By SHALWAH EVANS
The new pizza sign at Katz might confuse most patrons of the 15-year-old Mission District business. Since the place opened on June 24, 1993, Katz has been the spot where most construction workers, day laborers, painters and folks heading to the 16th Street BART drop in to grab a cup of coffee or tea and a freshly made bagel–not a slice of pizza.
In this economy, residents might wonder how a bagel shop with irregular hours—it’s closed from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. most days—makes enough money to survive in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in San Francisco.
Cut costs—and make pizza!
“The bagel business only works for a few hours a day,” said Burt Katz, part owner of the shop, who cited his son Michael Katz as the “real” owner.
The new pizza venture has 77-year-old Katz, who moved from Pennsylvania in the 1990s to keep an eye on the store, busy. While his son heads the other locations in SOMA and the Haight, Katz Senior oversees the 16th Street store and focuses on collecting old bills from the wholesale bagel business they had to close earlier this year.
Katz says retail bagels still make money.
“It’s cheap food,” he said. “And we don’t have any competition. No one else is doing bagels.”
Nevertheless, Katz suspects that new places opening up–like Tartine’s, three blocks distant–have lured away some of their clients. But its biggest revenue loss came from having to drop the wholesale bagel business—a decision forced by increasingly high wheat prices.
“That’s why we’re doing pizza,” he explained.
Except for a two-year experiment with serving lunch, Katz has always closed at 1 p.m. every day. But looking for a new revenue source, he and his son started recently to reopen at 5:30 p.m. as a pizza shop called Pizza 16. They’ve discovered that pizza sells well between 12 and 2 a.m., and the afternoon name change, they hope, will help to keep the attention they’ve been getting from the late crowd.
Katz doesn’t scream Pizza like Serrano’s and some of the other shops in the area. So Jews can make a great bagel but not pizza? Not exactly, said Katz, who thinks they make pizza better than many other shops in the neighborhood.
Nonetheless, he likes Pizza 16 for its evening persona and he’s looking forward to January when a beer license will arrive.
In the meantime, Katz, who studied theater and then directed plays, taught and later opened a movie theater in Pennsylvania, is collecting old bills from the defunct wholesale business.
That business flourished in the 1990s and by 2008 it served almost 200 businesses with bagels. But as the price of flour continued to rise—increasing by 250 percent by February 2008—the Katzs decided to drop it.
At the time, more than 40 companies still owed money—a few of them, thousands of dollars. While some have paid in full, others have worked out payment plans with the shop. Katz said they are just grateful to be rid of a large payroll of bakers, bagel-deliverers, and factories.
For now, Katz is focusing on flipping to Pizza at night. But he would like to have a small wholesale business again some day.
“As long as I’m mobile and have my strength and my health I’ll continue to help out here,” he said.
He would also like to taste a bagel from H&H the next time he’s in New York—the shop considered by many to have the ultimate bagel.
“I want to taste the best in the world,” he said with a wide smile.
Currently he’s taking a theater course at City College of San Francisco and dreams of opening a theater. When asked if he would stage plays there, he laughed.
“Nobody opens a theatre!” he said. Movies, and movies only.