Bissap Baobab has finally received a license to serve beer and wine, after neighbors’ appeal of the initial approval turned a routine, 60-day application into a 10-month ordeal.
Having overcome this existential threat, Bissap Baobab’s owner, Marco Senghor, is looking to the future: He has applied for a liquor license and, in the meantime, is rolling out a theme for each day of the week: Latin bands and tacos on Tuesdays, Caribbean music and coconut rum on Wednesdays, Colombian on Thursdays, “strictly salsa” on Fridays, Afro beats and jollof rice on Saturdays, and international Sundays.
“It’s the rebirth of Baobab,” said Senghor, who said he had neglected to even redecorate the restaurant since it moved to its new spot at 2243 Mission St., as he was so caught up in soundproofing.
“It’s time to show what we can do,” he added.
The beer-and-wine approval, which was first reported by Eater SF, came two months after a hearing in front of the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control board; the decision was originally due a month ago.
“I was dying slowly everyday,” said Senghor. “It was a nightmare trying to get this license.”
Senghor said the long delay inadvertently cost his workers tips they would have received if the bar were serving drinks.
“Employees had to leave,” said Senghor. “They weren’t making enough tips to afford rent.”
“I was trying to be strong in my mind, but it was hard,” he added. “I’d close at night and walk by other people celebrating at their bars, and I’d think, ‘What’s going on with me? I’m half a block away, and I can’t do the same.’”
“We were barely able to scratch out a win,” said Kevin Ortiz, a small business consultant and an advisor to Senghor. “It was only because Bissap Baobab had overall widespread community support.”
A February rally in support of the license, held outside of the restaurant, drew 100 people, including Supervisor Hillary Ronan, Supervisor Myrna Melgar, and state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). The eight-and-a-half-hour Zoom hearing before an Alcoholic Beverage Control judge in mid-March drew another 60 audience members, who demonstrated their support.
The conflict began in July, before Bissap Baobab even opened in its new location, when the homeowners association of a condo building next door, at 2235 Mission St., protested his application for a license to serve beer and wine.
By the March hearing, just two condo owners remained active in the case. The central disagreement focused on whether the noise the two hear in their units is actually coming from the restaurant, or elsewhere on Mission Street.
“The case wasn’t rooted in reality,” said Ortiz. “A quiet Mission Street? It’s unrealistic to create a dead zone on a vibrant commercial corridor.”
“Marco is the unluckiest lucky guy I’ve ever met,” added Mark Rennie, Senghor’s lawyer, who represented him as he sought his license, and met Senghor when he defended him in a 2019 immigration case, during which Senghor pleaded guilty to making a false statement on an immigration-related document.
“He would’ve been off to Senegal, typically,” Rennie said, but 100 people sent letters attesting to Senghor’s character to the judge on his behalf.
Senghor does, however, want to meet with the neighbors. With the increased revenue from alcohol sales and events, he said he will now invest in more soundproofing, if needed.
“I don’t want them to leave, I want them to stay,” he said. “We’re not here to destroy or hurt anybody, we want to help to revive the neighborhood.”