Sugar’s Broiler

Sugar's Broiler

Sugar’s Broiler stood for decades — rarely open — at Fillmore and Sacramento.

AN ENDURING LOCAL MYSTERY has been resolved. For decades people have asked: Did anyone ever actually see Sugar’s Broiler open? The hamburger joint that long occupied the corner of Fillmore and Sacramento — now home to Peet’s Coffee — is remembered by many longtimers for the “on vacation” sign that perpetually hung on the front door.

In our article, “50 Years on Fillmore,” local artist Dan Max and local poet Ronald Hobbs — both of whom have lived on Fillmore for half a century and experienced its more colorful days — confessed that neither ever had a burger at Sugar’s.

Then came this response: “I had more than a few burgers at Sugar’s Broiler,” commented Mark J. Mitchell, another writer who has lived in the neighborhood for decades, and spent many years behind the counter at Bi-Rite Liquors, then across the street at D&M. “But I think I’m the only person who ever did,” he acknowledged.

Dan Max said many people commented about his and Hobbs’ recollections of the old days on Fillmore Street — “especially young people,” he said. “They’re not nostalgic for anything, but they didn’t know Fillmore was ever like that.”

Of the mid-70s, he recalled: “It really was dark in that period. It seemed that every day there was something darker. There were a lot of different kinds of cults, including remnants of the Manson gang — just the females. They still believed in the cause. They were unrepentant — a lot of screwballs. Then the Hells Angels started selling the hard stuff and it really got bad.”

“There were a lot of murders,” Max said. “The naivete of the young hippie girls attracted the bad guys.”

It was during that period that Rev. Jim Jones moved into the neighborhood and established his People’s Temple in the old Masonic temple on Geary, where the post office now stands.

“There was a very nice, kindly black gentlemen, Mr. Oliver, who repaired watches,” Max recalled. “The story always was that he was very upset about his son being a member of the People’s Temple. He helped get people to blow the whistle on Jim Jones.”

After that Mr. Oliver suffered a stroke and his watch shop became a part of Mrs. Dewson’s Hats.

“They just left everything behind,” Max said, when the People’s Temple moved to the jungle in South America. “They left their cars parked on the street. Later I remember there was yellow FBI tape around the cars.”


The article sparked recollections from a number of others as well, including therapist Beth MacLeod, who was a journalist and creative soul living in the neighborhood in the late ’70s.

“You could take care of life’s daily tasks” on Fillmore Street, she remembered. “ ‘Oh, I need a lightbulb.’ The hardware store. ‘Oh, I need a typewriter ribbon.’ Brown Bag Stationers. My favorite was Millard’s, by the Clay Theatre, with its very small counter and a line out the door. I could splurge on a savory crepe, a glass of wine and a slice of fabulous carrot cake and walk out barely spending $10.”

  • Calvin Lau

    When I lived on Buchanan Street (between Clay and Sacramento) in 1973, I went to Sugar’s Broiler quite a few times for their burgers. Their burgers were big and delicious and their potato fries were thick-cut. The owners were a really sweet Chinese American couple. The wife took my order at the front counter and her husband did the cooking. I always did take-out. I truly miss this place. I truly miss the old Fillmore.

    So sorry to Mark J. Mitchell because he was not the only one who got to eat Sugar’s Broiler burgers.

    Thanks for all the lovely memories.