Photo: David. E / Yelp

The Roosevelt Tamale Parlor on 24th Street near York posted a sign outside its door that said it would be shutting down by the end of this coming Sunday, December 6.

The owners cited “personal health issues” and the “shrinking restaurant labor pool” for the closure, saying the low supply of workers has “fueled unsustainable wage expectations,” a problem Mission Local has written about before for storefronts on Valencia and Mission.

“We are losing a large part of our kitchen staff, and replacing them is too expensive,” said Aaron Presbrey, one of the restaurant’s owners. “We can’t sustain the place with the current wage expectations.”

Presbrey said that although “business has been steady,” an exodus of restaurant workers who are no longer able to afford the city’s high rents has made it difficult to run a full service restaurant that is profitable. As a result of the growing wealth gap, he believes that minimum wage jobs have been stigmatized.

“People don’t want to work for for minimum wage anymore, even though that amount has been raised,” he said. “But if you pay more than that, how is a small business supposed to sustain itself? There’s only so much you can charge for tamales.”

The Roosevelt Tamale Parlor has changed ownership several times since it first opened on 24th Street nearly 93 years ago, and has been in the hands of current owners Aaron Presbrey and Barry Moore for the past three years. Though the restaurant could qualify for financial assistance under Proposition J, the legacy business historic preservation fund that San Francisco voters approved last month, Presbrey said “it’s not enough.”

Under Proposition J, appointed legacy businesses who have existed for 30 or more years qualify to receive $500 per full-time employee from an allocated city fund. But with a lack of employees, Presbrey said that the legislation will not benefit his business.

“As great as Prop. J is, it will not make it viable for us to stay here,” he said. “It’s a sad thing to see happen, but it’s a result of the current economy of this city.”

The store owners said the decision had nothing to do with their landlord, who they said has been “nothing but reasonable and fair.” The owners also hope to bring their gravy and salsa to retail in the future, and thanked their customers for years of support.

The full letter is below:

Due to a combination of factors including personal health issues and a shrinking restaurant labor pool which has fueled unsustainable wage expectations, we have been forced to close the brick and mortar location of the Roosevelt Tamale Parlor. This decision was in NO way influenced by our landlord who has been nothing but reasonable and fair with us.

Although this may seem sudden to you, that is only because we have had to keep this agonizing decision making process private in order to ensure that we didn’t prematurely eliminate any options.

For those of you who crave the house gravy or the table salsa, we do hope and plan to bring you many of the flavors you have come to love in jars at retail in the near future.

We would like to thank all of you who supported us and communed with us as we steered this Grande Dame through her golden years. We would also like to think she was as great at her passing as at any other point in her illustrious, long and full lifetime.

To keep up with future developments:

To contact us:

With sincerest gratitude,

Aaron and Barry

This story has been updated.

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  1. Sad to see this happen, but frankly I am offended that there is an implied blaming of the workers by citing “unsustainable wage expectations”. Try “unsustainable cost of living” in a city where the workers cannot afford to live there, and would have to commute long distances for a job that pays minimally. You really should direct your blame to the greedy landlords that are making bank on “passive income”, while the little people languish, struggling to make enough of a living to get by.

    1. Hey Rebekah, why don’t you buy all the rental units in SF and enjoy all the passive income then? You could even donate the profits every year to local non profits that help the community.

  2. Ohhhhhhh nooooooo!!! A piece of me dies…say it ain’t so! Three generations of McCarthy’s (including my son) grew up on the incredibly delicious dishes that Lucy and ‘Mama” kept coming from the kitchen. The Cancillas took over in the 40’s or 50’s, it had previously been an Italian restaurant. Despite Lucy’s talent and the fact that everyone loved her cooking, it was years before the french bread could be removed and replaced with delicious steaming tortillas served with butter. But, why the “Roosevelt”? Well once upon a time everything in the neighborhood was named the Roosevelt. The theater was casually referred to as “The Roosie”.
    As teenagers Lucy would let us hang out in a booth and carry on our silly 60’s teenage dialogues of angst half the night on Fridays (where upon we’d move on to the St. Francis Soda Fountain). Best Mexican food ever! On occasion the restaurant reviewers would rediscover it and then we’d have to hunker down because there would be lines around the block.
    After Lucy passed away, Mama kept true to the high quality as the Cancillas devoted daughter, Rose, and son continued to run the restaurant and still with the tradition “Cash only”. The current owners tried to reproduce the dishes but unfortunately they didn’t have the recipes.The dishes were tasty thought and chilaquiles were pretty decent. Still, the Roosevelt Tamale Parlor is a shrine to me.

  3. When I was a kid, back in ancient history, restaurant workers were unionized and made a living wage. An aunt of mine cooked in a restaurant and made enough money to buy a duplex out in the Sunset. Likewise a next door neighbor who worked as a hotel maid. She bought a home in the Mission Terrace area on her wages. And as I remember restaurant prices were not unreasonable. We had Miz Brown’s, Compton’s, Mannings, Sears Fine Food, Fosters cafeterias, Zim’s, the Hippo, Lefty O’Doul’s, Tommy’s Joynt, Original Joe’s, Little Joe’s, and others — all locally-owned restaurants. And they all paid decent living wages.

  4. “People don’t want to work for minimum wage anymore, even though that amount has been raised,” he said. “But if you pay more than that, how is a small business supposed to sustain itself? There’s only so much you can charge for tamales.”

    So the owners are a large part of the problem — they can’t figure out how to grow the business so it can pay a decent wage to employees. They’ll put their salsa on grocery shelves, but that doesn’t do anything for workers or customers in the Mission.

    1. The owners should be able to operate a restaurant without being forced to pay ridiculous minimums to all workers. There’s an unrealistic expectation that EVERY business should have to pay all workers a wage not commensurate with experience and job description. Why should a student working part-time in a restaurant be paid as much as a full-time skilled worker?

      1. The problem isn’t the minimum wage. It’s just that even paying that the labor pool is just too small. You can’t live in minimum wage in this city.

  5. Noooo! I’ll pay $50 for your tamales! It’s one of the last good places left in the Mission! Even el Farrolito has turned to shit to serve techies faster, with less emphasis on flavor! Don’t go!!!