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‘We’re seeing a huge retail fallout’

Palmer’s and other restaurants, now serving outside, may lead the recovery.

STREET TALK | THOMAS REYNOLDS

Almost a dozen Fillmore businesses have permanently closed, and more are likely to follow.

“It’s a tumultuous time for Fillmore Street right now,” said Vas Kiniris, executive director of the Fillmore Merchants Association. “We’re seeing a huge retail fallout.”

Kiniris listed numerous businesses that are permanently closed: Frye Boots, Samovar Tea, Prana, Illesteva, Lip Lab, CBD Garin, Aday, Asmbly Hall and Repeat Performance, the S.F. Symphony resale shop.

“I’ve been on the street for 25 years and I’ve never seen so many closings,” Kiniris said. “It’s a little bit alarming.”

A leader and close observer of businesses citywide, Kiniris said he expects the recovery of neighborhood commercial districts to be sparked by restaurants and bars.

“These businesses really pull traffic to the corridors,” he said. “They give rebirth to those corners.” Bars remain closed for now, and indoor restaurant service has been pushed back, but eateries are now allowed to serve outside, in addition to the takeout and delivery service that has kept them alive for the past four months.

“We see this right now with Noosh,” he said. “Noosh opened, then Kiehl’s opened, Glaze is opening, so there’s activity there” at the corner of Fillmore and Pine.

The city’s shared space program, which has let stores and restaurants serve on the sidewalks and in parking spaces, has been helpful, Kiniris said. “It’s another revenue stream for the merchants,” he said. “But it’s also very important to the visual well being and the rebirth of our street. It makes the street visually more enticing, and it makes it more sticky, so people want to linger — and therefore they’ll go to other stores as well.”

At least one new business is preparing to open. Liberty Cannabis, after two and a half years, finally has the permits for its new shop in the former Unity Church space at 2222 Bush Street, near Fillmore, and plans to open in the fall.

Formerly bustling upper Fillmore Street still “is pretty healthy overall,” Kiniris said. But he added: “It’s gonna be a rough ride. We’re all in startup mode now.”

Fillmore restaurants finding a way

There’s a new takeout window and new offerings at Noosh.

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

Fillmore’s restaurants are morphing into sidewalk dining and drinking spots as they find a way forward, with the eateries on one key block — between Pine and California — showing different recipes for creating the al fresco experience.

• At the corner of Pine and Fillmore, NOOSH has reinvented itself and opened a window counter with adjacent menus that spell out its new offerings. Patrons punch in their order on a computer terminal that feeds straight into the kitchen. Noosh will soon unveil a breakfast menu, a bakery with pastries and a deli-charcuterie with cured meats. In September, a small grocery will be added.

Noosh and Bun Mee share a stylish parklet on Fillmore.

• To create a large outdoor cafe, Noosh has teamed up with its neighbors at BUN MEE, the popular Vietnamese restaurant two doors down, and jointly created a large area filled with socially distanced tables along Fillmore and wrapping around to Pine. It extends into the street, taking several parking spaces and guarded by a stylish protective barrier.

Colorful tables now spill out onto the sidewalk at Apizza.

• A few doors up the block, APIZZA has set up sidewalk tables and the straight-from-Paris manager, Pierre Laugha, is pumping out amazing thin-crust 9-inch gluten-free pies made with organic dough and toppings for prices starting at $3.75. (Yes, the original insanely inexpensive $2.75 margherita pizza has gone up a buck.) Apizza now has interesting salads starting at $3.45, up to $7.75 for a large kale Caesar salad.

Tacobar has a takeout window and tables on Fillmore and California.

• At the corner of California and Fillmore, TACOBAR’s personable Guadalajara-born general manager Antonio Solano works the corner like a skilled maitre d’, with outdoor dining on both sidewalks and usually a line at the take-out window. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tacobar has its signature $4.85 tacos, $11 quesadillas, salads, burritos and sides, plus plenty of salsas. Brightly colored, both the decor and the food are authentically Mexican, with the menu items more gourmet than just to-go. For al fresco diners, service is swift.

Curbside Cafe has added more sidewalk tables, and a parklet is coming.

 • Around the corner, CURBSIDE CAFE owners Olivier and Gwyneth Perrier have perhaps the most authentic outdoor bistro setting, now with eight tables dressed in white properly spaced on California Street just east of Mollie Stone’s. Perrier promotes what he calls a “contactless menu” on his website, rather than handing out a paper menu. The tiny restaurant, a neighborhood fixture since 1978, serves a French-American breakfast, lunch and dinner, and soon will be adding a covered parklet that will allow two more tables.

• Elsewhere between California and Pine, HARRY’S BAR is getting an extensive upgrading, from new front awning to an up-to-date kitchen. THE GROVE still hopes to reopen, but has set no date. And the former ELITE CAFE is completely boarded up and quiet as a tomb.

Photographs by Jonathan Pontell

EARLIER: “Fillmore al Fresco” — Sidewalk tables have proliferated since 1993, when they were first blessed by the city.

Keeping us fed, and connected

Photograph of Massimo Lavino at Via Veneto by Daniel Bahmani

STREET TALK | THOMAS REYNOLDS

A great joy of our neighborhood is the number of neighbors you run into walking up and down Fillmore Street. 

But not so much these days.

Much of the street is boarded up — an overreaction, many feel, but then come reports of another break-in.

One longs for the slightest bit of community and connectedness during the lockdown. A few still brave a walk on our high street, sometimes to pick up a take-out dinner from a familiar face at a favorite restaurant. Via Veneto owner Massimo Lavino is one of those who is keeping the neighborhood fed — and serving up a side of his boisterous good cheer as people wait for their puttanesca and tricolore salad, carefully standing six feet apart.

As I walked up Fillmore yesterday, Massimo hollered out: “Hey — do you know Betty Brassington’s phone number? I can’t find it.” I stopped to be sure he had the spelling right, but he had no phone book — who does anymore? — and couldn’t find the number online.

He wanted to tell her he had some nice ribeye steaks of the kind she and her husband Mike like.

Well, I told him, I’ll stop by on my way home and let her know. Betty and Mike live only a block from Via Veneto. I knocked on their front door, even though it seemed a little naughty in this time of social distancing. Betty came to the door with a bite of dinner already in her mouth. I told her Massimo had steaks he thought she’d want to know about, then walked two more blocks home.

That was yesterday. Today when I walked up the street in the late afternoon light, Massimo hollered out again. I stopped and walked in. There was Betty, picking up two steak dinners and a bottle of red wine.

EARLIER: “Opening night at Via Veneto

Illustration of Via Veneto by Christopher Wright

Elite’s new name: The Tailor’s Son

The wiring and lettering on the vintage sign were removed on February 28.

THE LAST TRACES of the legendary Elite Cafe — a beacon of hospitality on Fillmore Street for decades — have disappeared. The lettering on the vintage neon sign has now been removed, along with the wooden booths inside.

The Elite’s new name: The Tailor’s Son, in honor of owner Adrianno Paganini ’s father, who was a tailor. The sign is being reworked to announce the new name. During earlier incarnations, the same sign proclaimed the Asia Cafe and the Lincoln Grill.

EARLIER: “Elite no more

Elite Cafe is turning Italian

The new owner plans to restore the original Art Deco facade.

DRAGGED-OUT negotiations between Andy Chun, who held the lease on the now-dark Elite Cafe, and serial restaurateur Adriano Paganini have finally been resolved, and renovation work has begun.

The new owner of the iconic Fillmore building, Rick Howard — who also owns Harry’s Bar across the street — hopes to strip off some of Chun’s black paint and restore the building’s original Art Deco facade. The awning is already gone.

Also going: the blackened wooden booths inside — and probably the name, too, which means a reworking of the vintage neon sign out front.

Look for — but don’t bet on — a January 2020 opening.

What went wrong at Noosh?

It was on top of the world, but then Noosh, at 2001 Fillmore, went dark.

FILLMORE BEAT | CHRIS BARNETT

Noosh, the hot new California-inspired Mediterranean restaurant at Fillmore and Pine, rocketed off the launch pad in February and soared to great heights, only to explode the week before Thanksgiving when the money partner suddenly announced he was firing and suing his two highly lauded chef partners.

CEO John Litz on November 21 locked out the chefs and staff and posted a sign on Noosh’s front door saying the restaurant was “cooking up something new” and would be “closed for a couple of days.” By early December, he was still trying to re-open, now with a new “culinary advisor” — prominent pastry chef Emily Luchetti.

Chefs Sayat and Laura Ozyilmaz, the husband and wife team who have cooked in five of the world’s top 50 restaurants and were christened “rising stars” by the Chronicle in September, declared themselves “devastated to have been separated from their fans, customers and the family they have built with the employee team at Noosh.”

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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

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.

(more…)

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