Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Shuttered since December, the near century old Roosevelt Tamale Parlor will once again open its doors at 2817 St.— albeit temporarily— to house a rotating pop-up series headed by two all-star restaurateurs.

Chef David Nayfeld and Pastry Chef Angela Pinkerton, both formerly of the award-winning New York City-based restaurant Eleven Madison Park, are currently renovating the interior of the Mission tamale joint to fit the concepts of their new pop-up, Mission D&A.  

Back in December, Roosevelt’s owners cited the high costs of living and a shrinking labor pool as the business’ downfall when it closed unexpectedly.

“We need a space to be creative in, and they need a reprieve from working on it,” said Nayfeld, adding that he and Pinkerton hashed out a deal to temporarily utilize the space to host themed “dinner parties,” paired with a side of local art, three nights per week.

The deal is a win-win for the restaurateurs hoping to get their feet wet before breaking into San Francisco’s restaurant scene and for Roosevelt’s current owners. The former tamale restaurant’s owners have continued to pay rent on the space following it’s closure, unsure of how and when to proceed, according to Nayfeld. 

“We are giving the owners a little bit of breathing room while they are figuring out what to do with that space,” he said, adding that he expects the pop-up to run between “two to four months.” 

The pair are in the midst of opening their first brick and mortar restaurant on Divisadero Street, an Italian eatery called Che Fico, set to launch sometime in the Fall.  But the bureaucracies of that process have left little time for the chef-duo to do what they do best, and Nayfeld said he’s been eager to get back into the kitchen in the meantime.

“We are just going mad waiting and not cooking, and this is a chance for Angela and I to play,” he said. The point of the pop-up, he said, is to have fun while it lasts. “With the pop-up, we can be free to try new things that we maybe wouldn’t ever get a chance to try otherwise.”

Mission D&A and will have little to do with Che Fico, but will instead serve as an experimental space for the two to try out new food ideas that could carry over to their new restaurant.

The first week of the pop-up’s dinner series will be a culinary play on Nayfeld’s childhood, themed after meals he grew-up with in his Eastern European household. A first generation San Franciscan, Nayfeld’s parents are Jewish refugees who fled Belarus in 1980 and settled in the Bay Area.

“I’ve been tied into the Russian-Jewish community here in San Francisco and in the Bay Area and my mom has always been a pillar of that community,” said Nayfeld, who named the dinner series “Mama Galina,” after his mother.  Having honed his culinary skills in kitchens around the Bay Area, New York, and in Europe since age 12, Nayfeld added that the concept reflects his take on “what it would be like to eat dinner at my house in 1980 had I been cooking.”

Those unsure of what that looks like can expect family-style renderings of Belarusian staples like potato salads, stuffed cabbage, as well as chopped liver and Matzo Balls.

Pinkerton, a distinguished Pastry Chef, will add a sweet touch to the hearty dinner menu in the form of desserts.  

The dinners are offered twice on three evenings per week, and tickets are available for $75.  

For Nayfeld, Mission D&A will be a brief venture into other parts of his childhood that he still holds dear.

“I grew up eating some of the best food of my life in the Mission,” including at Mission Street’s El Farolito, he said, adding that he could imagine someday opening a permanent restaurant in the neighborhood himself. “I’m familiar with what the Mission was and what it has changed into, and I now love it for both.”

But Erick Arguello, of Calle 24, the neighborhood’s merchants association, pointed to the recent closure of Sous Beurre and questioned the success of “high-end restaurants” on 24th Street. If Roosevelt’s owners fail to make a comeback, he hopes that the space’s next tenants will add to the fabric of the traditionally Latino neighborhood.

“We prefer that it stays as the Tamale Parlor and that someone carries on that name, because it has a great following and history [in the Mission],” he said. “We are hoping for something that really fits the neighborhood and is affordable to the locals.”

Nayfeld and Pinkerton plan on treating the space “like a gallery,” but without changing the integrity of the building permanently— meaning that Roosevelt’s unmistakable neon sign may stay.
“There are some simple things that can be done in any space to transform it into something that works for us but still paying respect to the neighborhood and building,” he said. Once the pop-up ends, we will be sure to change it back to the beloved Roosevelt Tamale Parlor and be on our way to Western Addition,” said Nayfeld.

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  1. On the one hand, I love the innovation of the pop-up. On the other hand, I see Calle 24’s point. As a long time resident in the neighborhood, I don’t see that we need a dinner with a $75 ticket price. Certainly I won’t go there. I don’t wish these short-term subleasers any ill-will, but I hope a more homey, accessible business returns to the space.

  2. Calle 24 should think a little before they speak. Obviously Roosevelt’s lease holder is trying to keep it Roosevelt’s. They are paying the rent (ouch) and haven’t been able to find any takers. A pop-up is the perfect way for them to offset some of the rent on a temporary basis while they continue to look for someone to take over full time. That said, while I loved Roosevelt’s and went many times, there are more than half a dozen places on 24th to get the exact same food.