Late on a Friday afternoon, the brick-walled dining room at Maison Danel echoes the conversation as tables of guests slide into padded blue banquettes and perch on dining chairs. vintage French dining tables for sipping tea from floral patterned mugs. Danel de Betelu, owner of the stylish Polk Street patisserie and tea room with her husband David, moves quickly around the room, seating a pair of familiar customers at one table before sweeping up to place a plate of pastries on another . In the meantime, he answers the phone, helping a customer place a pick-up order in French.
Maison Danel is occupied. But it was a tough road to get here. The business opened in February 2020 and had to close a month later as the pandemic took hold. Even now, de Betelu isn’t sure the business will survive; he and David work with the landlord to figure out how to pay off last year’s rent. If they can’t resolve something, de Betelu says that Maison Danel will have to close.
As if all that wasn’t enough, de Betelu said last year that the restaurant spent $20,000 to build a parklet that it had to demolish after less than six weeks. The day after construction was completed, de Betelu says they returned to find the parklet covered in graffiti. For weeks, he would turn up in the morning to find the wooden structure filled with trash and soaked in urine. One day he arrived to find that a fire had burned down half of the structure. “If I’m a customer and I see this, I wouldn’t want to sit there,” de Betelu says. So, despite the money invested, they took it away. He posted on social media that people could pick up the wood for free. It was gone in a few hours.
Many San Francisco restaurants have found parklets a financial boon as they battle the pandemic to survive; The Mayor of London Breed has described the Shared Spaces scheme as a “lifeline” for business owners, but the reality is less straightforward. There are those, like de Betelu, for whom the considerable investment ended up being a sunk cost due to either the physical restrictions of where the parklets were built or the difficulty of maintaining private property in a public space. “It was a mess. Of course it was a mess,” de Betelu says, shaking his head as if still in disbelief. “It’s like I’m putting $20,000 down the toilet. It hurts .”
The Shared Spaces program began in May 2020 as a temporary emergency measure to keep restaurants open while diners still couldn’t get inside. But since the unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors on July 13, the program has become an integral part of San Francisco life and business. For some restaurateurs, a parklet has not only kept their business afloat during the darker days of 2020, but the additional outdoor seating has also invited a chance to grow in ways that previously would have been impossible.
One such restaurant is Izzy’s Steakhouse, an iconic Marina District restaurant that built a lush indoor park in front of its building in September 2020. Managing Partner Samantha Bechtel says Izzy’s didn’t rush to get its building built. park, which paid off in the long run. Course. “It’s interesting, looking back, we had no idea how long we were going to be doing this when we built them and so one of the good things about the ordinance is that now we can really think and be strategic about a more permanent solution,” Bechtel says. The restaurant has yet to reopen for indoor dining and when it does, the parklet will be a big change; With the same kitchen size as ever, Izzy’s has increased its total seating capacity by 50%: from around 100 indoors to around 150 in total, including the parklet. The owners plan to use Izzy’s location in San Carlos as a kind of commissary to ease the added burden of cooking from the marina location.
Hook Fish Co. in Outer Sunset took even longer to build its parklet, not debuting in the tiered space until early June after “really figuring out the longevity of the parklet system,” says the co-owner Christian Morabito. Hook Fish was founded on the principle of serving seamlessly sourced seafood, so they wanted to invest in something permanent. “We didn’t want to just throw something away and create more waste,” says Morabito. In the end, he estimates they spent about $20,000 sourcing lumber from Big Creek Lumber and plants from California Native Landscaping. But like Izzy’s, Hook Fish stands to benefit greatly in the long run; while the restaurant only offers around thirty covers inside, the parklet will easily double the number of people who can eat on site. And, much like Izzy’s, the restaurant is now trying to iron out the logistics of reopening with indoor and outdoor seating, as well as takeout.
Meanwhile, at Aquitaine Wine Bistro, co-owner Andrew Fidelman says the restaurant and wine bar are unlikely to rebuild their parklet – although it’s more a matter of safety than finances. In mid-June, a driver crashed into the Aquitaine parklet, located near the intersection of Church and Market streets, a busy public transit hub. Luckily the restaurant was closed and the parklet was empty, but Fidelman says it could easily have been a different situation. “I wouldn’t want to make the same mistake twice, you know,” Fidelmen said. “Next time people might be sitting there.” Still, he says, it’s hard not to consider the potential benefits of expanding and being able to serve more customers. “Now that it’s permanent, we have to think about business,” says Fidelman. “I will not tell [if we will rebuild] anyway, but it’s something to consider, of course. We want to be part of it.