Ten years into serving up plates of decadence and nostalgic indulgence, the current owners of the more-than-a-century-old Roosevelt Tamale Parlor have decided they’ve had their fill.
The old-school establishment’s co-owner, Aaron Presbrey, told Mission Local that business never quite bounced back from the pandemic, and the landlord couldn’t guarantee the renewal of their lease in October, meaning the Roosevelt team couldn’t plan for whether they’d even be in business next month.
And so, after spending more than two years trying to recuperate from Covid-19 losses — and, the first two weeks of this month, putting in a last-ditch effort to stay open — the owners of the longtime Mission District institution announced its permanent closure earlier today.
“We tried everything we could to keep the place open, including working insane hours ourselves,” Presbrey, 51, said. He could often be found alone slinging hot plates and margaritas to all of the tables out front, while his business and life partner of 21 years, Barry Moore, ran the kitchen day in and day out.
The pair took over the restaurant in 2012, the latest in a long lineage of owners who have carried the place through decades. It sits on a corner in the Southeast Mission that feels almost frozen in time: Nearby Pop’s Bar, St. Francis Fountain, and the Brava Theater have all persisted at 24th and York streets, in some form, for about a century, or close to it.
The exact age of the veritable tamale parlor wasn’t known. While a painted logo in the window says “EST. 1919,” the restaurant’s vintage calendars on its walls stated it had been around since 1922. The owners celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the restaurant in November, 2021.
Presbrey said he spent the past year trying to find someone to take over the helm and keep the legacy going, but was unsuccessful. Now, the building at 2817 24th St., where the Roosevelt has served tamales since around 1920, is for sale, and its future is up in the air.
Interested buyers have already been viewing the building, which has two apartments upstairs. While the building’s ownership is uncertain, a restaurant is ready to move in.
Pablo Wong, a commercial real estate consultant for MEDA, told Mission Local that the restaurant space is expected to host a new Mexican eatery that has already signed a 10-year lease: La Carreta Rotisserie is listed in city records as the new business on the block.
“The sad part about it is that the city is losing a place that has been an institution in both the neighborhood, and the city, and the Bay Area in general, for a really long time,” Presbrey said. In a past interview with Mission Local, he said older people often came into his restaurant to reminisce about their first date or youthful evenings spent eating at the Roosevelt.
“However, you know, cities grow and change. And I think that this is a product of the changing city,” Presbrey continued.
Though they once had a loyal customer base that they befriended and saw raise families over the years, the owners said many didn’t return or moved away, and business remained “slow and erratic.”
Moore, Presbrey’s partner, who is usually busy working alongside the rest of his kitchen staff (a do-not-disturb sign to ensures he can focus) called the closure “bittersweet.” He said he took pride in elevating the food at a restaurant that had seen varying levels of quality and authenticity over the years: Previous owners had reportedly served spaghetti in their enchiladas, and French bread instead of tortillas.
“I learned stuff every single day, just from experimenting, or from my staff, but I learned — and those are my favorite times,” Moore said. “Being like, ‘oh my gosh, I’ve been doing this for five years and I could have done this?’”
And though he loved the work and said he had anxiety suddenly not being in the kitchen every day since they initially shuttered after Labor Day weekend, Moore said the time had come to step away from this particular project.
“I was there for 10 years every single day, just like everybody else,” said Moore, the 60-year-old former chef who came to Roosevelt from another neighborhood staple, Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack. “I’m up there in age, and my staff, as well, is up there in age. And, at some point, you just have to look around and say, this has taken its toll on a lot of us.”
Moore’s sous chef has been with the team all 10 years, he said, and the same cook has made the tamales for the past 20-plus years. While they would have liked to hire more staff and take a step back, the owners couldn’t afford it.
“Every time we got up, we just got knocked back down,” Moore said. After keeping it going, even through a brief closure some years ago, Moore said it was time to “be okay with it, and move on.”
What comes next for the couple is still uncertain. But before jumping into their next venture, Presbrey and Moore plan to take a moment to decompress.