After 19 years in business, Marco Senghor has secured the future of Bissap Baobab on 19th Street. The Senegalese entrepreneur has bought 3372 19th St. from former Facebook executive Owen Van Natta for $1.6 million.
The sale realizes a dream Senghor has had for years. It also means one property on the block is now owned by a businessman who will act as a dedicated steward.
Or, perhaps, as an admirer.
Describing the sale the day after it was finalized, Senghor said, “It’s almost like the place is saying, ‘Yes, Marco. Let’s do it.’ It’s like we’re getting married.”
The object of his affections will be showered with attention, now that Senghor is more — literally — invested. He’s planning to make some renovations, including tweaking the bar setup a little to accommodate small bites served at the bar and screening sports matches.
For now, he is recovering, on a brief vacation to Senegal, from a process that lasted some nine months. New obstacles kept arising, even after he discovered that the landlord (or his representative, since Senghor said he’s never actually seen Van Natta) was amenable to the sale.
At one point, it came out that a cleaner had operated on the site in 1929 and the soil needed to be sampled to determine whether it was free of harmful chemicals, a process that tacked three months onto the sale.
Then there was the inevitable sting of the price increase — Senghor had made one previous attempt to purchase the property in 2014. At the time, it would have cost him about half of what he wound up paying. But had he waited any longer, he feared, he would have faced an even more dire situation.
“I had one chance. The Mission, especially this corner, is really hot,” Senghor said.
With one year left on Bissap Baobab’s lease, things were getting dicey. But something in him rebelled at the idea of simply giving up — especially because he’d watched 19th street transform from a place where he would regularly wake up to gunshots and be asked to serve as a haven to the prostitutes and violent denizens of the street.
“If I was kicked out of here, I would have to have packed up my stuff and left. Getting kicked out like that after 19, 20 years of my life, it would be very hard to start again,” he said. “It would feel like a disrespect of who I am, to have to leave this neighborhood. Some part of me would not have accepted that.”
A strong support network of nonprofits and neighbors, plus a loan from a city program, helped him succeed. Now he’ll have a chance to keep Bissap Baobab going in perpetuity.
“I’m excited to feel like I’m at home.”