A well-received cafe, bakery, and restaurant in the NoPa neighborhood with Michelin pedigreed talent behind it, which had received a ton of advance press prior to its delayed 2021 opening, is closing its doors after just 21 months.
Automat (1801 McAllister Street), which debuted in late November 2021 after more than two years of advance hype, failed to turn a profit in its first two years, and will close after next Sunday, August 27. It's becoming all too familiar a story about the unsustainability of the restaurant business in an expensive city like San Francisco.
A hint of the restaurant's fate came two months ago, when Automat announced the end of its dinner service, switching to a daytime-only format.
"It has been tough to operate a casual restaurant in San Francisco that is sustainable for its employees, affordable for its customers, puts out high-end food made from scratch, but also works financially," the restaurant team said in an Instagram post Sunday. "In the two years we’ve been open, we were not able to find that balance. So Automat is closing."
Chef David Barzelay of the two-Michelin-starred Lazy Bear in the Mission partnered on the restaurant with his former Lazy Bear chef Matthew Kirk, and the name recognition led to the place getting "most anticipated" status from much of the local media in the months before the pandemic began — and a notice from Vogue.
As Barzelay tells the Chronicle, "We’ve been constantly trying to tweak things and make it work... At no point were we not in the red."
Barzelay cites an expensive renovation process, as well as the high costs of labor and high-quality ingredients.
"Automat opened with the intention of being a neighborhood and destination cafe and restaurant, offering craveable takes on our childhood classics for both daytime and dinner," the Instagram post said. "We are so proud of what we accomplished, the food that we served, the hospitality of our staff, the connections we made in the neighborhood, and our welcoming space."
The restaurant immediately became known in the neighborhood for its interesting breads, morning doughnuts, and excellent breakfast sandwiches. The lunch and dinner menus also featured an acclaimed smashburger, great tacos, and dozens of well crafted dishes that mashed up multiple cuisines. In our roundup of the best restaurants to open since the pandemic, SFist noted Kirk's "Michelin-level touches" and great casual fare.
The restaurant seemed popular throughout its run, but perhaps was never able to do the consistent volume of business necessary to stay afloat — as many restaurateurs have noted in recent years, you almost need to be packed every night of the week to make it all work.
Barzelay tells the Chronicle that Kirk will retain the Automat name and may revive it as a pop-up, which is how things began pre-pandemic with Kirk selling his breads and other goods.
The team is still in operation today and will be through Sunday, and they say, "Come visit us for one last donut, sandwich, or just to wish our team well. We would love to see you one more time."
Photo via Instagram