Looking out from the inside. Photo by Joe Eskenazi

[dropcap]In [/dropcap]life, Boogaloos served as a microcosm of Mission trends every bit as well as it served as a brunch spot. There were the tattooed, toddler-toting hipsters wiping vegetarian herb-cream gravy off their hoodies, and tucking into a “Temple O’ Spuds,” an Edmund Hillary-worthy mountain of potatoes, cheese, salsa, sour cream and green onions — a monument to the power of hangover food.

In death, like Ben Kenobi, Boogaloos became even more powerful, as a symbol of the Malthusian currents drowning all too many people and places in the Mission. In 2015, the restaurant was rocked by a proposed increase of its rent from $4,200 to a parodic $17,500. Then, while essentially on life support, Boogaloo’s was hit with a fire in March of last year, and has since been down for the count.

Venerable, quotidian businesses being served with mind-blowing rent spikes — making way for places that won’t serve the Temple O’ Spuds or the sort of people who’d order that — is a boilerplate script element these days in the Mission. As are ill-timed fires.

Boogaloos, however, has gone off-script. And it looks like this Mission story may yet have a Hollywood ending.

“We’re going to open it again!” crows co-owner Carolyn Blair Brandeis, who co-founded Boogaloos in 1994 with Philip Bellber. While Brandeis had bandied about the notion of relocating the restaurant elsewhere, that won’t be necessary. Boogaloos is slated to reopen in the very same 1927-vintage building on the corner of Valencia and 22nd, a handsome, low-slung structure advertising its long-ago occupants in unsettling terms on the marquee: “Cut-rate druggists.”

Brandeis says she’s hoping to be up and running by January.

This, to put it mildly, is not how things tend to turn out. Rasputin may have, for a time, withstood a similar litany of lethal conditions to those leveled at Boogaloos. But nobody quadrupled his rent.

And yet, this story of resurrection contains even more improbable elements. That property manager who launched a thousand angry tweets by proposing a purveyor of hash browns pay $17,500 a month? He’s done the unthinkable.

He’s apologized. And worked to make things right.

[dropcap]Displaying [/dropcap] the caution of a real-estate professional rather than the panache of a restaurateur, J.J. Panzer notes that a lot can happen between now and January. He’s sent Brandeis a new lease; she says it’s for $7,500 a month, which she deems more than fair. Things are looking good — but there’s still a delicate pas-de-deux with the insurance company to come, as well as the logistical feat of transforming an empty space into a packed restaurant.

That’s not nothing. But Panzer laughs. “This is a very happy story. I’ve apologized to them for making a mistake and doing something that didn’t make sense. I’m so glad we’re going in this direction.”

Panzer is a city native. He was born at Kaiser hospital, grew up not far from this restaurant, and dined here often; he’s lived the majority of his life in the Mission. A generation ago, this stretch of Valencia was, per a longtime resident, “A backwater street. All the stores were closed and the only ones out here were Holy Rollers.”

Now, people have seen fit to knit cozies for the bicycle corrals outside the small-batch chocolatier and any number of boutiques purveying artisanal everything. This place is awash in money and Panzer was tempted by that.

“I got sidetracked thinking about all kinds of different things: ‘Oh, the Mission and Valencia are going in this direction; everything’s blowing up!’” he says. “But then you realize, you know, let’s go back to the core of what you want to have there. I went off on a tangent thinking about why they’re not open for dinner — this is a premium restaurant location. But they didn’t want to do dinner. That’s not their business. So, I sat down and thought about it again, and I figured: Let’s put it back the way it was.”

And the opening for this moment of clarity was, counter-intuitively, a fire.

[dropcap]Outside [/dropcap]Carolyn Blair Brandeis’ window in the Alta Heights neighborhood of Napa, the fire is roaring. “It’s so smoky here,” she says via phone. “You cannot believe it.” She feels secure; she’s always felt secure in this neighborhood. But things change.

For humans, unplanned fires are rarely a good thing. Very few positives will be gleaned from the blaze that has ravaged the North Bay and killed dozens of people. The fire that ripped through Boogaloos in 2016, however, turned out to be a silver lining.

Believe it or not, but the former home of cut-rate druggists was not built with the care befitting a temple. Rather, this place was put together like a Temple O’ Spuds. A catwalk around the perimeter of the interior and 10 feet up was filled in during the FDR administration, creating a second floor. This was a questionable move that was questionably executed. As a result, the second story featured claustrophobic, seven-foot ceilings. And that floor was both suspended from rods above and supported by columns below, a Mickey Mouse setup that led it to sag a noticeable four or more inches.

Well, that’s gone now. The upstairs fire enabled that second floor to be largely cleared away. When the restaurant reopens, diners will be able to gaze at the ceiling, 17 feet overhead, and a skylight. The windows circling the building around the former second story, once painted over, are now translucent. You can see a lot in here now. Including an Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant restroom, which wasn’t here before. “We were able to salvage our relationship,” sums up Panzer.

“Having a fire is not a good way to do this. But all’s well that ends well.”

The new interior. Photo by Joe Eskenazi.

Follow Us

Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

Join the Conversation


Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. I know who JJ Panzer is.. He was my landlord, and I do not have very positive things to say about him. I can say that he made few “math” errors and his accounting team did not notice that. When I pointed out mistakes, he ws not apologetic. He is no longer my landlord. I am really surprised that he went that far to destroy this restuarant, and I am very surprised that this article gave JJ Panzer a “pat” on the back or “slap” on the hands for his greedy actions. He should be severly punished and explelled from the City.

  2. That’s a nice story to hear. That place may have been a popular hipster whatever, but their food was pretty damn unsatisfying. When (in 2005) you’re hungover and it’s a choice between this place and Jim’s Diner, that’s pretty sad. I went to this place just bc my gf at the time was a vegetarian….. the food was across the board totally mediocre. Let’s hope it improves!

  3. A generation ago, Valencia Street was NOT a “backwater”. Modern Times Bookstore was really active, there were at least 3 coffeehouses, Old Wives Tales and Kitchen Table Press, Cafe Artemis (which became Radio Valencia, and is now Berreta), Crystal Pistol, Osento, Amelia’s (which is now the Elbo Room), Artists Television Access, Puerto Alegre, Leather Tongue Video, and other businesses I can’t remember. This is what helps to facilitate gentrification: buying into the belief that since “nothing” was here before, certainly anything coming in would be an improvement. There were many great businesses here before, they simply were priced out.

    1. Emlen —

      That quote was made regarding the 1970s, so, my bad, that’s actually *two* generations ago. Time flies.

        1. But it’s not a particularly good point. You’ll note the rent still went up from $4,200 to $7,500, so it isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for abolishing rent control.

    1. You do realize this is a partially completed interior that’s empty and has just been painted, correct?

    2. It’s not complete The interior is being restored. Chill. You don’t have to be a comment whore on every single subject.