For nearly 20 years, Elena Jurado, 54, watched families develop, books written and new businesses open while running Café Que Tal at 1005 Guerrero Street near 22nd Street. As one reviewer on Yelp summed up the atmosphere, “I pretty much spent the summer of 2000 at Que Tal studying for the California Bar exam.”
Jurado agreed. “People would bring us copies of their books, their PHD dissertations and things like that,” she said. “A lot of work got done there.”
After being without a lease for a couple years, Jurado received an offer that was almost twice the $3,300-a-month she was paying for the 900-sq-foot storefront. She failed to see how business, slower since the recession, would cover that sum and so she decided last Friday to close the café.
“If you are selling a $35 plate of food at least you have a chance,” she said. “If you are selling $2 coffee and $2 bagels, it just doesn’t work.”
Her story is not uncommon. As the restaurant boom in San Francisco continues, some landlords are looking to capitalize on the high demand for commercial space in the Mission. Last year, Eduardo Reyes closed Acaxutla on Mission Street after failing to negotiate a new lease with his landlord.
Jurado’s Landlord, Luisa Hanson, a restauranteur who recently emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, is exercising her right to get market value for the space, her attorney said.
“The rent that she had been paying two or three years is now below market for that area,” said Edward Higginbotham, the attorney. “It’s a hot area.”
Hanson, who has dealt with acrimonious closures like that of John Barleycorn Pub in Nob Hill, did not respond to calls seeking comment. In the case of the Barleycorn Pub, Hanson declined to renew the beloved pub’s lease in 2007. She had purchased the building a year earlier. The bar closed, but not before more than 4,000 patrons signed a petition urging Hanson to renew the lease, according to press reports.
“Probably the John Barleycorn situation in hindsight could have been handled with a little bit more care and sensibility,” said Higgenbotham. “We feel like that situation is different.”
Jurado, a Venezuelan immigrant, opened her café in 1994, almost immediately after arriving in San Francisco from Santa Barbara. She managed a coffee house there and decided to take a risk in her new city.
“A friend of mine scouted the Mission location and he was very sure it was going to become a great area,” she said. “And we went and saw the space and we signed up for it.”
Jerry Lopez, who has been living on the block for 35 years, remembers the café as being the only business there that survived over the years. Four out of the five adjacent storefronts within the same property were empty for years before three restaurants opened throughout the last decade. This changed the block into one with nighttime activity, which helped clean up the neighborhood, he said.
“It was sad to see it go,” Lopez said of Que Tal. “And especially because they had a good cup of coffee.”
As for Jurado, she was happy that she got to see her neighbors raise their families. She is looking to do more translation work and possibly move out of the city to a more affordable place.
“We had developed really strong relationships, we know the names of every customer, the names of their children,” she said. “We had a history with them and we saw them grow up.”