By Chris Barnett
SMITTEN, a made-to-order ice cream venture that opened its first shop in a converted shipping container in Hayes Valley, is scooping up the small space recently vacated by Copynet at 2404 California Street.
Copynet relocated to 2174 Sutter Street at the end of September as its 20-year lease was about to expire and the rent was to increase by $4,000 a month.
Selling just four to six flavors of ice cream at any one time, Smitten’s founder, Robyn Sue Fisher, is in the final stages of signing a lease with the landlord, Russell Flynn of Flynn Investments. The longtime San Francisco property investor owns the venerable Preston Apartments on the corner of Fillmore and California, which includes six street-level storefronts.
Flynn hoped to rent the 960-square-foot storefront on California Street to Wells Fargo Bank as a limited service branch filled with automated teller machines. Wells Fargo, which theoretically could easily pay the $10 to $12 per square foot asking price for monthly rent, is in a dispute with the city over claims its two ATMs embedded in the exterior wall of the bank building facing California Street violate local disability codes because the sidewalk is too steep.
But the deal fell through.
Flynn said he approached First Republic, his longtime bank, with a similar offer but was turned down.
Meantime, the threat of a rent hike from $6,200 to $10,000 or more a month sent Copynet owner Maryam Zadeh scrambling. She contacted Los Angeles retail leasing broker David Fishbein — who has replaced many longtime Fillmore businesses with new corporate tenants — to discuss her options. But with her lease expiring at the end of the year, there was not enough time remaining to justify “key money” — the payoff Fishbein has secured for other Fillmore merchants willing to give up their spaces for a big chunk of cash.
Moving quickly, Zadeh found a new location in the neighborhood. She moved and re-opened for business on Sutter Street on October 1. The new Copynet is slightly smaller, but the 750-square-foot space that formerly housed Sydney for Hair salon has been completely remodeled. Zadeh says her monthly rent is less than half of what she was paying under her old lease.
Her neighbor on Sutter Street is Jet Mail, which was also forced to move off Fillmore after more than two decades. It was Jet Mail manager Kevin Wolohan who contacted Zadeh to tell her about the vacant storefront a few doors away.
In turn, it was Zadeh who sparked Smitten owner Robyn Fisher’s interest in Copynet’s old space when they met while shopping on Fillmore.
“We were both at Heidi Says Shoes looking at sandals and we started talking,” Zadeh says. “Robyn followed me back to Copynet and asked for the landlord’s phone number. I showed her the space and they connected. She said she wanted to be next door to Delfina.”
Fisher did not respond to repeated phone calls and Smitten’s public relations staff would not provide information about the new store or when it will open. “Rumors are fun, aren’t they?” emailed Smitten’s Eliza Bennett.
In addition to the Hayes Valley location, Smitten has shops in Los Altos, Oakland and Lafayette.
What separates Smitten from other purveyors, the company’s promotional materials say, is its ability to freeze ice cream at a lower temperature using liquid nitrogen and produce it on demand, eliminating the need for preservatives and emulsifiers to lengthen shelf life.
Smitten pulls this off with a new patented ice-cream making machine it calls “Brrr,” which the company claims “makes the smoothest, densest and most flavorful ice cream on earth from scratch, to order, in just minutes.” A $4.95 dish of Smitten and a $6.20 cone are served up by “brrristas,” a term the company has trademarked.
Its September “seasonal flavor” was Crème Fraiche with Pear Caramel, described as “sun-blushed pears, ripe for the picking in early fall, an ideal ‘pear-ing’ with tangy crème.”
Smitten calls its toppings “pairings” and charges 75 cents each for 14 of them, ranging from cinnamon shortbread to spicy caramel to fresh mint chip.
Meanwhile, Copynet is settling into its new location and Zadeh seems pleased with the move.
“I have a great mother and daughter landlord, and Sutter is becoming a nice corridor for business services,” she says. She maintains Copynet is not competitive with Jet Mail.
“When I moved into the Fillmore 20 years ago — when my rent was $2,300 a month and we were doing mostly black and white copies and printing syllabuses for doctors, dentists, schools and students — I decided I would never do shipping. We’ve always been complementary, never competitors.”
Already she has become a Sutter Street cheerleader and is recruiting new neighbors to take over the renovated space next door that formerly housed Timeless Treasures.
Landlord Neecha Than-Ngern confirms she is entertaining offers for the space next door at 2176 Sutter. “We have an empty but renovated 1,000 square foot store for $3,500 or $3.50 a foot,” says the property owner, who grew up in the Victorian above the stores and whose family formerly owned Neecha Thai restaurant at Sutter and Steiner. “We’re looking for more stores so it will generate more foot traffic on Sutter. We’d like a tenant like Maryam who’s friendly, upbeat and has a good vibe.”
Zadeh wasn’t all that upbeat recently when she had her store at 2404 California professionally measured and discovered it is 829 square feet, not the 960 square feet she’s been paying rent on for the last 20 years.
“We’re entering into discussions” about a refund, she says dryly.
Flynn, a longtime San Franciscan and property investor who owns the red-brick Preston Apartments at Fillmore and California and half a dozen ground floor storefronts underneath — including the popular Dino and Santino’s pizzeria — sounds happy too. Barring any last minute glitches with the Smitten lease, his firm, Flynn Investments, is fully leased on that key corner.
Flynn also owns the former Bank of America building at Fillmore and Post now occupied by Dosa, the Southern Indian restaurant, and several other properties south of Geary.
“I’m just hoping all the interest in Fillmore continues to drive demand down to Haight where the new CVS pharmacy is going in,” he says. “That area is going to thrive. It already is.”
Research assistance by Veronika Torgashova
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