Earthquakes are not good for business, for so many reasons. Responsible landlords retrofitting their buildings prior to The Big One must shut down beloved eateries operating in the ground floor-spaces for months as the work takes place. For some eateries, the mandatory downtime can be dreadful.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, however, is hoping to soften the blow for restaurants staring down such an extended closure: Last week, he introduced legislation that would allow eateries whose spaces are undergoing to city-mandated seismic retrofits to seek a temporary permit to operate food trucks outside or near their storefronts.
“Closing these businesses during city-mandated retrofits not only harms the restaurants, but can also lead to layoffs of employees who depend on these jobs to be able to afford to live in San Francisco,” Mandelman said in a press release. “Allowing these restaurants to get a temporary food truck permit will help them stay open and keep supporting our local economy and neighborhood business corridors.”
Normally, food trucks are restricted from operating 75 feet away from a restaurant entrance and are banned from operating near public schools. Food trucks are only allowed to serve from one location three days a week.
Mandelman’s legislation would allow restaurants forced to closed during seismic retrofits to obtain a so-called “Temporary Mobile Caterer” permit. It would allow it operate a truck in front of their storefront for up to six months without the aforementioned restrictions.
The supervisor introduced the legislation after some restaurants expressed their concerns how long-term closure could affect business. One of those businesses was the Mission Bi-Rite Creamery on 18th Street.
Sam Mogannam, the owner of the Bi-Rite markets and creamery, knew he would have to conduct a retrofit on his creamery in 2019 and worried that, during the closure, he would lose clientele and his staff would be out of work for months. Putting a food truck outside the shop seemed like a good solution.
But in San Francisco, nothing is ever that easy.
“Unfortunately, our creamery was located too close to other restaurants to be eligible for a typical mobile food permit,” Mogannam said. “With this new temporary permit, we’ll be able to keep our employees and keep on serving our ice cream until we can move back into the building.”
Gwyneth Borden, the executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, applauded Mandelman for his creativity. Seismic retrofits are “stress point for a lot of people,” she said.
Borden explained that, unlike retail shops that can more simply move their inventory to another location during the retrofits, it’s more difficult for restaurants to move their food and infrastructure down the street. “It’s not easy but easier to move somewhere,” she said of retail shops.
She added that there’s a lot of uncertainty about how long the work will take — and whether the restaurants will even be allowed back into the space following the upgrades.
But Borden also noted the legislation would only make sense for certain situations and certain businesses. “You still have to invest in a food truck,” she said. “Not everyone can do that.”
For certain businesses with a larger staff, food trucks cannot accommodate all employees, she said. And, typically, dine-in restaurants would not translate as well into mobile eateries. “It works better for fast casual — pick up and delivery,” she said. “You’re not gonna stand on a corner and eat your pasta dish.”
It’s unclear how many restaurants in San Francisco currently face temporary closure due to a mandatory retrofit. But Regina Dick-Endrizzi, the executive director of the San Francisco Office of Small Business, said “a number” of small businesses have come to her office for help as a result of the 2013 law that made seismic improvements to soft-story buildings a must.
Dick-Endrizzi supports the effort. “It will help numerous restaurants and business like Bi-Rite Creamery retain their employees and continue to serve the food their customers love,” she said.