Twenty Fourth Street will soon see the arrival of La Movida, a restaurant and wine bar, which is having a soft opening this weekend. La Movida’s owners hope it becomes more than just a restaurant, but an incubator for aspiring chefs as well—and they’ll be renting out the kitchen for pop-ups one night a week. As the new storefront sign puts it, La Movida is a “community kitchen.”
Owner Michael Meadows acknowledges that the confluence of the words “wine bar” and “community”might raise a few eyebrows. In fact, he has already had to respond to some critics before his restaurant officially opens.
“I know I will catch all kinds of hell,” Meadows said. “On my Facebook page people were saying it’s arrogant to call yourself a community kitchen.”
However, Meadows sees a need for reliable kitchen space for people starting out in the restaurant business. As a long-time volunteer with Forage SF, an organization that hosts food events and that recently opened a shared kitchen space, he met many aspiring restaurateurs and discovered that even great chefs struggle to open restaurants.
Estimates by La Cocina, a non-profit business incubator for low-income entrepreneurs, put the average cost of starting a new restaurant in San Francisco as high as $750,000.
“A very common challenge is to find a space, something that is consistent, while they sort out what they need to do to start a business,” Meadows said.
Last year Meadows, a onetime corporate trainer at Planet Hollywood and Olive Garden, found what he was looking for in the former El Delfin space.
El Delfin’s owners were retiring and wanted to sell, so Meadows says he jumped on the opportunity. Having spent many weekends in the Mission watching his son play soccer at nearby Garfield Park, he says he appreciates the character of the neighborhood.
“The thing that I really like about the Mission is that it’s a cross-section of people,” Meadows said.
Three months of renovations came with challenges, including the decision to tear down longstanding murals inside. The murals, which wrapped along all four sides of the El Delfin’s dining room and were developed over many years, featured vivid and colorful depictions of Latin American history.
“A lot of people came in to complain,” says Meadows. “But this is an 1890s building; we just had to do some stuff.”
The murals were stained and cracked from years of exposure with no finishing coat. Meadows consulted with Precita Eyes executive director Susan Cervantes about restoring them, but ultimately decided not to. Part of the mural wall had to be removed to make the bathrooms wheelchair-accessible, he said.
“I’m sorry to see the murals disappear because I thought they were unique and different from other murals in the neighborhood,” Cervantes said.
To preserve some presence of the murals in the new decor, Meadows took large format photographs. One table at La Movida already features some images from the old walls and Meadows has plans to include other parts of the murals in the restaurant.
Six nights a week, La Movida will be a wine bar that serves small plates created by Michael Mauschbaugh, of the Sous Beurre Kitchen pop-up. The menu includes items such as charcuterie plates, flatbreads, and chorizo fritos, ranging in price from $5-$11. The bar will feature wines on tap from Berkeley and Oakland and beers brewed locally, such as Speakeasy and Almanac.
Meadows also hopes that La Movida will develop relationships with local non-profits and community groups, and he mentions local vocational schools, Mission Girls, and La Cocina as potential partners for the space.
“I think it’s a really nice thing to offer kitchen space,” said Leticia Landa, programs and development manager at La Cocina. “But for us, we work really hard to find people permanent spaces, to build consistent sales, and start restaurants… Like with apartments, it’s getting harder to do that.”
Landa looks forward to when La Movida is able to host community events, but also expressed confusion about the nature of the community it hopes to serve: “I don’t know how they’re defining community. What community are they really targeting and doing outreach to?”
For one neighborhood food vendor, La Movida has already provided a valuable service in sharing its kitchen.
Jeff Mason, the owner of the much-lauded sandwich shop Pal’s Takeaway, recently had to move out of his longtime home at Tony’s Market when the owner wanted to expand his convenience store. Rather than opening his own shop, Mason chose to sell his sandwiches at La Movida during lunch hours.
Mason likes working in a full restaurant kitchen with a deep frier, oven, and seating for guests. “Now I can do more things,” he says. “It’s nice to see food come out on plates, “adding, “but we have to bus tables now.”
La Movida (http://www.lamovidasf.com), 3066 24th St., is currently open for lunch on weekdays. The restaurant and wine bar will have a soft opening July 19 and 20.