Yes, the original boulangerie is also closing

Pascal Rigo at Boulangerie Bay Bread on Pine Street in San Francisco.

Founder Pascal Rigo at Boulangerie Bay Bread on Pine Street in San Francisco.

A FRENCHMAN’S American dream — to open his own bakery and live above the shop, build a group of local cafes serving authentic French pastries and eventually sell it all for $100 million to a mega-corporation — came to an abrupt end Tuesday night when Starbucks announced it was shuttering its 23 La Boulange eateries in the Bay Area.

Including the original Boulangerie Bay Bread at 2325 Pine Street.

Employees of the Boulangerie and the nearby La Boulange cafe at 2043 Fillmore were told mid-afternoon Tuesday to close early and assemble at 6:30 p.m. at La Boulange on Fillmore. There they received the news: Starbucks is shutting down the La Boulange cafes by the end of September. Founder Pascal Rigo, who joined Starbucks as senior vice president of food when it acquired La Boulange in 2012, is leaving the company at the end of this week.

“Starbucks has determined La Boulange stores are not sustainable for the company’s long-term growth,” said an announcement issued Tuesday night as Bay Area fans were celebrating the triumph of the Golden State Warriors. By early Wednesday morning, longtime fans were streaming into the original boulangerie on Pine Street, hopeful the original location would be spared.

It was not to be.

Starbucks bought La Boulange for $100 million in 2012 and has incorporated its pastries into Starbucks shops nationwide and in Canada. The company said that part of the deal would continue. But the cafes, the original bakery and two industrial bakeries that supply the cafes and a catering operation will close.

“Why’d they buy them then?” asked Jennifer Delaroderie on Facebook. “Just to shut them down?”

“This is so disappointing,” said Joan O’Connor, formerly owner of Timeless Treasures on Sutter Street. “It is a fabulous business — every location where I’ve been is a gem.”

“This is awful,” said Susan Wels. “Sell it back to the owner — don’t close it!”

Even if Rigo and his investors were inclined to give back the $100 million, Starbucks might not take the deal. Real estate professionals said the company is sitting on a gold mine of prime locations in many of the area’s most desirable neighborhoods.

“It’s an A-plus portfolio,” broker Matt Holmes told the SF Business Times. “The best foot-traffic streets, well-designed, well-placed sites. It will be a feeding frenzy.”

Starbucks said it will also close Evolution Fresh, its juice bar and natural foods cafe on the corner of Fillmore and Sacramento.

UPDATE: “For me, it was time to go,” La Boulange founder Pascal Rigo told SFGate. “I didn’t know what value I could bring anymore,” said Rigo, pointing out that Starbucks stock has never been higher than it was Tuesday.

“When you have 12,000 stores, and La Boulange is doing so well inside the stores, why do you want to have 20 stores in San Francisco where you don’t want to spend the time or the money?”

He added: “We achieved what we wanted to achieve, which was to have La Boulange in 12,000 stores.”

Rigo hinted he may not be done yet. Of the 23 La Boulange storefronts in prime locations being shut down by Starbucks, he said: “They have a plan for most of them. I have a plan for some of them, also.”

EARLIER:I just have this thing about bread

He created a community

Fillmore Farmers Market manager Tom Nichol was remembered at a tribute on May 23.

HE WAS THERE from the beginning.

When the Fillmore Farmers Market was created in 2003 in the parking lot that later became home to Yoshi’s and the Fillmore Jazz Heritage Center, Tom Nichol was there, helping the farmers set up their stands and encouraging the neighbors to get to know the people who grew their food.

In 2005, when the market moved to O’Farrell Street, he was there, by then with a sense he was helping make something important happen.

“It may not be the biggest or busiest market,” he said, “but it’s the best.”

Nearly every Saturday morning for a dozen years, usually in a yellow cap or shirt, Tom Nichol was at the Fillmore market, which he managed for the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association.

“I’m employed by PCFMA, but I really work for the farmers,” he said. “My purpose at the market is to educate consumers about buying fresh and local — and to create community.”

He established a Saturday morning institution in the neighborhood.

“There is such an incredible sense of community there, with both the farmers and the shoppers,” Nichol said. “The shoppers treat the farmers like good friends or neighbors, making this a fun place for them to shop and for me to work.”

But some of the fun has been missing this year. What’s missing is Tom Nichol. He got the word the day before Christmas Eve. His services were no longer needed. His market would go on, but without him.

It seemed for a while that he might work directly with some of the farmers. But his spirits sagged. His dog died. And then he got sick. He died on May 7 at age 63.

“The Fillmore market is the best thing Tommy Nichol ever did,” said Cecil Patrick, a fellow former farmers market manager who lured his childhood friend from Florida in 1994 to become a part of the urban farmers market movement.

“Tommy always treated everyone with dignity and complete respect,” Patrick said. “He knew the neighborhood. He knew how important this market was to the neighborhood. It was a fit. He orchestrated this incredible gathering spot every Saturday.”

The gathering almost always included jazz. So on Saturday morning, May 23, the regulars in the Larry Douglas Alltet led a musical tribute to Tom Nichol.

He will be missed.

Preparing to be Smitten

smittensign

CONSTRUCTION has been underway for weeks, and at the end of April a new red awning and a sign for Smitten Ice Cream went up proclaiming: right here super soon.

The neighborhood’s new gourmet ice cream shop will soon be scooping up made-to-order frozen treats at 2404 California Street, formerly the longtime home of Copy.net. This will be Smitten’s fifth location and its second in San Francisco, after its original shop in a shipping crate on the green in Hayes Valley.

Founder Robyn Sue Fisher says the new location is a dream come true.

“I had been staring at this spot for years thinking it would be the perfect home for Smitten,” she says. “It is in between two great pizza joints (Delfina and Dino’s) just off Fillmore Street.”

As Fisher tells the story: “One day I decided to just walk in and talk to the owner of the current business. After five minutes, she told me she had been operating her business at the location for 20 years and just a few hours ago had called the landlord to tell him she was relocating.”

“Crazy,” Fisher says. “It’s meant to be.”

Smitten will be hosting a series of opening events, including a family ice cream social, an evening beer ice cream tasting and other neighborhood pop-up parties.

In addition to its remodeled shop with an open kitchen, Smitten will also sport a new outside courtyard.

EARLIER: “Hip ice cream shop on the way

Vivande returns for an evening

Vivande owner-chef Carlo Middione was celebrated and seranaded at a dinner in his honor.

Vivande owner-chef Carlo Middione was celebrated and seranaded at a dinner in his honor.

FILLMORE’S LEGENDARY Vivande Porta Via was reborn for a night as chef-owner Carlo Middione and his wife Lisa were celebrated on April 16 at a dinner of Vivande classics at Luce restaurant at the InterContinental Hotel.

“It was a packed house, full of regulars and friends, some who traveled from quite far to be there,” reported the Tablehopper. Middione “was looking great, beaming like a happy man with a roomful of friends and past regulars should.”

The dinner was organized by InterContinental boss Peter Koehler, a neighborhood resident and longtime friend and fan of Vivande and the Middiones.

MORE PHOTOS FROM THE DINNER

The menu was all Vivande, including its famous hazelnut meringue cake.

The menu was all favorites from Vivande, including its famous hazelnut meringue cake.

Vivande was one of a kind

Photograph of Carlo Middione at Vivande by Daniel Bahmani

FIRST PERSON | MARK FANTINO

The kitchen phone rang.

It was concealed on metro shelving between a mound of recipe binders camouflaged in a thin veil of flour, clipboards clamped with stacks of checklists, inventories and ordering forms, plus all of Carlo Middione’s published cookbooks. Just to the right was a two-way mirror on the other side of which stood Carlo, invisible and watchful.

“Mark speaking,” was how I answered. Carlo barely knew me then, and vice versa.

“This is Carlo,” said the voice. “Please go to page 124 of La Vera Cucina and follow the recipe carefully and bring me the results.”

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Blue Bottle may open on Fillmore

By CHRIS BARNETT

Trendy Blue Bottle Coffee has confirmed it may open a cafe in the storefronts previously occupied by Tully’s Coffee and Juicy News magazine shop at 2453 and 2455 Fillmore. The new landlord reportedly intends to demolish the wall between the stores and combine them into a single space.

Several real estate sources claim that James Freeman, founder of Blue Bottle Coffee, based in Oakland, bought the two spaces to create his fifth coffee shop in San Francisco.

However, Freeman, identified on the Blue Bottle website as “a slightly disaffected freelance musician and coffee lunatic,” refused to be interviewed about the Fillmore venture.

A representative at his publicity firm said the project “is very much not confirmed.” Then the firm issued a one-paragraph statement in which Freeman confirmed he does indeed hope to open on that key corner:

Blue Bottle Coffee is excited to be pursuing a new cafe located at Jackson and Fillmore Streets in San Francisco. Like most cafes, there are a surprising amount of steps that need to take place in order to make it a reality, but we’re very excited about the prospect of joining this lovely neighborhood. I have admired the building for many years. We will have more details regarding the process and timing of the cafe very soon.

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Weir cooking in the neighborhood

Joanne Weir's cooking shows on PBS are filmed in her home kitchen on Pine Street.

Joanne Weir’s cooking shows on PBS are filmed in her home kitchen near Fillmore.

NEIGHBORHOOD CELEBRITY CHEF and cooking teacher Joanne Weir is launching a new public television series — her eighth — focusing on complete menus from fresh, local ingredients. “Joanne Weir Gets Fresh,” like her two most recent series, “Joanne Weir’s Cooking Class” and “Joanne Weir’s Cooking Confidence,” will be filmed partly in the neighborhood.

“Many people don’t realize that kitchen is my home kitchen studio right here in the neighborhood,” she says. “For a few years, I shot in the studio at KQED and, though I liked it, I love being in my own kitchen. When I open a drawer, I know what I’m going to find inside. And if we run out of something, we can always run over to Mollie Stone’s or Whole Foods.”

In the new series, she will also step out of the kitchen to spots in Northern California and beyond searching for fresh ingredients, exploring organic tomato farms and walnut orchards, visiting fig growers and cheese producers — even fishing in Alaska. Using seasonings from Spice Ace, the neighborhood’s spice emporium, the show’s menus will be inspired by the farmers, butchers, fishermen and cheese makers featured along the way.

As in her previous shows, she will be joined in her kitchen by special guests, including several principal dancers from the San Francisco Ballet. For the broadcast schedule, visit her site.

5 Fillmore favorites

OUT & ABOUT | FAITH WHEELER

It comes as no surprise that San Francisco has the most restaurants per capita — about 39.5 per 10,000 households, according to the U.S. census. No other city comes close. New York is fourth.

As a result, we’ve become restaurant news junkies, always trying to keep up with the hottest new places rather than honoring old favorites. Restaurant-going has become as much about fashion as Fillmore’s many boutiques, with diners vying for boasting rights on the reservations they’ve snagged.

As a restaurant consultant for more than 25 years, I am often asked where to eat. First I list all of the newest, toughest reservations. Then I send them to the neighborhood — because strong signature items will always persevere, and we have in our midst some timeless go-to dishes that can easily keep pace with any new arrival.

To that end, here are five of my favorite tastes at local spots. They never disappoint — and are very likely still to be on the menu when you look for them next time.

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Millard’s took Fillmore dining upscale

Behind the counter at Millard's, which had one of Fillmore's first espresso machines.

Behind the counter at Millard’s, which had one of Fillmore’s first espresso machines.

LOCAL HISTORY | THOMAS REYNOLDS

Helen Brackley and Craig Silvestri were just another young neighborhood couple with dreams of starting their own restaurant.

“We both loved to cook,” says Silvestri. “So we just decided we’d open a little place with a limited menu and do crepes.”

But first they had to find a good location. It was a more innocent time — San Francisco in the mid-1970s — so they started sending out letters to different cafes and restaurants asking if the owners might be interested in selling or retiring.

“We looked all over,” Silvestri says, “in different neighborhoods and even up in St. Helena.”

They lived a few doors up Clay Street from Fillmore. One of the people who responded to their letters owned the Hob Nob cafe at 2197 Fillmore, a tiny sliver of a place that for decades was next door to the Clay Theater, which they could see from their front steps.

“The Hob Nob was pretty funky,” Silvestri remembers. “It had been there a long time and was not a very active place.”

The Hob Nob stood for decades by the Clay Theater in a sliver of a space.

Millard’s took over the Hob Nob cafe, which stood for decades next door to the Clay Theater.

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Another meeting place disappears

TULLY’S COFFEE has closed, leaving the corner of Fillmore and Jackson without a coffeehouse for the first time in decades. Filmmaker Erika Tetur chronicles the final days.