Activists who have long tried to fight gentrification by opposing market-rate development and upscale businesses are now targeting new restaurants on Mission Street.

The latest focus is a tea restaurant planned for the site of the former Sapphire Photo store at 2761 Mission St. between 23rd and 24th streets.

A frequent opponent of new developments in the Mission has filed a request with the city to delay its conversion – one of nine similar applications for conversion to restaurant use along the Mission Street corridor.

“All parties should be aware at this point that the Mission community does not wish to see any more restaurant conversions on Mission Street,” wrote Rick Hall, an activist, in the discretionary review application he filed January 5.

He added that the proposed restaurant would contribute to the “Valencia-zation” of Mission Street and exacerbate gentrification effects on Latino and working-class communities.

It’s not that he believes that all restaurants contribute to gentrification – though the organizers do worry about oversaturation of restaurants on business corridors.

Hall said in an interview that he and other activists from a group of organizations called “United to Save the Mission” have dropped their opposition to some restaurants after meeting with the owner and determining that they will not be forces of gentrification. Usually, that determination depends on how expensive the menu will be, he said.  

It’s unclear how widespread their support is and whether they can prevent any one business from going forward.

“For example, the falafel guy is going to have reasonably price[d] food. It’s a counter, you go up to the counter and order, and then you can go sit down,” he explained. “It’s not a full service restaurant with white tablecloths and hundred-dollar-a-plate sushi. It fits in for the working class that live in the neighborhood.”

With rents high, Hall said it was unclear how activists can ensure that neighborhood-serving businesses are able to move in.

“I don’t know exactly how to do it, but…throwing a little noise onto the issue like we’re doing with challenging the retail to restaurant conversions may help with that process,” Hall said.

For his part, the man applying for the restaurant conversion permit is nonchalant and a bit baffled about the opposition. Tommy Woo, a contractor who is applying for the conversion on behalf of the landlord of the building where the tea cafe is planned, said he hadn’t read the complaint but hopes to go ahead with the application process.

“Some people complain about everything,” he said. “You have to utilize [the space], otherwise it’s a waste of space.” He added that a local business also offers jobs.