The line at Lucca Ravioli Co. at 9:30 this morning wasn’t all that long. But, then again, there wasn’t all that much to buy.
That was jarring on this, Lucca’s 34,439th and final day. Lucca was, for decades, a place of plenty: a menagerie of exotic tins and dried goods; a canopy of salamis dangling from the ceiling; piles of salads and pickled goods and meats behind the display case; a wall of bread; a platoon of workers outfitted in uniforms from a time before style; and a freezer case full of Lucca’s famed raviolis.
Today, though, there was a dessicated-Soviet-department-store feeling here. There were large bare spots on the shelves — shelves you get the feeling had been obscured from customers’ peering eyes by cans and packages since Francesco Stanghellini first opened the doors here on Jan. 15, 1925. And now they’re selling the fixtures. You could walk off with the cash register if you wanted — and had $1,000 to plunk down. (As for the not-quite-actual-size mural of Italy on the ceiling, you’ll have to make an offer: firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Mission has been through any number of iterations, but Lucca remained a constant. It held court at Valencia and 22nd, and even stayed in the same family — current (and final) co-owners Michael Feno and Cathy Immel are Stanghellini’s great-nephew and great-niece — and kept doling out old-world fare to a changing neighborhood.
“When I came to America from Peru when I was six, my dad brought me here. I brought my son here. And my grandson,” said Enrique Barreto, while a store worker quietly slipped a bottle of “cooking oil” he’d left on the counter into his bag. “I’m gonna miss this place. Miss it, miss it, miss it, miss it.”
Jorge Molina first set foot in Lucca in 1966. He was here to see it out on his last day. And he wasn’t alone; he ran into friends he hadn’t hugged for years. Lucca was a centering point for a neighborhood that increasingly has none. “There’s a sense of camaraderie with a place like this,” said Molina, also a Peruvian immigrant. “There’s a sense of connection. To Italy. Or to San Francisco.”
Throughout Lucca’s last day, the counter workers dutifully called out the numbers, cycling from 00 to 99 again and again and again. That’s how it was here every day. Until Feno decided to call his own number and close up shop.
Because this is a gentrification story. In San Francisco, gentrification is a bit like the prosciutto they sold here at Lucca — it gets into everything. But this is not the kind of gentrification story you’d think it is.
Since Lucca was the kind of place where vegetation on a sandwich was considered an extravagance and you had to slather the mustard on the bread yourself, it’d be easy to assume that some dollar-driven landlord decided the highest and best use of this land was not moving boxes of ravioli for nine bucks a pop and gave them the heave-ho.
But that’s not what happened here. The Feno family was prescient. Obtaining property in San Francisco requires a boatload of cash or a time machine, and the Feno family bought this place aeons ago. In fact, they bought a whole complex of buildings in the vicinity, as well as the lot where they proudly offered free parking for customers.
In August, they put that lot on the market for $3 million. By the time they’re done selling its adjacent buildings and the Lucca building itself, the family could pocket upwards of $8.2 million more. Lucca isn’t being chased out of the neighborhood.
For the potential dozens of tenants residing in its properties, however, this is your standard gentrification tale. It would take a special sort of ingrate to bemoan the loss of a parking lot in favor of a five-story housing structure, but three buildings housing a number of tenants are also up for sale here. And the marketing material is unsubtle about what a savvy buyer might have in mind for them: “Staggering upside in residential rents, current rents are approx. 131% below market, portfolio wide.”
There is real sorrow in losing a Mission District institution, and many a San Francisco Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner will, soon, be depleted of its de rigueur ravioli or sausages.
And that’s a shame for everyone who visited today, or anytime during the last 94 years, three months, and 16 days.
But it’s a different thing to have insecurities over whether you’ll have a home in which to prepare those raviolis or sausages.
Michael Feno sat among the bare shelves and empty ravioli boxes in the room adjacent to the last Lucca lunchtime crowd. This is a room that was never empty. But now it was.
“The last time I remember seeing it like this was when The Northern Club” — a bar — “closed in the mid-1960s,” he says. “We didn’t put our money in the bank. We put it in here,” he continues with a sweep of his arm across the former pantry.
It was a poignant moment and a poignant day. But it was time. Feno has been coming here for 53 years. He and his sister Immel are fourth-generation owners. “It was time to remodel the place. And we’d have to do the seismic work and the Americans With Disabilities Act upgrades, and that’d be all my retirement money and I’d be working till I’m 85.”
“It’s sad,” he admits. “But it’s been a long time coming.”
All the while, in the background, numbers were bellowed out — sixty-seven! Sixty-eight! — and customers scrambled to grab what they could. By mid-day the crowds had grown large, and questions about whether any particular items were available were uniformly answered with a polite, but curt, “If you don’t see it, I don’t have it.”
Men and women clambered through the crowd with brown cardboard boxes of goods held over their heads. Flora Campoy struggled to lift a four-foot-tall bottle of chianti (“I always wanted one of these”). Former Giants great Will Clark dropped by for one last shopping trip, as did actor Danny Glover. They took a number and waited with everyone else and were patiently told that “If you don’t see it, I don’t have it.”
At 1:56 p.m., the doors closed one last time. The final patron was John Williams, a 57-year-old city native. As a child, he used to make faces through Lucca’s window to tease the men making the raviolis, and they’d return the favor by flinging raviolis at him. This morning he and his roommate, Dawn Cato, were on a flight out from Vegas to be here; they’ll stock up one once more for good measure and head back tomorrow. “There are a lot of connections here to my inner child,” said Cato with a sigh. “So many Christmas and Easter meals.”
On Wednesday, co-owners Feno and Immel will be far away from Valencia and 22nd. She lives in Santa Cruz and he’s planning to unwind at his small farm in Sebastopol — “I’ve already got three cases of water there.”
Come tomorrow, Lucca will be a memory. If you don’t see it, they don’t have it.
I’ve been getting not only great cheese and Italian wines, but the focaccia from Liguria Bakery in North Beach at Lucca for nearly 30 years!
I did get all these items before they shut for good, but am so sad that was my last chance to rely on Lucca’s.
I miss your articles in SFWeekly. You were the only Journalist there.
You’re kind. But there were other journalists then and there are now. That’s a good thing!
nah, Owen’s right, Eskenazi. things got a little slippery there with manny’s to me, because you root for the little guy and keep yourself out of it while you’re ALL OVER IT. brilliant and fascinating, your ability to pull that off. you’re way better and actually MORE than any former shallow, blowhard, crusty gonzo journalist throwbacks (your public trans road trip to LA for example), and one of the few adults left who aren’t distracted by shiny objects or bright lights of screens and their worlds.
the big picture of Munch’s Scream and a beer and a laugh don’t totally cover your sense of honor or romanticism up. and GOOD; the way it oughta’ be. especially now when to have a heart out in the open and take the constant beat downs to your sanity and idealism and romanticism so that you can defy the looming death and Nothingness that is taking over the world now.
well done. and thank you.
I am flattered. Thank you kindly.
Father from Italy mother from Mexico Luccas and Mission setved our cultural needs. Where can I get saffron for my risotto? REALLY will be missed.
Thanks for the piece. Sad to see it go, but the only constant in life (and especially in this city) is change.
As a property owner in Southern CA and would-be 4th gen San Franciscan on my mother’s side of the family, I can fully relate to what I read. The cost of doing business has gone up faster than most small businesses can grow or earn the differential, especially with regard to compliance.
An example is where a law firm specifically targets small corner strip mall types of buildings, measure and count parking spaces and then file lawsuits against the owners for non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. To add insult to injury, the owners may be within compliance of one form of the standards set, but between the related organization and level of government statute/oversight, the standards are not reconciled between each other.
The final choices for some people are only sell/quit, keep working, or have no legacy for the next generation.
Beautifully written Joe. You captured the magic of the place. I was there just a few days ago grabbing for the last of the spinach ravioli. Ciao!
When I spoke to the manager recently, who I’ve known for decades because I shopped there loyally, I was told that the City’s Soft Story Ordinance was to blame. Relocating long term tenants in both buildings, temporarily, and shuttering the store for the 6-12 months it would take to seismically retrofit the building, that was the culprit. Not bad business, not gentrification. Yes, it’s far too easy these days to sell out if people are throwing money at you. True. You have to abandon the City if you do. Which sucks. But this shop didn’t have to close. Putting $500,000+ into a building by city fiat and having this city make it impossible every step of the way, (I am speaking from my own experience) makes every family-owned business and every mom and pop family rental building vulnerable to the high stakes money people, who are ruining this city. The corporate interests have made this city unrecognizable to hundreds of thousands of us who remain, yet we all remember a city, have it inside out brains and dreams, yet that internal city doesn’t exist any more, it’s a tragedy. I wonder why that soft story retrofit part of the story wasn’t reported? Was I misinformed? I was told that the family really really really did not want to close the business, as it was not only a proud tradition but was quite remunerative. Those middle aged butchers and ravioli makers earned a good income, and the business made good money. The idiot businesses and tech bot apartments which will replace it, will make that whole corner another faceless soulless set from a Kubrick movie. All of the new buildings do. We are destroying the very things that made this city what it is. What it was. (Yes, I’m old.) My children won’t be able to live here, but then again, maybe they won’t want to.
Mandatory seismic retrofits are a double-edged sword. They can lead to the scenario you posit. But, on the other hand, the alternative is to die in a quake.
Michael Feno seemed like a man who was ready to retire. But, for the record, here’s his quote from the story: “It was time to remodel the place. And we’d have to do the seismic work and the Americans With Disabilities Act upgrades, and that’d be all my retirement money and I’d be working till I’m 85.”
The City’s Mandatory Soft Story Ordinance (MSSO) only applies to wood framed multi family buildings of five or more units. How many apartments are in the second story above the Lucca storefront? I doubt it’s five.
Granted, it is entirely possible (and not unlikely) that the City may pass a law in the near future that expands the scope of the MSSO to smaller buildings. It might have applied to the apartments that the family owns next door, so perhaps that weighed into the confluence of factors that led the family to sell out and walk away.
1100-1118 Valencia have 7 apartments and 5500+ sq ft of commercial space, so the law applies.
So well said – anyone who owns a small business in San Francisco knows the city does not have your back. I will miss Lucca’s terribly but I do not blame the family at all for walking away. My family owned a business in the Mission for 60 years and we had to walk away – there was no way we could afford to come back after a fire. It’s a sad but true fact, that Mom & Pop businesses in SF will soon be just a memory and our brilliant Board of Supervisors can take credit for that.
Also, seismic upgrade does not guarantee safety in a quake – I don’t recall anyone dying at 1100 Valencia during the 89 quake. It’s not an either or scenario and honestly, it’s ignorant to make that claim.
The epicenter for the Loma Prieta quake was 60 miles away from San Francisco.
The San Andreas fault is closer. Even the Hayward fault is closer. So there’s that.
We are all rolling the dice Joe
Thank you. This says it all. Makes a lot of sense and it shows that we are at the hands of a bunch of extortionists. The building has been there for 100 years. It could last another 100. The only earthquake that is taking us down is the one that trembles at the sight of money–greed. Thank you Lucca… you were a class act and your exit is epic. So glad you didn’t give them what they wanted… and they can continue to face a City out of the Middle Ages.
The Lucca’s building won’t be replaced with new apartments. The city would almost never allow rent controlled housing to be demolished. Given that you’re not aware of this, it’s hard to take many of your other lamentations seriously.
Not exactly the case. The development business at this scale can be worked out and a handful of rent controlled tenants can be worked with. My guess is this site will be torn down and rebuilt within 3-4 years. 🙁 . I will miss you Lucca!
“makes every family-owned business and every mom and pop family rental building vulnerable to the high stakes money people, who are ruining this city. ”
–wow, this is deep. i hadn’t even realized this was part of the funneling up of everything. fascinating comment. like how corporations lobby for regulations that cripple little independent businesses so they can take over…like the REITS are.