Yes, original boulangerie also set to close

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

Pascal Rigo’s original boulangerie at 2325 Pine Street has become a neighborhood institution.

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 millions to a mega-corporation — took an abrupt twist June 16 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 that day 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, would leave the company at the end of the week.

“Starbucks has determined La Boulange stores are not sustainable for the company’s long-term growth,” said an announcement issued in the evening as Bay Area fans were celebrating the triumph of the Golden State Warriors in the basketball finals. By early the next morning, longtime fans were streaming into the 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.

“When you have 12,000 stores, and La Boulange is doing so well inside the stores, why do you want to have 23 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

Wells Fargo bank heist takes ATMs

Three outside Wells Fargo ATM machines under red awnings were removed

Three outside Wells Fargo ATM machines under red awnings were removed.


The biggest neighborhood bank heist in decades has left many customers feeling shortchanged.

Three automatic teller machines outside the Wells Fargo Bank at Fillmore and California recently vanished, depriving customers of the convenience of withdrawing cash and doing limited banking when the branch was closed. Now Wells Fargo customers or anyone with a debit card must observe banker’s hours — 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday — to use the two ATM machines in the bank’s lobby.

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Credo gets its first store — on Fillmore

Credo's first store is located at 2136 Fillmore — and not by accident.

Credo’s first store is located at 2136 Fillmore, near many other beauty brands.

SHASHI BATRA, founder of the new natural beauty emporium Credo, was up a ladder taking a hands-on approach a couple of days before his first store finally opened on June 4. But he seemed happy to climb down for a few minutes to explain why he decided to locate his first shop at 2136 Fillmore.

“Look around,” he said. “In recent years five or six other beauty stores came to Fillmore — and none of those are natural. The whole category is unregulated, and much of it is harmful.”

Batra and his team helped build Sephora into an international juggernaut of traditional cosmetic brands and beauty supplies. Now, “with a much more conscientious attitude,” they hope to do the same for natural products.

“There’s a lot of natural out there,” he said, “but it’s not beautiful. We decided to create a new concept.”

Some day there may be hundreds of Credo shops.

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.

She’s one of the boys no more

NOW WHO WILL WE ASK how to cook a pot roast?

The neighborhood’s reigning maven of meat — Mollie Stone’s butcher Lorain Arruabarrena — retired June 1.

For more than three decades, she served up meat and fish and advice on what to do with it, the lone female behind the counter in an almost entirely male industry.

Butchering was in her blood. Her grandfather was a butcher who raised rabbits in Sonoma. She grew up around animals, and spent her time off hunting deer at an otherwise all-male camp up in Lake County she joined in 1956.

Butcher Lorain Arruabarrena

Butcher Lorain Arruabarrena

“I’ve loved to hunt and fish since I was four years old,” she said. “I was always a tomboy. Barbie and Ken didn’t have a chance with me.”

In a profile a few years ago, she acknowledged being a mother figure and mentor to some of the younger men cutting chops at Mollie Stone’s, at 2435 California Street. It helped that she knew how to cook.

“I’m a piece of the furniture at this place,” she said at the time. “I don’t know if I’m a recliner yet.”

Now she knows.

She got sick last fall, but battled her way back to work. She didn’t have the energy to walk across the street to Dino’s for her usual Coke and slice of pepperoni, so she’d take her breaks upstairs in the lunchroom.

“It didn’t feel right,” she said.

She used up her sick leave and vacation time, then filed for retirement in February. She’s been out of the store since April 7, when the doctors decided major surgery was required.

“They cut me from my rib cage down to my bikini line, and down both legs,” she said. “I was scared shitless. But the lady surgeon who did it was very good.”

And it turned out the father of one of her caregivers had been her first boss when she was a young butcher at Petrini’s.

“Now I’m okay,” she said the night of her retirement as she celebrated with her brother and son. “I cooked a roast beef.”

If her health continues to improve, she hopes to start working again part time at the store in the fall.

EARLIER: “One of the boys

Out of Africa

Solange Mallett owns African Plural Art at 1305 Fillmore.

Solange Mallett owns African Plural Art at 1305 Fillmore.


Solange Mallett, the owner of African Plural Art, is passionate — about African art; her newly opened gallery at 1305 Fillmore; the neighborhood; the visitors who come to look, learn and sometimes purchase; and the tribes supported by the purchases.

“You have to be passionate about what you’re doing and passionate about sharing it with other people,” she says. “This is what I want to do. I’m from French Africa and I want to share with people here.”

Mallett was born in the Ivory Coast and grew up in Paris. Her husband’s work for the World Bank necessitated frequent moves: to Madagascar, Chad, Tanzania. In Paris, where they lived before moving to the Bay Area, Mallett ran an online African art business.

“That business taught me that I wanted a shop where people could come in and I could share what I’m learning with them,” she says.

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A tunnel under Fillmore

A drawing of the south portal to the Fillmore Street Tunnel at Fillmore and Sutter Streets.

A drawing of the south portal to the Fillmore Street Tunnel at Fillmore and Sutter Streets.


As San Francisco celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts is decked out in new paint and the Ferry Building is illuminated as it was in 1915. Re-creations of the expo grounds flash in the windows of the California Historical Society announcing its exhibition of City Rising: San Francisco and the 1915 World’s Fair.

But the neighborhood connection to the exposition — that of the Fillmore Tunnel — is yet to be told. For that we must look back more than a century, to the fall of 1911.

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The castle on Vallejo

The complex of buildings at 1729 Vallejo. | Photograph by Shayne Watson

The complex of buildings at 1729 Vallejo. | Photograph by Shayne Watson


Some buildings stop you in your tracks.

That’s what happened to me the first time I walked by 1729 Vallejo, between Franklin and Gough Streets. Often referred to as Digby’s Castle, the complex of buildings evokes something out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Built into the hill, with a stone retaining wall forming a barrier to the private space beyond, it is a collection of small buildings, some constructed of a deep terra cotta-colored hollow clay tile. Set in a garden, the buildings dot the landscape, creating interlocking courtyards. While the buildings are small in scale, they still convey the feeling of a medieval fortress or castle.

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Preparing to be Smitten


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 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

Shell station revamp scaled back

The Shell station and garage at California and Steiner Streets.

The Shell station at California and Steiner.

OWNERS OF THE Shell station at 2501 California Street were sent back to the drawing board by the Planning Commission on April 30 and told to return in a month with revised plans — ideally plans that would keep the garage they hoped to eliminate.

The owners, a company called AU Energy that owns more than 100 Shell stations, had sought permits to raze the existing station and garage and replace it with a Loop convenience store and twice as many gas pumps.

“Car repair is a higher amenity than grab and go items,” said commissioner Dennis Richards. “I challenge you to come back with something where you have better integration with the community . . . hopefully including car repair.”

The owners of the station had agreed a week earlier — after neighbors showed up at a Planning Commission hearing to oppose their plans — to scale back the hours the convenience store would operate and to expand only from five to eight fueling stations, rather than the 10 they originally sought. They also extended the lease on the garage, which is owned by an independent operator, through June 30.

The commissioners were clearly sympathetic to the Shell station owner’s desire to renovate the station in a way that would keep it economically viable as environmental upgrades are made.

“We need gas stations,” said Richards, who noted they are disappearing all over the city.

But the commissioners also had heard neighborhood opposition to shuttering the garage and concerns about intensified traffic on an already-busy corner. There were doubts about the appropriateness of the expanded convenience store.

“I am concerned about further suburbanizing that corner,” said commissioner Kathrin Moore. “It looks backward rather than forward.”

The commission voted unanimously to continue the issue until its meeting on May 28.

“We’re directing you to try to incorporate service,” said Richards. “That would be necessary and desirable and hugely compatible” with the location and the needs and desires of the neighbors.

EARLIER: “Shell garage told to close