15-year-old Nopa, the beloved Divisadero restaurant that in many ways kicked off a new (and gentrified) era for the corridor when it debuted in 2006, survived the pandemic by slinging takeout pork chops and burgers.
Nopa has only been open for full service in its outdoor parklet on Hayes for about two months, and the 10 tables inside have only been available for a few weeks. But a number of things have changed at the restaurant since last March, not the least of which is the addition of fried chicken to the menu — which chef Laurence Jossel says is now quickly gaining on the burger as the bestselling menu item.
Jossel opens up in a new interview with his friend, Chronicle writer Rachel Levin, who's also a regular at Nopa, talking about how his marriage to Nopa cofounder Allyson Jossel broke up five years ago. And when the pandemic hit and the restaurant was forced to close its doors, he says that Allyson and business partner Jeff Hanak both said "We’re out," and wanted to throw in the towel on the business altogether.
Hanak and Allyson Jossel (it's unclear if she is back to going by her maiden name of Woodman) have gone on to open other restaurants, Liholiho Yacht Club and Nopalito, which they remain partners in, and Hanak is also a partner in Dear Inga (whose space is now being temporarily used to house Liholiho).
But Laurence Jossel says he was insistent in early days of the pandemic that they had to keep going, somehow, for the sake of employees who wouldn't be able to get government assistance, and for the sake of the neighborhood. His thought was, "We need to show the neighborhood we have smoke coming out of the chimney," he tells the Chronicle.
Fast-forward some months, and after some negotiations, Jossel is now the sole owner of Nopa as it turns 15, which he says, "feels magnificent."
As he tells the Chronicle, "I’ve never been the sole owner of anything. I’m a chef. It remains to be seen if I can be a businessperson. I’ve got 10 jobs now. I’m cleaning bathrooms. But after 37 years working in San Francisco restaurants, for the first time, I’m beholden to no one."
Pretty soon, fans of Nopa will be able to belly up to the bar for a cocktail again, or roll in at midnight for a burger and a beer. Part of Nopa's fanbase over the years were service-industry folks who headed over there after their shifts — it being one of the only decent restaurants in the city that served until 1 a.m.
The bustling, two-story space in a former bank that became a coin-op laundromat before it became Nopa isn't quite so bustling right now. But it's bound to be pretty soon — and reservations at those outdoor tables are already tough to get.
As with all restaurants that have these new outdoor spaces, time will tell how long Nopa keeps it once they're back to 100% capacity inside. But it took a lot of work getting that bus stop moved, as Jossel explains — so maybe it'll stick around for a while.