38-year-old 12th Street Mexican restaurant Don Ramon's is facing possible foreclosure following a three-year ordeal involving upstairs tenants, major damage to the building, and a $5 million loan that the owners are now having trouble making payments on.
Don Ramon's holds a special place in the hearts of many people in the Bay Area community, and as Hoodline reports today, it's been known for decades as an especially welcoming place for families of color over the years. SFist included Don Ramon's famous chile colorado on our list of the city's 18 must-have classic dishes, and it is worth a takeout order if you've never had it. (Don Ramon's is also currently doing food service for Oasis's outdoor dining with drag shows down the block.)
But the sisters who own the building and the restaurant, Lee, Nati, and Lucy Ramirez — their parents opened Don Ramon's in 1982 and have since passed away — ran into serious financial straits this year, much like many other restaurant owners around the city. But their situation was complicated by an incident three years ago in which a supposed nonprofit to whom they'd leased an upstairs unit above the restaurant turned out to be a communal living outfit that had illegally built out the space for residential tenants. And they only found out when a plumbing problem caused the ceiling to cave in over the restaurant's men's restroom.
(A commenter on Hoodline suggests that the upstairs tenants were wrongfully evicted during the pandemic, but the Ramirezes say they did not know people were living upstairs and the lease was for commercial space only and all of the construction in the unit was both a code and lease violation.)
That led to a $5 million loan for major repairs that they stopped making payments on when the pandemic hit. The Florida-based lender is threatening foreclosure, but the city is pushing back on these aggressive measures, and a GoFundMe campaign was launched last month to raise the $300,000 in loan payments that are owed.
Being longtime SF residents and well connected with the community, the Ramirezes have friends in high places. Thus Assemblymember David Chiu, Mayor London Breed, and Supervisors Matt Haney and Aaron Peskin have all been lending support, and advocating on the family's behalf. Mayor Breed said in a statement, "[The pandemic] has meant that many in the small business community are at risk of being taken advantage of, especially our minority-owned businesses. We must stand up to these unethical practices, and I have directed our Office of Economic and Workforce Development to identify and exhaust all options available to protect Don Ramon's from foreclosure."