Charanga, a pan-Latin American restaurant on Mission Street, has closed after serving the neighborhood for more than 13 years.
The restaurant had been on a month-to-month lease since 2009, and is closing now because the landlord declined to renegotiate the lease, said owner Gaby Salas. Even though Charanga was struggling, Salas said she was willing to keep it open to keep her eight employees and stay in the neighborhood.
“It was bittersweet,” she said about closing. “I don’t have to worry about it any more. I need a break.”
Anchor Realty, the property management company that represents the building’s owners, Del-Camp Investments Corporation, declined to comment for this article.
The issue isn’t unique to Salas, said Dairo Romero, director of operations for the Mission Economic Development Agency.
“There is a big risk for restaurants and other business to keep month-to-month leases in this climate of displacement,” Romero said. “Business owners need to be aware that there are new entrepreneurs out there willing to invest and open businesses in the Mission.
“We encourage any small business owner to review the lease agreement, get ready to negotiate a new agreement and get ready to attract the new clientele,” he said, referring to the new, more affluent residents.
Gino Assaf, the owner of Specchio restaurant next door and a friend of Salas, knows this well. Without a lease he was reluctant to make improvements to his former restaurant on Columbus Avenue, where he went month-to-month for five years.
“You can’t even talk about next month,” he said about the lack of stability. He settled in the Mission in 2008 and now has a lease.
Salas said she had constant problems with leaks in her kitchen from the hostel upstairs, but the repairs were minimal and without the commitment of a lease, she was reluctant to invest more.
“You can’t fix anything,” she said. “You just put a band-aid.”
Salas and her business partner, Heather Raich, had already invested more than $250,000 in the restaurant. On Wednesday afternoon, as they were cleaning up, Salas recalled when she decided to settle in the Mission.
“I looked at other neighborhoods, I thought, ‘I’m Latina, what am I going to do on Clement Street?’ Before I came here, no one knew about Costa Rica, they thought I was from Puerto Rico; now everyone’s talking about going to Costa Rica.”
Among her most valued memories is the time her parents visited from Costa Rica and went straight to the kitchen to cook for the customers. And their 13th anniversary, when the celebration was attended by many, including supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and David Campos.
“It was so crowded, we couldn’t fit everyone in here,” Raich said. “The irony.”
As they cleaned, Assaf from Specchio and Paula Tejada from Chile Lindo dropped by to visit and buy some of the kitchen equipment. Salas is trying to recoup some of the money she could have made from selling the restaurant, which she can’t do because she doesn’t have a lease.
It’s not clear why the landlord chose not to renew the lease. Romero and others have heard rumors that condos are planned for the 40,000-square-foot lot, but no building or other permits are on file with the city.
As for Salas, she will be a chef at the soon-to-open Precita Park Cafe in Bernal Heights.
“Thank you for supporting me all those years,” she said as she looked out to Mission Street and began crying, again.