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Farmers market loses a pioneer

Albert Terry’s son-in-law Ephriam Walters on his final day at the Fillmore market.

PRODUCE FROM Terry Farms, picked just the day before, made its final appearance at the Fillmore Farmers Market on November 2 after owner Albert Terry died earlier in the week.

He was one of the original vendors when the market started in 2003 in the parking lot at Fillmore and Eddy, later to become the site of the Fillmore Heritage Center.

“He was there from the beginning,” said his daughter Lisa Terry-Walters. He had learned about the new market as a board member of the sponsoring Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association. 

“After going himself for the first couple of years, he started sending employees,” she said, but they soon wanted to quit. “It wasn’t worth it because they weren’t making enough even to cover the cost of going.”

So Terry started coming to Fillmore again and established an easy rapport with customers and the other farmers.

“He always knew that Fillmore was a special deal, and it became a market that was very personal for him,” his daughter said. “This is the only market he attended regularly himself.”

Terry Farms specialized in peaches — especially white varietals and old-fashioned clings — and pluots. In the fall there were grapes, persimmons and pomegranates.

A decade ago, Terry asked his son-in-law, the tough ex-Marine Ephriam Walters, to come with him to Fillmore. “So I cancelled my fishing trip and came,” Walters said. For the past five years, Walters has been in charge, and has built a strong base of customers who return every week for his fresh fruit and no-nonsense approach.

“When I got out of the Marines, it was hard for me to transition,” Walters said on his final Saturday morning at the Fillmore market, as he bade farewell to his regulars. “This market has helped me. It has changed so much, but a lot of these people I’ve been dealing with for 10 years.”

Walters said the market paid Terry’s medical bills in recent years as he battled heart disease and had to stay close to the ranch he farmed for 51 years in Denair, in Stanislaus County.

Now the family is putting the farm on the market.

“Our family is very hopeful the farm will be purchased by another farmer who will continue to be as passionate about the products the farm produces as my dad was,” said Terry’s daughter, and Ephriam’s wife, Lisa. “With any luck, they will be able to attend the Fillmore market.”

OBITUARY: Albert Leroy Terry (1938-2019)

PacBag was the local gathering place

The PacBag reigned as the neighborhood’s living room for a decade.

By THOMAS REYNOLDS

Behind the crowds queueing up outside the hot new restaurant Noosh, on the corner of Fillmore and Pine, is a small brass plaque recalling an earlier incarnation of the space when it was home to the late and much-lamented Pacific Heights Bar & Grill.

The PacBag, as it was known, was a pioneering restaurant that reigned as the neighborhood’s living room for a decade.

“It was the neighborhood Cheers,” the bar on the television show where everybody knows your name, says Marilyn Fisher, a lawyer who lived nearby and was a regular.

“It was like Cheers,” agrees co-owner Susie Bashel. “People came in almost every day.”

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Fillmore al Fresco

Sidewalk seating, like that at Peet’s on Fillmore, is a recent — and growing — trend.

By SUSAN SWARD

Up and down Fillmore, sidewalk spots keep springing up.

Noosh, the new restaurant at Pine and Fillmore, has three four-tops outside with heat lamps at the ready. Blue Bottle Coffee finally has its outside tables back at Fillmore and Jackson. The Snug, at Clay and Fillmore, is considering putting in for a permit. And established sunny sidewalk terraces at Chouquet’s, at Washington, and Harry’s and The Grove, between Pine and California, host a crush of people, often with baby carriages and dogs along for the party.

Slowly, since 1993, when they were first blessed by the city, sidewalk tables and chairs have proliferated. Now there are more than 450 permitted sites citywide — with 19 alone on Fillmore Street. Chestnut Street has 19 as well, Columbus Avenue has 21 and Clement Street has 10. All across the city, people gather outside, chatting, hanging out, drinking and eating. Streets that once felt cold and dead bustle with activity and life, particularly on the days when sunshine blesses San Francisco.

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La Med turns 40

Photograph of La Mediterranee founder Levon Der Bedrossian by Daniel Bahmani

WHEN LA MEDITERRANEE founder Levon Der Bedrossian moved from Lebanon to California in 1967 to attend Chico State University, he lived in the neighboring town of Paradise, which was devastated by the recent Camp Fire.

Then he moved to San Francisco and opened La Mediterranee on Fillmore Street on May 11, 1979, serving the Middle Eastern meza dishes from Lebanon and the Armenian family recipes he had begun experimenting with for his fellow students in Chico. They were unique on the culinary scene in San Francisco at the time.

So it should come as no surprise to those who know Der Bedrossian and his special restaurant — which has consistently been voted the best Mediterranean restaurant in the Bay Area — that he would celebrate its 40th anniversary by donating all of the proceeds to support survivors of the Camp Fire in Paradise.

The 40th anniversary party will be held on Saturday, May 11 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the restaurant at 2210 Fillmore.

Der Bedrossian is still involved with the business, but his son Vanick and longtime managing partners Alicia Vanden Huevel and Trevor Lederberger have taken the helm. In addition to the flagship on Fillmore, La Mediterranee also has locations in the Castro and in Berkeley, plus a catering kitchen in North Beach.

EARLIER: “Still cozy after all these years

Elite no more

Photograph of the Elite Cafe on Fillmore Street by Daniel Bahmani

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

Long a Fillmore Street landmark, the historic Art Deco building housing the Elite Cafe has been bought by the two saloon and restaurant investors who own Harry’s Bar across the street, and the Elite will close on Easter Sunday, April 21, after a 38-year run.

Rick Howard, who’s already an investor in the Elite, and his business partner, George Karas, say they pounced on the property when a 100-year-old family trust expired.

Originally it was called the Lincoln Grill. Later it was renamed the Asia Cafe and was a popular chop suey parlor until the SFPD vice squad busted the place for running a gambling operation in the basement. The tipoff: PacBell told the cops the Asia had 40 phone lines but no takeout service.

Originally it was called the Lincoln Grill, but until its final years it looked much the same.

After being boarded up for a while, it was rescued in 1981 by Bay Area restaurant impresario Sam DuVal — who beat out Jeremiah Tower, later to open Stars — and reinvented the space as a New Orleans Cajun-style eatery, saloon and oyster bar that would be called the Elite Cafe. DuVal’s instincts were perfect. With a well-traveled, free-spending Pacific Heights crowd just north of him, the Elite took off like a shot — and, with the opening of Fillamento a block north, spurred the transformation of upper Fillmore into an increasingly upscale shopping and dining district.

There have been three proprietors since Sam, including current owner Andy Chun, who made the place modern when he took over three years ago by ripping out many of the traditional furnishings and fixtures and painting the woodwork black and battleship gray. “They ruined it,” DuVal groused.

The restaurant is on the market and two competing suitors, one a prominent Italian restaurateur, are said to be vying to take over. Chun said his lease required him to continue operating as the Elite Cafe, but there will be no such requirement this time.

EARLIER: “There’s a reason they call it the Elite

The Elite Cafe quickly became a hotspot after it opened in 1981.

‘The most beautiful hotel in San Francisco’

For years, the 1881 Victorian was the headquarters of the San Francisco Medical Society.

By FRAN MORELAND JOHNS

“I want to have the most beautiful hotel in San Francisco,” says Bernard Rosenson about the Mansion on Sutter, which he recently purchased.

A visit to 1409 Sutter Street suggests that wish is on its way to becoming reality. From the carefully restored Victorian era woodwork to the polished marble floors and unique art and antiques — plus a presidential suite with steps leading to a private gazebo with views — the Mansion on Sutter is emerging as the newest jewel in the neighborhood’s crown.

Its signature restaurant, 1881, is already serving dinners created by executive chef Juan Carlos Olivera, and a downstairs speakeasy bar, Notorious, is set to open on July 4.

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Not just any Tacobar

Photograph of Tacobar getting a fresh look by Jonathan Pontell

“WE’RE NOT THE usual taqueria,” acknowledges Antonio Solano, the dynamic manager of Tacobar at Fillmore and California. Tacobar just got a facelift, an updated menu and a bright new paint job as the popular corner spot at the heart of the neighborhood prepares to celebrate its ninth birthday in April.

Tacobar is also now set up to accept online orders and payment, which lets customers skip the line for pick-ups. “You show up and it’s ready,” Solano says.

They’ve also partnered with the Caviar delivery service. “You’ve got to stay alert and give the customers what they want,” he says. “We love being here, and we want to continue to be successful.  What else can we bring? This is our baby. My dad taught me always to give 100 percent.”

Of the new color scheme and new menu items, he says: “We’re authentic, but reinvented.”

The curtain is rising on Noosh

The back bar at Noosh, “opening very soon” at Fillmore and Pine.

AT LONG LAST, the highly anticipated new casual fine dining restaurant coming to Fillmore and Pine is ready to offer the public a taste. Noosh passed its final health inspection on January 31 and began delivery and office catering in early February.

“This will give guests a first sneak peek at our fine casual menu,” says co-founder and CEO John Litz. “We now work through delivery and office catering . . . while we simultaneously interview, hire and train our staff, preparing for our soft opening very soon.”

During the year the restaurant has been in the works, Noosh has already blazed a new path by hosting dozens of private events as the restaurant was under construction and working through operational logistics. “Many of our Pacific Heights neighbors comment daily to us they think it’s a smart strategy that has created more interest,” Litz says, as well as an early revenue stream. “We are excited to bring it to Fillmore.”

Music at the market

Budding musicians from the SFJazz High School All-Stars perform at the Fillmore market.

MIA SIMMANS, manager of the Fillmore Farmers Market since last May, is a true believer — both in farmers markets and in the music that makes the Fillmore market unique.

Her cred on both scores is impeccable: For the last seven years, she’s been both a vendor and musician at several of the farmers markets in the area. “It’s a great way for a musician to make a living,” she says. “You get to play during the day, and then go home and sleep in your own bed.”

In fact, two of the combos that regularly perform at the Fillmore market — the Dave Parker Sextet and the group now headed by Kenny Rhodes — have been playing at the Saturday morning market at Fillmore and O’Farrell for more than a decade.

But it can be a tough way to make a living. Most markets can’t pay musicians anywhere near what they’re worth. The mothership organization, the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association, is a nonprofit and is typically strapped for funds. The Fillmore market currently pays nothing at all; musicians only pocket the tips from grateful listeners and passersby.

But Simmans is determined to change that. She takes inspiration from the pluck and perseverance of Tom Nichol, who founded and managed the Fillmore market for a dozen years until shortly before his death in 2015. The two were friends.

“Tom was able to raise money to pay the musicians from within the community,” Simmans says. “And I want to keep that going in his memory.”

With some help from market headquarters, Simmans recently applied for two grants, and at least one of them looks promising. “If we get that grant, we may be able to pay something — maybe $25 to each musician,” she says. “And if we get that second grant, well, then we could be talking about something real.”

Simmans still makes music, playing and singing under the stage name Mama Mia d’Bruzzi when she’s not out managing markets. She also manages the Castro and Alameda markets. “But the Fillmore is my favorite,” she confesses. “It’s got the music — and, really, some of the greatest vendors.”

Says she: “I really believe in the farmers. These are the guys sweating in the fields. And I really believe farmers markets are an important way to take back the country from the big corporations. It’s a peaceful revolution.”

Lawsuits multiply over Fillmore Heritage Center

Opening night of the Fillmore Heritage Center in November 2007.

NEIGHBORHOOD BUSINESSMAN Agonafer Shiferaw has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging fraud and deceit at the Fillmore Heritage Center. It charges that Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Vallie Brown and other city officials violated laws and engaged in other wrongdoing that has cost roughly $100 million in failed public and private investments — and “contributed to the stagnant economic conditions that continue to plague the city’s historic Fillmore District.”

Shiferaw, who owns local commercial real estate and formerly operated the Rasselas Jazz Club at 1534 Fillmore, alleges the city’s attempt to find a new owner of the center — including the vast space once occupied by Yoshi’s jazz club and restaurant — “was characterized by irregularities that side-stepped procedural safeguards.”

Four days before Christmas, he filed for an injunction to prevent the city from further leasing or selling the center. The issue is scheduled to be heard on February 13.

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