker said business at Caffe Mediterraneum improved, but he said he doesn’t serve standard lunches and dinners as some restaurants do. Becker said business at Caffe Mediterraneum picked up after the food truck event closed for the night, as event customers stopped by for coffee. Caffe Mediterraneum is open until midnight.

So, the food truck event has gotten “a little bit of mixed reviews” on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, Becker said.

Cohen said OfftheGrid wants to take everybody’s views into consideration. Thus OfftheGrid has withdrawn its application to hold an event this fall in West Portal. OfftheGrid has said it is sensitive to concerns about the event’s impact on holiday traffic. The company will think about a permit for February or March 2013. If the neighborhood had decided to host an event this fall, the event may have started November 6 and run for six weeks. Then OfftheGrid would have given West Portal the option of continuing the event.

Keith Burbank is a freelance San Francisco reporter.

November 2012

Food Trucks are Coming and May Help More Discover West Portal

Food trucks, which may be bringing more business to merchants and restaurants alike, are coming to West Portal. The event will be hosted by OfftheGrid, which brings together food trucks for events in Hayes Valley in San Francisco and in North Berkeley, near the Gourmet Ghetto, among other Bay Area locations.

Supporters of the food truck event in West Portal, such as Alison (Al) Werger, co-owner of Citipets on West Portal Avenue, want to achieve at least two things by bringing food trucks to the neighborhood. One, improve business for all merchants, and two, make West Portal a destination neighborhood, similar to the Castro in terms of sales for merchants in the neighborhood.

…West Portal is not now a destination neighborhood, but everyone that lives here loves it. “What we want is for people to discover West Portal,” Werger said. That is the purpose of the food truck event. So that when they want to shop and dine they will think of West Portal and come here…”

Werger said that West Portal is not now a destination neighborhood, but everyone that lives here loves it. “What we want is for people to discover West Portal,” Werger said. That is the purpose of the food truck event. So that when they [people] want to shop and dine they will think of West Portal and come here, as people do in the Castro or other busy shopping neighborhoods.

Werger told The Westside Observer that OfftheGrid will not be bringing trucks with the same kind of food as that sold by West Portal restaurants, so as to avoid competition with restaurants in West Portal. Werger said that there are really great restaurants here [in West Portal], but people do not know they are here. “And I want people to know about them and how great they are, Werger said. For example, “I have asked people if they have eaten at Bursa,” Werger said. “And people reply, Where is Bursa? I want people to know where Bursa is.”

Evidence from other food truck events in San Francisco suggest the event is a success for food trucks and other merchants, restaurant or otherwise. For example, the food truck events are popular at other locations, such as the McCoppin Hub and Hayes Valley. In Oakland, near City Center, shiny green trucks glow as people from the State of California building choose which item to indulge in. And despite some initial reluctance, at least some restaurants in the North Berkeley neighborhood have reversed course and are welcoming the event.

For example, Saul’s, an established delicatessen on Shattuck Avenue, is welcoming the publicity it gets when the food truck event is happening, its manager said. And Gregoire, a gourmet takeout shop in North Berkeley, said it’s sales may have fallen a bit, but not considerably, when the food truck event in the Gourmet Ghetto first started. But now its sales have leveled off or improved, owner, Gregoire Jacquet said. “It does bring people,” Jacquet said of the food truck event. Jacquet called The westside Observer after the August issue was delivered to newstands last month.

Feedback: Keith Burbank

September 2012

Will a Food Truck Event Benefit West Portal Restaurants?

“No, absolutely not,” said John Bedroussin, owner of the Submarine Center in West Portal for 32 years. “This neighborhood is clean. We have cleaned it up. One hundred percent not.”

Bedroussin was responding to a question about the possibility of a food truck event coming to West Portal one night a week.

The idea has West Portal merchants asking if the event will hurt or help restaurants in the neighborhood recover from the recession.

Off the Grid would bring six trucks to about one half of 14th Avenue, between the RE/MAX office and West Portal Avenue. Centered among the trucks will be some chairs, but not tables, and a quiet trio of musicians. Fourteenth Avenue would be closed during the event, except for the half closest to Portola, so a resident can park his car in the garage.”

Some West Portal merchants are in favor of the event because they think it will bring new people to the neighborhood. Supporters, such as local retailers, say these new people may drink or finish dinner at West Portal restaurants during the event or drink or dine at a West Portal restaurant at a night in the near future. Also, they say, the event will give people a reason to visit the neighborhood, reinvigorating the neighborhood business district.

But broker associate Art Belenson of Century 21 in West Portal, said business — at least among restaurants in the neighborhood — is down 30%, which is why the restaurants are opposed. They’re afraid the food trucks will draw customers away from them.

Robbie Connolly, co-owner of The Village Grill in West Portal, said the food trucks have an unfair advantage compared with West Portal restaurants, due to higher operating costs than the cost of operating a mobile food truck. food truck

“We pay taxes galore,” said Esperanza Mahan, owner of El Toreador, a restaurant serving Mexican food on West Portal Avenue for 50 years.

The event would be set up by Off the Grid San Francisco, a company that groups mobile food vendors. Off the Grid owner Matthew Cohen said the West Portal Merchants Association approached him about the event. Off the Grid’s website says the goal of its events is to “allow neighbors to connect with friends and families to reconnect with each other.”

One supporter described the proposed event. Off the Grid would bring six trucks to about one half of 14th Avenue, between the RE/MAX office and West Portal Avenue. Centered among the trucks will be some chairs, but not tables, and a quiet trio of musicians. Fourteenth Avenue would be closed during the event, except for the half closest to Portola, so a resident can park his car in the garage.

Cohen said a similar Off the Grid event has been successful in North Berkeley, a neighborhood known for restaurants. The area nearby the food truck event has more than a few frequently-visited restaurants and is nick-named the Gourmet Ghetto.

Bedroussin is concerned the event will leave trash in the streets, and bring people who are homeless to the neighborhood. Also, people opposed are concerned about an increase in traffic congestion because residents will be arriving home from work as the event begins and there could be a lack of parking for the combination of visitors and residents.

Off the Grid has proposed the event for a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday night, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., for one year. Cohen said perhaps 1,000 to 1,500 people will come to the event each week.

Another concern is restrooms. If the city does not provide portable toilets, some have asked what restrooms the visitors will use. Also, some people opposed asked if it will be too cold outside in the winter to draw any people to the event.

Mahan said 15 to 20 people from the neighborhood met at a community meeting about the proposal.

Connolly said, “Pretty much all of the food establishments are not in favor [of the food trucks], from whom I have talked to and what I understand. All the other attendees were in favor of the event.”

Mahan said she thinks the event will only benefit retail establishments. “We don’t know how expensive their dishes are. They don’t pay rent. These are the concerns we are facing,” Mahan added.

Past president of the West Portal Merchants Association, Marc Troy, said he thinks “selfish interests” are behind the idea. If a mobile truck to wrap and ship packages came to West Portal, do you think the local package shipper would be in favor of the proposal? Troy asked.

But Matthew Rogers, owner, Papenhausen Hardware said, “I think it would be very positive for the street. It would bring a lot of people to the neighborhood who are unfamiliar with West Portal. It gives them a reason to come here. In all likelihood, the food trucks will have no effect on my business. But in general, it would improve business along the street,” Rogers said. The food trucks would pull people from other parts of the city, besides the immediate surrounding neighborhoods. “It would be a shame if we missed that.”

“I’m totally for it” said Rachel Lopez Metzger, owner, The Desk Set, at 3252 Sacramento Street and 207 West Portal Avenue in San Francisco. “I support it. It will be a very family-friendly event. It will probably help all the small businesses that are there [in West Portal],” she said by phone from the Sacramento Street location. “I want it to happen.”

Keith Burbank is a free lance journalist

July-Aug 2012

 

Sidewalk Arts and Crafts Show Returns West Portal Arts and Crafts Show

The Fine Arts and Crafts Show takes place in the heart of San Francisco’s well-known West Portal Avenue – an area bustling with activity, quaint retail stores, restaurants, bookshops and coffeehouses. The event will run Friday - Sunday, April 13-15, from 10 am to 5 pm on West Portal Avenue between 15th and Ulloa.

Local residents and tourists alike flock to admire the works of more than 60 artists displaying everything from photography, paintings, ceramics, jewelry and much more. The show is free to the public and sponsored by the West Portal Avenue Association.

Among the artists presenting at this year’s festival is Zenon Hipolito of Lathrop, California—a first class weaver specializing in Zapotec Native Art. Zapotec natives originated in Oaxaca of Teotitalan Del Valle and are one of the country’s largest indigenous groups, dating as far back as the sixteenth century. Zenon will be weaving rugs during the show, where he will be offering many styles, colors and sizes of rugs and pillows. He will also betaking orders for special designs or sizes.

Jeweler John Osterhaug of San Francisco creates all of his work from start to finish. He begins the process by cutting, sanding, drilling and kiln-firing multi-colored pieces of glass and then crafts them into earrings, pendants, rings, necklaces and bracelets. “The method that I use to create my jewelry results in a unique set of work exhibiting a luminescent quality that glistens and glows as you move it,” said John.

Contact the West Portal Avenue Association at 566-3500 or Pacific Fine Arts at (209) 267-4394 or visit www.pacificfinearts.com.

April 2012