It was a beautiful October day of “beautiful people” and “beautiful art” on the corner of 19th and Valencia. The owners of Yasmin, a Syrian restaurant on that corner, were hosting a gathering just outside the restaurant where indigenous artists could sell and celebrate their artwork.
It would never happen again.
A health inspector, along with representatives from San Francisco Public Works and the fire department, showed up several days later to tell Eiad Eltawil and Sahar Milani, the owners of Yasmin, that such an event was not okay. They could not do it again — the event was too noisy and not permitted by the city, they recall being told.
Indeed, an inspector responded to a noise complaint, a representative of the Entertainment Commission said. They also found “a bar set up outside in the parklet where no food was being served, a lack of social distancing and masking amongst patrons, and no paperwork or signage posted.”
And a health inspector showed up a week later to remind the owners of Covid safety measures.
But Eltawil felt targeted, especially as the restaurants around him sometimes host party-like atmospheres and serve alcohol. “We were very respectful — six feet apart, wearing masks, all [the artists] had their own places,” he said. “I was so mad.”
Since then, Eltawil and Milani have not hosted a similar event. Instead, they channeled their frustration into creating something perhaps more enduring. Months before the indigenous art event in October, they had taken over the lease of Schauplatz Vintage two doors down from their restaurant. The initial idea was to use the storefront for Milani’s mortgage consultancy, but it was not zoned for professional services, and they needed to find another use for it.
And then the October snafu made everything clear: They could create a place for independent artists to create and promote their work. They’re calling it “Rossi Mission SF.”
If a graffiti artist wants a place to create a piece without having to break the law, the artist can contact Rossi Mission SF, which will help them print their design on a t-shirt, pair of shoes, or provide another medium such as a Kidrobot — robot-shaped sculptures increasingly being used as blank canvasses.
The artist can then sell the product through their own social media account, Etsy, or Amazon, and Rossi Mission SF and the artists would share the profits.
“If you could actually give them a place where they could express themselves and promote their art, they can make a living,” Eltawil said, standing in his new storefront — right now a blank canvas itself, with white walls, an embroidery machine in the corner, and a large drafting table strewn with graffiti designs and art supplies.
The idea had been slowly building since Yasmin completed a seismic retrofit this fall. Milani and Eltawil have been buying pieces of art from independent artists and adding those pieces to a wall in their restaurant.
Many of them are street artists such as Eclair Bandersnatch, a San Francisco artist whose stenciling grew in popularity following the Snowden leaks. Others include street artists such as MQ, Todthebunny, Ave, and Goner.
Some of the artists are restaurant patrons; others are people Milani and Eltawil find selling their artwork on the street or around the neighborhood. Sometimes the couple seeks out artists. “This is just us talking to people and saying ‘Hey, do you know these [artists]?’ and telling them to stop by,” Milani said.
And some of these artists may soon start promoting their work through Rossi Mission SF, Eltawil said.
“They don’t want the young generation to ruin property,” Eltawil said of the street artists. “They want the young generation to invest in themselves.”
It’s unclear just when Rossi will officially open its doors. When business is in full swing, Eltawil envisions Rossi being both a retail storefront and an artist workshop. But as long as Covid restrictions last, Eltawil said artists can contact him, make an appointment and discuss their ideas.