Kickstarter funds consumed in abortive Rice Paper Scissors launch

Rice Paper Scissors, a popular Vietnamese popup, will not be opening a much-anticipated permanent storefront at the corner of 22nd and Folsom.

“We imagine this is disappointing to hear,” reads a letter signed by owners Katie Kwan and Valerie Luu. “There is nothing we wanted more than to open this space, and please know that we did everything within our power to make the restaurant work.”  

Kwan and Luu did not go into specifics about why the restaurant did not work out, only offering that “our experience made us realize why the power dynamic in America needs to rapidly shift.”

In an interview with Mission Local, Luu declined to name the largest contributing factor of the endeavor’s ultimate demise. But she vented about the challenges of opening up a business in 2018 San Francisco as a small and completely bootstrapped business: keeping up with the needs of the Planning Department and Mission community groups in addition to those of her own business.

Luu and Kwan hit a major snag last January when they signed a lease at the Folsom space before knowing they needed to seek “Conditional Use Authorization” from the city — meaning up to six months of waiting for a vote by the Planning Commission. This, she said, added months of unexpected costs.

Luu said not enough information was publicly available about the Mission-specific planning controls on new restaurants, and that planners initially did not notify her.

Gina Simi, a planning department spokeswoman, said the department definitely notified the restauranteurs, and Rice Paper Scissors got the commission’s green light last November. “So I’m not sure I’m understanding what wasn’t relayed,” Simi said.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Luu reflected on the learning experience.

It’s been a very lonely and stressful process of doing work trying to open a restaurant,” she said, adding that the city and the community groups are not necessarily to blame.

Still, she remembered good times.

Rice Paper Scissors began when Luu and Kwan met in 2009 at the SF Underground Market, a monthly mega food popup event. “The recession was happening,” Luu said. “A lot of people started to sell food on the street renegade style. We came out of that community and that time.”

The future business partners were then doing separate things, but they eventually joined forces, rented a commercial kitchen in the Mission, and began putting together regular popups. After years of popups, Luu and Kwan found a brick-and-mortar space on 22nd and Folsom in early 2017. They launched a successful Kickstarter to build out the space, and had planned to open soon after.

That, sadly, did not happen. And the Kickstarter money is all gone — all $44,757 of it. “We used the money to get the project started,” Luu said.  

Yet it now remains unclear just how the project ended.