The strip of 16th Street between Valencia Street and Albion Alley is in mourning. Extra tears collect beneath barstools, and brimming shot glasses are raised in memory of the much-loved Zee Katami.
If you ever picked up a late-night snack at Randa’s Market on 16th in the last 20-odd years, you probably noticed Zee. He was the wild-haired older man in a baggy suit and fedora, maybe playing dice, bantering with a passerby, yelling at a local nemesis or dancing, arms in the air, to music that blared around the clock from one of his two drop-top ‘70s Mercedes-Benzes permanently parked outside Randa’s.
Ziyad “Zee” Katami was born in July, 1956, and his family immigrated to the Bay Area from Jordan in the 1970s. Zee settled in South San Francisco with his father, Fred Katami, taking care of him until Zee died in his sleep at age 66 on Feb. 3. Fred Katami is now in his 90s.
When Zee’s first cousin, Mike Zadim, got ownership of Randa’s in 2001, Zee drove over in his baby blue Benz (the other one’s gold), parked right in front and, essentially, never left.
In the coming decades, Zadim said, Zee became a “legend, a fixture of the street,” growing his family to include locals, shop owners, cooks and bartenders in the area, sometimes making an enemy or two in the process.
Zadim laughed from behind the counter, remembering his cousin. “Zee was fearless. One time, he had both arms in casts, and he wanted to fight somebody. He had a big mouth. But he was a good guy.”
“He was a badass crazy mother****** that everyone loved,” said another cousin working the counter.
One local, Jessie Jones, saw Zee as “livin’ life to the fullest every time I saw him. Rockin’ to his own loud ass beats in the gold Benz. He always brought out the better crazy of the Mission.”
Chase, a bartender at Delirium, next door to Randa’s, described a night, one of many, when Zee had a run-in with police. “Zee had his white suit on, and was next to his convertible. The cops were messing with him, and he tossed me the keys and said, ‘I’m going to jail right now, can you take my car for a bit?’
“Within two hours, he was released. I have no idea what happened; he was a smooth talker.”
Another Delirium bartender, Jeff, called Zee “the Don of the corner.”
“He never slowed down. Never.” After one of Zee’s 11 back surgeries, said Jeff, “he’d gotten one of those motorized scooters that can go like 60 mph” and would race people around the neighborhood.
“He’d try to drive that thing in here, and I would yell at him,” said Margarita Lara, shaking her head. Lara is another Delirium bartender and one of Zee’s closest friends. She was devastated at the news.
Years ago, when no taxi or rideshare would go out to South Beach, Zee regularly picked Lara up from work at the Giants stadium, sometimes at 2 or 3 a.m. He always made sure his 16th Street family was taken care of.
Zee would “come all the way out in his convertible and we’d come back here and crack open a bottle. Nobody else will say ‘I love you’ to me every day. He did. That’s Zee.”
“He loved the ladies,” said Jeff. “He was a womanizer.” Lara chimed in: “No, he wanted to be. He was a wannabe Casanova.”
Zee has at least six active Facebook profiles, some of which list his work history as “RICH people don’t work,” “Never Had to work, I am too rich to work” and “Can’t Remember.”
Lara built an altar outside Randa’s with polyester roses, prayer candles, lace and a big photo of Zee with a mischievous look on his face. The altar now lives at Zee’s resting place at the Greek Orthodox cemetery in Colma.
Across the street at The Pork Store, Mahdi Herzallah shared a smile with a coworker while remembering Zee’s favorite song, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley. When the restaurant had Thursday karaoke nights, Zee sang the same song every time, after ordering his usual burger with “medium-rare fries.”
Omar Augustini, owner of Truly Mediterranean, another neighbor of Randa’s, recalled a time Zee stopped a man after he started pummeling Augustini’s new car with a stick.
“He was the fireball on the block. He was always there to cheer you up. Zee will be missed.”
Jessica Gonzalez, a Delirium regular, summed it up: “Zee was as open as a book could be; 16th Street won’t be the same without him.”