Rory Lydon at his Lucca door talking to someone on the street.
Lucca Ravioli in 2021. Photo by Lydia Chavez

Two years ago today, Lucca Ravioli said arrivederci to San Francisco — a sad and somewhat holy day that drew celebrities and neighborhood folk alike to the store, to say goodbye, thank you, and to remember the good times. 

After the Feno family sold the building and the surrounding property in early 2019 for $7 million, the storefront on the southwestern corner of 22nd and Valencia streets sat dark and dusty. Michael Feno, Lucca’s fourth-generation owner, retreated to a hobby farm in Sebastopol. And for the regular passerby, the natural question became: What could possibly be next? 

Sure enough, in early 2020, there were signs of life. Plywood signs with hearts encasing “94110,” “SFFD,” and “CA” were placed in the windows. 

Peering in, there was a desk made from a slab of wood set over two sawhorses. As the pandemic drew on, a collection of curios began to accumulate: ‘70s and ‘80s-era record albums, stacks of books, D.C. comic book posters featuring Batman and the Joker, Warriors jerseys, and even a pink lego the size of a footrest. 

But the biggest enigma was a bald, 50-ish looking man who sat at the raised desk in the center of it all — working on a laptop, usually with large headphones around his neck. At the height of the pandemic, he was often accompanied by a bottle of brown alcohol and gibraltar glass. 

His name is Rory Lydon, and he lives several blocks away from the Lucca building. According to his Linkedin profile, he’s had a long career as a computer engineer, having worked for various large tech companies — Apple, Google, and Adobe, to name a few. He does not own the building, but rather rents from Ted Plant who, with partners, bought the building for $1.7 million in April, 2019.

As time has gone on, this reporter, like many who regularly walk the Valencia Street corridor, has wondered just exactly what Lydon is doing. The storefront, after all, is one that many regard as sacred ground. As one longtime resident put it: “People want to know.” And by all appearances, Lydon hasn’t done much more than transform the space into a man cave filled with random bric-a-brac, and one we’re forced to look at but make no sense of. 

He’s repeatedly declined to speak about his plans with Mission Local. 

The Lucca space on Valencia Street in March, 2020. Photo by Lydia Chávez.

“I can’t figure out what that place is,” said Marilyn Brown, a woman walking her dog past the store on Monday morning, echoing a common sentiment. “It’s far from Lucca’s — I’ll tell you that.” 

Owners of surrounding businesses, residents, and even the landlord, Plant, said Lydon plans to open up something artistic. “Artist space” and “studio art gallery” were the most common answers. One person recalls Lydon saying he wanted to install a basketball hoop inside. 

“He’s got a lot of interesting retail ideas with an artistic” bent, Plant said. But he declined to go further, explaining, “I think he (Lydon) wants to describe the business in his own way.” 

But now, more than a year after he moved in, Lydon remains resistant to explaining his vision to Mission Local and curious passersby. In July, he told Mission Local via email that we were “pushin’ a big button” by asking him questions. 

“One of the major reasons I retired from the damn Valley many years ago was to avoid anyone else’s arbitrary deadlines ever crampin’ my creativity again,” he wrote. “I’m frankly not sure I understand the urgency.” 

He also implied that we should be grateful for his presence there. “What seems unappreciated or forgotten in this question – apart from a wee pandemic and minor social unrest – is that everyone woulda normally have been starin’ at the dread brown paper or sheets of shite ply since FEB 14TH,” he wrote, presumably referring to his move-in date. 

This reporter approached Lydon on Monday and was similarly rebuffed. Lydon said only that we’d know something in the “fall,” before walking away and turning up his music — the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” — and resuming work on the floors, which appear completely torn up.   

The Planning Department in March slapped Lydon and the building owners with a “Notice of Enforcement,” saying that Lydon had improperly converted the space from a retail sales establishment to a place for “arts activities” without authorization. But a Planning Department spokesperson said the issues are being resolved. 

Despite how press-shy Lydon may be, surrounding businesses generally described the computer engineer/creative type as a nice and generous person. “He’s a really great guy,” said Leila Mansur, the owner of the Radio Habana Social Club across the street. “He’s been at it all year.” 

She said she was happy that the space is becoming an artist studio, as opposed to something like an upscale chocolate factory. “It could have been so wrong, but it wasn’t,” she said. 

Oliva Ongpin, the owner of Luna Rienne Gallery at 22nd and Valencia streets, a small art gallery that sits only yards away from Lydon’s forthcoming business, said she’s received numerous calls about what Lydon is up to. Other than an art space, she has no clue: “I am kind of also generally curious.” 

“I am trying to give him the benefit of the doubt,” she added. “It’s better than it being boarded up.”  

Plant believed Lydon is a good steward of the space formerly occupied by Lucca, explaining that he has worked hard to keep the painted “Lucca” sign on the building’s northern exterior wall free of graffiti. 

“I don’t know if the next person would be quite as attentive,” he said.

So, stay tuned. Hopefully, soon, Lydon will be ready to reveal his grand plan.

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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29 Comments

  1. A better reporter would investigate deeper into the Planning and Building Dept fines and charges.

    1. Spike — 

      After the Planning Department sent the notice to the building’s owners, they responded and dodged any fines. Furthermore, the active DBI complaint on the building is an abandoned building complaint. The building is clearly not abandoned. So far, no fines. End of story.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      Best,
      Julian

    1. Daveed,

      The single building that housed Lucca sold for $1.7 million. The separate sales of the two adjacent buildings brought that figure to $7 million. Furthermore, the family had sold the parking lot for $3 million. They earned $10 million, all told.

      -Julian

  2. What an absolute waste. The city should be taxing him for keeping an empty storefront.

    And he cleans the graffiti, big deal, whoopdedoo.

    1. Are you that dense? do you know how long commercial reconstructions take? lmao this dude is moving fast.

  3. I love that it’s a work-in-progress and feels creative. It might be loose or slow-moving but it’s inspiring and interesting. Honestly, it’s probably the most interesting thing on Valencia if not the entire Mission IMO.

    Why anyone feels the need to pry or is curiously concerned enough to inspire Planning to get involved is completely asinine.

  4. No pressure, the hopes and dreams of the Mission are counting on you! I get that people are curious, but maybe just leave the guy alone? Surely there’s room for something quirky and ill defined on Valencia street- a call back to the days before every storefront was a boutique? The economics of his empty space are only slightly less mysterious than someone spending $200k building out an ice-cream shop.

  5. Ah yes we live in a wonderful economy where a generationally beloved storefront reduced to just a private hang out for a rich dude renting it from real estate speculators waiting for the market to sweeten. Maybe it’s a performance art piece on our shitty and boring, mundane and yet brutal form of capitalism?

    1. Sure, but least the rich dude is kinda weird? An oddball eccentric is a nice change of pace from the “upscale chocolate factory” mentioned in the article or so many other twee things that have sprouted up and disappeared from Valencia over the years. Yeah, it sucks that Lucca is no more, but it’s easy to imagine numerous worse outcomes than this. Stay tuned I suppose!

    2. Your comment seems to suggest the prior owners, who cashed out $10m of real estate, were not “real estate speculators.”

      1. The previous owners, the Lucca folks, certainly became speculators! I don’t know how many family members the real estate and business passed through before they chose the sell it. It’s easy to criticize them, and we should, but this brutally unequal, hyper-speculative economy makes it virtually impossible for some to resist selling an inherited piece of real estate in exchange for lifetime financial security.

  6. Lyndon is playing everything close to the best and getting more advertising without spending one dime. I applaud his move. It seems everything is legal and it’s driving the neighbours tongues ,this would have gone unnoticed but for the SIP this last yr and we all have to much time that’s causing us too get in everyone’s business.
    It’s his shop and will open when ready…
    Carry on Lyndon in your time..

  7. Lucca’s was certainly a wonderful, so-called sacred space in the Mission that we will always remember & miss. However, time moves on, things change, & now the space has different occupants and energy. As long as the building occupants aren’t causing any problems & minding their own business, why can’t they just be left alone? If any business opens up there, we’ll know it. In the meantime, it’s no one else’s business!

  8. I work on Valencia And have wondered what he will do with that space.
    Based on this article I am starting to think it’s some sort of performance art statement piece, lol
    It also reminds me of that Tom waits song, “what’s he building in there.”
    I remember seeing him In there last september and I asked him what his plans were; he was friendly and said something about an art studio, can’t remember exactly.

  9. I don’t understand the urgency either. There are so many empty store fronts, I am just glad someone or something is there showing some life. I think people just have too much time on their hands.

  10. I, too, like to watch the rich alcoholic “work” as I swing by that corner. That’s the Art project right there. I’m gonna pull up a chair next week and just watch. I think it’s amazing.

  11. He once called me a Maga hat bro when I told him throwing up an SFPD heart with a BLM heart as an afterthought next to it didn’t track well.

    1. Maybe those two parties should be working together towards the same goal? Being immediately dismissive of any group (cops/BLM) leads to no understanding or ultimately change. I thought rapid judgment based on identity was a bad thing, but maybe it’s ok for certain groups?

      Not even trying to troll, I respect both parties, closed minds just bother me.

  12. “Despite how press-shy Lydon may be, surrounding businesses generally described the computer engineer/creative type as a nice and generous person.”

    Love the implication that someone isn’t a nice or generous person for not wanting to talk to a nosey writer.

  13. Mr. Mark’s article is entirely too glib and superficial for my taste.
    With all of those empty storefronts and transience in the neighborhood he might have peered beneath the surface and found out how long is the lease is for the artist who occupies the former Lucca space. Is the rental month-to-month or does he have a lease?

    Why did Lucca move out and close? Many folks who read this news site are a curious lot indeed. They seem to implicitly question anything remotely resembling investigative journalism.

    I think Lucca’s departure is a major news story that at best has been largely glossed over. In many ways Lucca was an anchor for the whole Mission, and probably signals a huge demographic change.

    Even the DBI back door politics surrounding this property require further looking into.

    1. Lucca closed because the family wanted to cash out on the real estate. The rumors at the time were the buyers were interested in evicting the tenants above Lucca, tearing the building down, and either selling or developing the former building lot and the adjacent parking lot. Could put a big expensive market rate development there no problem. Of course, then the pandemic hit….

  14. This dude is silicon valley/SF in a nutshell. All performance, no substance. A guy who made a bunch of money in tech but considers himself a “creative”, who is really just acting a part. Acting out what he thinks a creative person is. Classic San Francisco. Classic bay area. God I hate it here.

  15. Happy to see Rory is up to something on Valencia. He is a genuinely kind person, and a treat to converse with if you get the chance.

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