More than a dozen community members turned out Tuesday evening to support a proposal from Laundré, the white-walled laundromat-cafe on 20th and Mission, to add beer and wine to its menu. None of the community members in attendance could think of any potential problems with the establishment selling beer and wine until closing time at 10 p.m.
Still, the owner and her supporters fear that opposition is lying in wait.
Just hours before the public meeting, seven members of the neighborhood coalition United To Save the Mission — including Peter Papadopoulos, a Mission Economic Development Agency employee — met privately with Laundré’s owner, Ariana Roviello, her partner Peter Smith, and their permit expediter, Mark Rennie. Larisa Petroncelli, co-owner of Factory 1 Design, and Erick Arguello of Calle 24 were also present at the meeting, representing the coalition.
At that meeting, the coalition laid out several requirements Laundré needs to fulfill to gain its cooperation. Roviello said the meeting was intimidating, an hour-long “roast” focused on what was wrong with her business: its lack of Spanish-language signage in the cafe area and the overall decor — especially the white paint (more on that later).
Roviello said the group tried to convince her not to pursue the license until an agreement was reached.
When the coalition referred to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that Roviello would need to sign, her three-member team signaled an unwillingness to put pen to paper. They requested time to carefully review the terms of the document. “That’s when things got frazzled,” she said.
When Roviello then asked for the MOU’s specifics, Papadopoulos refused to show it to her and said, “‘It’s what we’ve discussed and a couple other things,’” Roviello remembers him saying. When she asked what the “other things” were, he declined to tell her, she said.
Papadopoulos said later in a telephone interview with Mission Local that he “tried to explain that there are no other substantive issues that are in the MOU and that the only remaining items were things pertaining to the MOU itself.”
He said he and other members did not leave the MOU because it was only a sample and that he never intended for Roviello to sign the MOU that day.
“We thought of its potential to be intimidating, to seem like a big piece of writing, when it’s only a model sample and it’s a lot of language and we prefer to work collaboratively and sit in a room and talk through these issues,” he said.
The public meeting later that night was one of the requirements before the Planning Commission takes a vote on Laundré’s change-of-use to a full-service restaurant that would allow it to obtain the beer and wine license. Papadopoulos and others from the group did not attend that meeting.
Papadopoulos told Mission Local he had other meetings to attend, but he added, “If we aren’t able to reach an agreement, it will be very disappointing. And at that point, community groups will meet and have another discussion about what they want to do.”
The MOU is not part of the city’s formal planning process and it is unclear what role it serves. A city planner, who asked not to be identified, said it was a way for community groups to protect the neighborhood.
Other Mission establishments said they have had similar encounters with Papadopoulos and United to Save the Mission. One MOU shared with Mission Local would allow a representative from “community groups” — which are not specified in the written agreement — to “ask for and receive an annual summary of gross receipts” verifying that more than half of the business was revenue derived from selling food as opposed to beer and wine.
That MOU would essentially award the groups the right to look through the business’s books. It would also restrict the business from hosting private parties, and from selling its liquor license while in operation.
For his part, Papadopoulos said, the organization felt a need to protect vulnerable residents.
“The goal is to make sure community groups and businesses are working together to create healthy outcomes for the neighborhood in this gentrification crisis,” he said. “Most often, these things turn out well and they’re helpful for the business.”
He said that it wasn’t determined if the coalition would oppose Laundré’s proposal. “This space is already doing important things: They are already doing some local hire, one of walls in the laundromat area has instructions translated into Spanish, and the washing machines are also translated into Spanish,” he said. “In the laundromat area, they have done a good job of making folks welcome.”
Roviello said the coalition asked that more Spanish-language signs be posted in the cafe portion of the restaurant and on Laundre’s menus. They also asked that the establishment’s appearance be more inviting: namely that Roviello change the color of her walls.
Papadopoulos told Mission Local that the white walls signal a certain “exclusivity” that could deter families from entering. Papadopulos said, generally, the group also asks businesses to keep prices lower on certain items.
Roviello remains confused and frustrated: “It feels like they want to oppose us, and I guess I don’t really know the reason,” she said.
In the absence of opposition at Tuesday night’s community meeting, the gathering felt more like a group preparing for a battle. We need “bodies at the Planning Commission,” Rennie, the permit expediter said. “Especially if we’re going to be opposed by local groups.”
Some supporters at the meeting sympathized with Roviello’s situation of being caught between the clout of community groups and the needs of her business.
Shawna Lee, once the owner of the Valencia Street nightclub Amnesia, understood Roviello’s predicament and offered advice.
“It’s the groundwork that’s the most important — because MEDA (the Mission Economic Development Agency) has a lot of power,” she said, and advised that Laundré build a base of community support. “Sometimes if the [commissioners] don’t hear from us directly — the people from the neighborhood — they’ll just go by the organizations’ assessment.”
Roviello said serving beer and wine had always been a subset of her business plan, but after a year it became increasingly clear she would need an additional revenue stream to stay afloat and keep the laundromat services affordable. “The utilities are astronomical and the water bill is crazy,” she said. “That coupled with cost of labor — it’s a lot.”
She added that, per city instruction, she notified nearly 1,200 residents about the meeting and only a handful showed up — all supporters. “We’re playing by the rule book,” she said.
She and others are unclear as to how any MOUs with an outside organization are reflected in the city’s rules.
Debbie Horn and Paul Miller, the owners of the Royal Cuckoo bar at Mission and Valencia streets — as well as a market on 19th Street — were also present at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Horn and Miller met similar opposition from the Mission Economic Development Agency in their bid to serve beer and wine at their 19th Street market. The nonprofit’s argument was that Horn and Miller, both longtime residents of the neighborhood, would be complicit in further gentrifying it. At a 2017 community meeting concerning their license, however, the representative from MEDA found himself in the minority.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Horn said that Laundré also appeared to have local support. She pointed out that a lot of working families who use the laundromat have told her they wanted to be at the meeting to show their support, but had to work. “They all wanted to be here,” she said. “And there are a lot of them.”