Nun Soup Kitchen Imperiled by SF Mission Condo Owners

The nuns of the Fraternite Notre Dame Mary of Nazareth Soup Kitchen planned to move into an empty commercial space at 1930 Mission St. Photo by Lola Chavez

The fate of a soup kitchen evicted from the Tenderloin in February remains uncertain, even though the two French nuns who run it thought they had found a home in the Mission a month later. Residents at the new location, 1930 Mission St. between 16th and 15th streets, have voiced concerns about allowing the nuns to purchase a unit there.

The multimillionaire Tony Robbins, a famous motivational speaker, gave Marie Valerie and Marie Benedicte of the Fraternite Notre Dame Mary of Nazareth $750,000 to buy the real estate in the Mission and another $50,000 to get the soup kitchen up and running once they moved in.

There are 17 condominiums in the building and two ground-floor commercial spaces, one of which houses a medical marijuana doctor. The nuns planned to purchase the other and set up a soup kitchen in the 1,434-square-foot space owned by Armen Jalalian.

But the building’s homeowner’s association called an emergency meeting to thwart the soup kitchen from moving in, according to several sources.  

“The building’s property manager told me that [some members of the HOA] are vehemently against selling,” said Antonio Gamero, the real estate broker who helped the nuns find their new soup kitchen location last month. “[They] are trying to clean up the Mission and don’t want the homeless to be there. More crime and more loitering devalues the property.”

In emails shared with Mission Local, one resident called for an emergency board meeting in regard to the sale to “stop this from happening.”

“I’m concerned about rats and negative property value that a soup kitchen will bring,” wrote another member of the association.

A third condo-owner suggested amending the association’s rules for the building to prevent the soup kitchen, or any type of restaurant, from operating in the space.

Jalalian, the current owner of the space, said that he applied for a restaurant permit in 2012. That permit was approved in 2013, according to documents filed with the Planning Department.

Jalalian said he ultimately abandoned his plan for the restaurant at 1930 Mission St. and put the unit back on the market because his involvement in operating another restaurant made him realize that he was a “poor restaurateur.”

But not all tenants seem to be against the soup kitchen moving in. In an email, one person acknowledged issues that could arise with a restaurant operating out of the building and asked for solutions.

“We should work with them to figure out a sensible garbage/compost plan to minimize vermin though. Let’s go in with suggestions and solutions,” the tenant wrote.

On Wednesday, Tom Tunny, an attorney representing the nuns, said negotiations between the tenants and nuns are ongoing. The association, he said, has presented the nuns with a list of “concerns” that the buyers are attempting to address so that they can sign off by Friday – a deadline set by Jalalian. But as of Saturday, the deal remained in limbo, according to Jalalian.

“The sisters are not sure…for different reasons, that this is the best property for them,” said Tunny. “They are in a delicate spot. We [have started] to talk to the HOA and are very pleased and optimistic but are not sure for ourselves if this is right.”

Tunny said that the list of demands include making the unit’s bathroom disabled-accessible, controlling the crowd of homeless people who are attracted to the soup kitchen, and installing proper ventilation.

“The physical space is a concern,” said Tunny. “We are trying to figure out if there is the proper venting for ovens. How much work that would take, and how expensive that would be.”

Despite having a permit from the city, the installation of a ventilation system would require the approval of the homeowner’s association.

Jalalian called the fuss over ventilation “an arbitrary excuse for them to deny the nuns [this location].”

He accused the association of discriminating against the poor by keeping the soup kitchen out of the neighborhood, and attempting to discourage the nuns from moving into the building.

“[The nuns had] real estate gifted to them. Never will they be evicted. [The unit has a] restaurant permit in place. [There are the] homeless next door,” Jalalian wrote in an email.

Located immediately next door to the building, at 1950 Mission St., is the city’s only homeless navigation center, a transitional shelter for the homeless.

“If they really want to feed the homeless with their soup kitchen, this is the best scenario they can have,” wrote Jalalian.

Dana Cappiello, the listing agent for the unit, called the location perfect. “There are very few places so perfectly located that the city has already permitted a restaurant to go into. We could be serving people very quickly.”

When contacted, the 1930 Mission St. property manager declined to speak about the association’s opposition, and members of the association did not return requests for comment.

Jeff Belote, a real estate attorney who was hired as the association’s legal counsel last week, also declined to comment.

But merchants in the area were more vocal in their concerns about loitering and crime in the neighborhood. They said loitering is already a problem on the block and it has been compounded by the city’s navigation center.

Though all agreed that the nuns’ work is noble, some said they fear that a soup kitchen to feed the needy could attract more problems to the block.

“I’m surprised that the people in this building don’t complain more,” said Viola Wong, an employee of The City 420 Doctors, also located on the ground floor of 1930 Mission St. Wong said that some of the homeless people residing at the navigation center frequently sit on the stoop at the entrance to the building.

“People just sit there in front of the stoop and pass out and are high or whatever. It’s a daily thing,” she said. “On some days it is worse than others. I feel like we shouldn’t’ have to deal with this.”

Oscar Garcia, the manager of Fida Market at 1939 Mission St., located across the street from the Navigation Center, echoed Wong’s concerns. Garcia complained about frequent theft at his store at the hands of some of the homeless people who reside at the shelter.

“It’s already crazy enough over here, and the police don’t get involved,” said Garcia. “You can’t even walk on the sidewalk on this block because there’s people hanging out who won’t move. To bring something like [a soup kitchen] in here is going attract even more people.”

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9 Comments

  1. Bob Evans

    This bum enabling has got to stop. They are not “angels” just down on their luck and a little soup will fix everything !

    • Dylan McHugh

      You’re completely right, Scrooge — err, Bob. They should just die and decrease the surplus population. Why should charity be wasted on people who actually need it?

      Personally, I cannot believe anyone is callous enough to be against this. I live very close to this building and while loitering is indeed a problem, I’d hope that other San Franciscans would be inclined to help them rather than spit on them. With the loitering the way it is currently, the property is already “devalued” (as devalued as any property in the Mission can be, which is to say, still extremely valuable), and with the Navigation Center next door, it makes perfect sense to put the soup kitchen there. It’s one thing if the nuns don’t want the space after all, but the idea that real human kindness is being squashed by a few NIMBYs absolutely disgusts me.

    • Chad Russo

      This troll-enabling software has got to stop! Evans, you’re not fit to carry these loving sisters’ rosaries.

  2. ufo twuk

    People who moved into that neighborhood should accept what was there before…some homeless…if they don’t like move out!!!

    • cryptid kar

      If they were there before the homeless, does that mean the homeless should move out?

    • JW

      Most if not all of the people who own units in that building were there well before the Navigation Center and the proposed soup kitchen.

      • LSS

        16th and Mission has been an area for unhoused folks to rest and try to exist for years. I’ve lived near this block since 1991 and I assure you that none of these tenants living in condos were there first. We didn’t have condos in the Mission back then!! How callous of you.

        • JW

          My response was to the suggestion that the people already in the building should move out if they can’t “accept what was there before”. Most of these folks bought and moved in with their eyes wide open. What’s changed is the establishment of the Navigation Center and the proposal to establish a soup kitchen. I don’t recall any widespread objection to the navigation center. But a soup kitchen in their own building is a big change and it’s not unreasonable for them to express concerns and have some control over their immediate environment.
          And for the record, these units became condos in the early 1990s and were marketed to first time buyers. I’m surprised you didn’t know that since you’ve lived there since 91. The Mission definitely had condos back then.
          Try having an adult conversation without resorting to name calling.

  3. LSS

    The Navigation Center for homeless persons is right next door to this building. Adding a soup kitchen won’t make it worse! These disgusting snobs shouldn’t have opened up fancy condos at 15th and Mission if they can’t handle the reality and struggles of this neighborhood. Just ridiculous!!!! Move back to the Marina!!!

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