Cha Cha Cha on Mission Street is changing hands, according to its former owner. But the Caribbean restaurant will remain as-is and all staff will be kept on, its new owner said on Thursday.

Irfan Yalcin — the owner of both L’Emigrante wine bar at 2199 Mission St. and Urban Fish at 2139 Mission St. on the corner with 18th Street, alongside the Mediterranean restaurant Pera in Potrero Hill — took possession of Cha Cha Cha at 2327 Mission St. between 19th and 20th streets after a meeting with its staff on Thursday morning, he said.

“Keeping it as it is, that was my main goal,” said Yalcin. “I can only take the place with the name and menu intact.”

Yalcin, a Turkish Kurd who immigrated to the United States in 2006 when he was 30 years old, met with the restaurant’s staff members this morning and assured them he would keep them and their menu in place.

Nothing is gonna change basically,” he said, saying that some improvements to the restaurant might be made — lighting, a new floor, and new TVs, among others — and that the tapas menu may be expanded. Yalcin is also looking to have brunch at the restaurant, which currently opens after 5 p.m. for dinner and drinks, sometime in the future.

“We know what Cha Cha Cha means for the Mission District,” he added.

Philip Bellber, who started both the Mission District and Haight-Ashbury locations of Cha Cha Cha alongside Parada 22 in the Haight-Ashbury and recently-shuttered Boogaloos in the Mission, said the restaurant was being sold because he was retiring. Bellber’s other restaurants will not change hands, however.

“I don’t want to be in a restaurant all the time managing places, I’ve been doing that a long time,” he said. Bellber started the restaurant in 1997 alongside his partner, Leon Pak, and said he was looking to do other things in his later life. “I’m in my seventh decade here. It’s time.”

Bellber co-owns the building where Yalcin has L’Emigrante alongside his business partner, Pak, who has another Cha Cha Cha in San Mateo with his son.

Yalcin said he approached Pak about buying the Caribbean restaurant in the last year and was competing against another potential buyer, who he did not name. He said he did not know why they chose him, but assumed his management of other restaurants and good standing as a tenant helped — and that he was “just lucky” to get the place.

Cha Cha Cha was once Original McCarthy’s — a post-Prohibition era bar that was one of the first to legally serve alcohol after the 21st Amendment was ratified. Bellber and Pak turned it into their “New World” restaurant in the late 1990s, but kept “Original McCarthy’s” on the restaurant’s sign while adding a Puerto Rican and Cuban inspired menu to the Irish bar. 

Cha Cha Cha will be Yalcin’s fourth restaurant, after opening Pera in 2009, L’Emigrante in 2014, and Urban Fish in 2015. He has worked in restaurants since he was high school in “every position: in the kitchen as a chef, as a supervisor, running a nightclub in Turkey.”

Cha Cha Cha, however, is “totally different” and the biggest restaurant he’ll manage, he said.

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Joe was born in Sweden, where the Chilean half of his family received asylum after fleeing Pinochet, and spent his early childhood in Chile; he moved to Oakland when he was eight. He attended Stanford University for political science and worked at Mission Local as a reporter after graduating. He then spent time in advocacy as a partner for the strategic communications firm The Worker Agency. He rejoined Mission Local as an editor in 2023.

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1 Comment

  1. That Bellber is retiring and was looking for a new owner explains the terrible quality of food last time I went (in August). Hoping the new owners can turn things around.

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