Restaurant owners talk new projects / Portola's greenhouses may be saved

It's Wednesday, March 31st.

Good evening, San Francisco. 

The SF Gate had a good story today about what life looks like now for three local restaurant and bar owners who were forced to shut down this past year.  

When CatHead’s BBQ closed in August, its husband and wife team packed up their car and took a months-long road trip across the country to regroup. Now, after a chance encounter with a friend who owns Bender's Bar & Grill, Richard Park and Pam Schafer are back at it with a pop-up inside of Bender’s three days a week. The new concept, OverKill Grill, focuses on its burger. 

“I never thought it would happen this quick,” Park told the SF Gate. “I'm normally a glass half empty kind of guy, but I'm hiding that and wanting to be more positive.” 

I also liked what Anthony Strong has been up to. After closing Prairie last summer, Strong did a bunch of camping and spent a lot of time outdoors. His new venture, SuperStella Catering, in which Strong cooks a private dinner for four off the side of his souped-up VW camper van, was inspired by his time off. 

It’s amazing to see the resilience and creativity of those in the service industry like Park, Schafer, and Strong. And over the coming months, it’ll be great to see the “pandemic projects” that become permanent fixtures in our city. 

And with that, onto some news… 

There’s a sign off Highway 101 (heading south) that reads: “Welcome to the Portola, San Francisco’s Garden District.” Have you seen it? 

Well, Portola is known as the city’s “garden district” because of all the commercial greenhouses that once stood in the neighborhood. The Chronicle reported on Tuesday that before World War II, there were 19 blocks in Portola filled with greenhouses to support the city’s “once-thriving flower-growing industry.” But in the early 1990s, the last active greenhouses shut down and today, only one block of the dilapidated structures remain. The rest of the land has been developed into homes. 

Now, as the Chronicle reports, that final block of abandoned greenhouses at 770 Woolsey Street is set to be cleared to make way for 62 housing units. But in a deal recently arranged by Supervisor Hilary Ronen, whose district includes Portola, there’s some hope for garden advocates. 

If the Friends of 770 Woolsey, a non-profit that’s promoted turning the land into an urban garden and education center, can come up with $8.5 million in the next year and a half, they can have the 2.2 acres in question. Or if they scrape together $3.4 million, they can have 40% of it. 

“To have a working farm in the middle of San Francisco’s garden district is a pretty wonderful opportunity,” Ronan told the Chronicle. “We are not talking about that much housing, and cities are not only made up of housing—you need other amenities to make a neighborhood beautiful and unique.”

Still, it’s a lot of money and not that much time. 

The good news—even if millions can’t be raised, the developer of the 62-units, L37, has agreed to rebuild two of the greenhouses and create a community space. 

“The process has just been so contentious and, as San Francisco developers, we plan to be building housing here for the next 20 years,” L37’s CEO told the Chronicle. “We are not going to fall on the sword over one project.”

Quick bits:

  • 🏚 Mayor Breed backed a plan in November to demolish the public housing complex in Western Addition, known as the Plaza East Apartments, just 20 years after the low-income units were rebuilt in 2001. Now, that plan awaits approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Meanwhile, residents are dealing with a “litany of problems including leaking pipes, rotting floors, electrical fires and pests.” (San Francisco Public Press

  • 🥐 After a year-long process that included a National Labor Relations Board ruling, Tartine Bakery employees have formally unionized. Their first order of business—get Tartine to rehire those it let go during the pandemic. (Mission Local)

  • 🌆 Signaling that a move back into the office might not be immediate, Wells Fargo, San Francisco’s second-largest employer behind Salesforce, told employees on Tuesday that it was extending its remote work policy from May to September. (Chronicle

  • 📈 Rent in San Francisco jumped 3.4% in March, making it the second straight month prices have increased. (Public Comment

  • 🍜 Mensho Tokyo SF has reopened its Tenderloin ramen shop after an eight-month break. To start, it’s only serving 30 bowls per night. (KQED

And finally… Don’t forget that starting tomorrow (April 1), those 50 years and older in California will be eligible for the vaccine. No joke! You can make an appointment here

That’s all for today! Thanks so much for reading and a quick ask before we go.

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Have a great night, everyone! - Nick B. 

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