A taqueria has taken the place of scandal-ridden Mission Beach Cafe on the corner of Guerrero and 14th streets. El Capitan Taqueria opened last week, but has a grand opening scheduled for Jan. 5, 2021.
Nimer and Jennifer Massis, the owners of El Capitan Taqueria, opened the first taqueria in their chain near Folsom and Eighth streets in 2017. They have been significantly expanding since then, opening four other locations within the last year — three during the pandemic.
Mission Beach Cafe, the previous tenant, was known as a popular brunch place with lines of customers often extending down the street. It occupied the 198 Guerrero St. location from 2008 to 2019. But, during its final years, the business became engulfed in scandal.
Employees sued proprietor Bill Clarke in 2017 over late checks — and city auditors accused him of pocketing the customer surcharge that should’ve been applied to employees’ healthcare. Additionally, the restaurant landed on a list of the lowest food safety scores in the Mission, becoming notorious for rats.
By 2019, the building owner, Erich Pearson, evicted the cafe after recurring failures to pay rent and other fees.
After Mission Beach Cafe, Pearson said his priority was getting a reputable business owner to take over the space.
“I think the previous tenant was an anomaly,” Pearson said. “It’s about looking for a tenant that has a longstanding record of operating, because I’m most concerned with not making it a revolving door. And that, I think, is the best thing for the neighborhood.”
While the Massis pair do have a long history of owning businesses, that history is not spotless, and the previous tenant’s troubled legal history may not only be an anomaly.
In 2014, Massis pled guilty to three charges of making false statements to a bank and one of making false statements to the United States in a lawsuit filed by the US Attorney’s office in San Francisco. He was sentenced to eight months in prison and ordered to pay $356,000 to banks he had borrowed from.
Massis completed his sentence in 2015 and his probation in 2018, and paid back the required restitution in full, according to court documents. While Pearson was unaware of his new tenant’s stint in prison before speaking with Mission Local, he remained optimistic for the success of the business.
“I personally think 2014 to 2015 is a bit of a time ago, and hopefully he’s served his time and learned his lesson,” Pearson said. “I also believe in giving people a chance.”
As the CEO of SPARC, a major cannabis production company, Pearson said his work in the cannabis industry has informed his views on criminal justice.
“We continue to have a justice system that penalizes people post-conviction, post-incarceration,” Pearson said.
Mission Local spoke to Massis prior to learning about the conviction, and he said he had completely gutted and remodeled his new business location and was excited to open his new restaurant.
Massis mentioned that he was interested in opening other businesses in the Mission, but wouldn’t elaborate further.
When asked about the rationale in opening three restaurants at a time when scores of businesses are shuttering, Massis said he hoped things go back to normal soon, and was confident that business would increase once the pandemic ends.
Massis did not return requests for comment regarding his conviction.