The owner of two recently shuttered San Francisco restaurants, Farmerbrown and Isla Vida, has written an essay for Bon Appetit about his experience of owning a popular soul food restaurant, and getting squeezed by impossible rents.
It's a sadly familiar story at this point: a restaurant owner operating a successful, well loved business in SF finds their rent shoot up from $3,500/month to $14,000/month all because a multinational corporation based out of state has purchased their building. That was what happened to Farmerbrown in recent years, and while the rent hike didn't immediately kill the restaurant, it caused it to struggle and ultimately Foster and business partner Deanna Sison decided it had to close.
This was happening just as they were opening a second restaurant, the Afro-Caribbean-inspired Isla Vida, in the historically Black Fillmore neighborhood. Other restaurants have struggled in the same stretch of Fillmore, including Yoshi's and 1300 on Fillmore, both of which are closed, and the previous tenant in the Isla Vida space was the short-lived Black Bark BBQ, which likely suffered from a lack of steady foot traffic.
Foster, though, with the wounds of these closures still stinging (Isla Vida closed at the end of July), blames the closure on broader shifts in the city and the country:
It’s discouraging to see all the wealth, all the Teslas coming into the city, and then seeing marginalized and even middle-class people who just can't make it here anymore. It makes me want to tell anyone who asks me whether they should open a restaurant not to do it. I don’t think it’s worth it anymore. What’s worse is that this is happening across the country; it’s not just here.
Foster says he's "experimenting" with writing a cookbook, and maybe someday he'll open a restaurant again. Maybe.
"Now, I’m just trying to get back to that love I had for the city and for cooking," he writes. "Looking back to when I first started out in the restaurant industry, I had defined success as becoming established, having your restaurants, and being a pillar in your community. Now, success merely means surviving."