San Francisco's soufflé mecca since 1979, Cafe Jacqueline, has been shuttered along with many other restaurants throughout this pandemic. But now we're learning that the stalwart, 83-year-old chef-owner, Jacqueline Margulis, recently fell ill with an infection — not COVID-19 — and was briefly on life support because of it.
As ABC 7 reports, Margulis is home recovering now, thankfully. But she and her family are reaching out for support because this medical crisis prevented them from getting a jump on the small-business loans and federal help that many other restaurants began seeking in March.
As Margulis's son Ariel Margulis explains on a GoFundMe page, his mother began complaining of severe stomach pains on March 17, just as the local coronavirus lockdowns began. She was hospitalized and underwent emergency surgery for an undisclosed condition, and ended up in the ICU for three harrowing weeks.
"I had to look at her with a tube in her mouth," her son tells ABC 7. "It was very emotional and rough. I haven't kissed or hugged my mom since because I'm still scared."
84-year old Jacqueline of the legendary Cafe Jacqueline in SF fell ill and was on life support for 3 weeks.— Dion Lim (@DionLimTV) May 11, 2020
She’s now recovering & wants to one day reopen but has 1 more surgery, mounting bills & she hasn’t been able to secure a loan.
To help ➡️ https://t.co/gdwidFEOip pic.twitter.com/vwSpCkYfnP
Even if the illness had not sidelined her, Chef Jacqueline has never considered offering takeout at her tiny restaurants — because any chef knows a soufflé not only does not travel well, it must be eaten as soon as it comes out of the oven. So the restaurant is looking at months without income, even if Jacqueline eventually gets to return to the kitchen where she's been whisking eggs into magic for over four decades. (There's basically only French onion soup and soufflé on the menu, wait times can be long, and reservations were only ever taken by phone — the website for the restaurant contains nothing but the address and phone number.)
The restaurant has four longtime employees, and Margulis is hoping to get them paid and to pay some of her bills.
"We have been struggling every day trying to find and apply for small business loans on her behalf, but it seems like all the bigger companies were able to secure the loans, and we couldn't," Ariel writes.
"Our goal is to give my mother enough time to fully recover and get back behind her bowl of eggs and continue doing what she loves the most in this world, running her small restaurant and whipping up soufflés. We are crossing our fingers that she will be able to return to her restaurant soon, but this can only happen if she is able to keep her establishment afloat without actually generating income."
The crowdfunding effort has so far raised $47,000 of a $60,000 goal. And Ariel Margulis says his mother's condition, pending one final surgery, is "critical but hopeful," and at least she is no longer in the hospital.
Cafe Jacqueline is much like City Lights Bookstore in that it's a reliable, homegrown anchor of the North Beach community — quirky, perennially unchanged corners that have become institutions in their own right. And after a recent call for crowdfunding to keep its employees paid and receiving benefits, City Lights raised an astonishing $492,000 and counting, after an initial goal of $300,000.
Writing for the Chronicle in 2018, Jonathan Kauffman said of Cafe Jacqueline, "The restaurant is constant in its peculiarities, its charm and its prickliness, and the exquisite fragility of its sweet soufflés." The head waiter at the restaurant, Matthew Weimer, may as well be a part of the Margulis family at this point, having worked there since 1994.
"That's the thing that people love," Weimer said at the time. "To come into the room and see that the room hasn't changed and the waiters haven't changed and the chef hasn't changed and the food hasn't changed and the salad dressing hasn't changed. And it's still great."
Below is a little mini-documentary about Margulis and her restaurant.