After 20 years, Bissap Baobab at 19th and Mission streets is going out of business.
Marco Senghor, the founder of the beloved restaurant, bar and club, is in the process of selling his building and the business’ liquor license to the owners of El Porteño, a Peruvian restaurant in the Excelsior. The sale comes amid his effort to fight a federal indictment for allegedly illegally obtaining his U.S. citizenship.
Senghor declined to talk about his case. A change of plea hearing was originally scheduled for Feb. 14, but has been rescheduled as a status hearing on March 21. (He could only change his plea to “guilty” or “no contest.”)
“If I have to (leave), then I have to be ready,” Senghor said Friday afternoon, sitting on a barstool in his restaurant. He stressed, however, that he was optimistic about this case, that he had faith in the “system and justice.”
Little Baobab, which is situated next door, will remain open. “I feel like I am going back to square one,” he said, referring to the early days, when Little Baobab was his only venture.
He added that he has no plans to leave the country, and that he intends to take care of his legal bills and reinvest in a larger project. He’s thought for sometime that he would like to do a 10,000-square-foot project in an area that needs redevelopment.
The sale of the building will likely close in the next several weeks, although it’s unclear when Bissap Baobab’s last day might be. The sales price could approach $2.3 million, while the liquor license will sell for around $200,000, according to sources familiar with the deal. Senghor bought the building in October 2017 for $1.6 million.
Senghor confirmed that he is still negotiating.
The reshuffling comes as Senghor continues to battle his case. Federal authorities arrested Senghor as he was walking up Mission Street early on Aug. 1. He pleaded not guilty on Aug. 2.
“Dealing with all of these things is not easy,” Senghor said, refusing to talk about any specifics of his case. “I’m really, really tired, you’re hit, hit, hit … hurt and it is not finished.”
Senghor, the youngest in a large and accomplished family, came to the United States in 1989 at the age of 24, just after finishing his military service in France. “I needed to break the umbilical cord,” he said. “I was the last one of a big family.”
It was also a family with big expectations; one that included diplomats, a former Senegalese president, a poet and many academics. “I felt like I wanted to know what I could do by myself,” he said.
He considered returning to school for math or physics, but visited San Francisco and fell in love with the city and its sense of possibilities. “It was a place where people were free to be entrepreneurs, with big cars, big burritos, where people had dreams,” Senghor said recalling those early days.
The Mission District also had big problems. “When I started everything and the neighborhood was rough. Oh, real rough,” he said.
Since then, however, the popularity of the business he built left him widely considered to be the model of an immigrant success story, one who collected any number of honors and plaques from the city and business groups.
Yet becoming a United States citizen is not an easy process.
Senghor’s attorney, who did not immediately return our inquiry for this piece, said last August that Senghor was “was taken advantage of and received bad advice from people along the way” as he obtained his citizenship.
It’s unclear when or how this happened. However, according to court records, the case may involve a marriage.
Senghor was briefly married between April 2000 and August 2003 to a woman named Alice Ellison, according to court documents. The divorce papers obtained by Mission Local show that Senghor swore in a 2003 affidavit that he did not know the current residence of his then-wife Alice Ellison while he was pursuing the divorce.
In the affidavit, Senghor offered one possible Los Angeles address for Ellison — 3350 Wilshire Blvd., #960. This, oddly, was an office building — and, at the time, the site of a service called Coppens Immigration.
The business is not registered to anyone by the name of Ellison. Rather, it was registered to a man named Nsaka Makiadi Kaninda, a since-deceased Congolese immigrant and the one-time president of the African Christian Community Church of Southern California — a group that, at the time, offered “a helping hand to incoming immigrants from Africa.”
Senghor’s divorce papers were filed in Douglas County, Nevada.
He declined to comment on the marriage, divorce, or the immigration service.