Finally we get word that a contract has been signed, and a San Francisco native with experience revitalizing landmark properties will be leading the project, with help from SF-based Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group.
The outfit that was awarded a 20-year lease by the National Park Service is called Sutro Lands End Partners, which is helmed by San Francisco attorney Alexander Leff. Leff has, according to a release, "rejuvenated other notable California landmarks into popular destinations, including the iconic Malibu Pier in Malibu." As the Santa Monica Daily Press reported, Leff has had the concessionaire contract for the pier since 2003, and in 2013 worked to find a new operator for the iconic Beachcomber Cafe, which later reopened as Malibu Farm restaurant.
“Since 1863, there has been a Cliff House perched on that dramatic bluff welcoming locals and visitors to come and be inspired by the views of the Pacific and perhaps share a drink or a meal with friends and family," Leff says in a statement. "We are honored to have been chosen by the National Park Service to be the stewards of this beloved venue for the next generation."
Sutro Lands End Partners will, according to their contract, have to continue the historic uses of the Cliff House, which include a restaurant, café, event space, and retail shop. As a San Francisco native who grew up in the Richmond District, Leff says “it is an honor to be given the opportunity to restore this beloved landmark and doing so is my way of expressing my gratitude and lending a helping hand to our beautiful city at a moment when it can use help from all of us who live here."
Leff added that "San Francisco has been good to me and to my family ever since my grandparents arrived here during World War II," and he said, "I am well aware that it is a tough time to undertake a major hospitality project in San Francisco."
Leff partnered with Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group on his bid for the project, and they say they will be launching a series of public meetings in order to get locals' input on what they'd like to see in the building's restaurant spaces.
"We look forward to bringing local hospitality businesses to this historic site that will offer a variety of food options at different price points," says Ryan Cole, co-founder of Hi Neighbor, in a statement. "Each will demonstrate the depth and diversity of food and beverage talent in the Bay Area as well as showcase products from local and sustainable farmers, fisherman, and food purveyors."
Cole adds that the Cliff House "belongs to everyone who loves San Francisco, whether they are locals or visitors. Our goal is to create a place where everyone feels welcome again, regardless of whether they are there to meet up with friends, savor a delicious meal, shop, or just enjoy the view."
Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group currently operates The Vault and The Vault Garden, Trestle, and The Madrigal in San Francisco, as well as Mama on Oakland's Grand Avenue. Cole and his group are also partnering with the former chefs of the Michelin-starred Marlena on a new restaurant coming to Japantown.
BCV Architecture + Interiors, which has worked on both the Ferry Building and the SF Mart/Twitter building, will be leading the renovation work.
"Our goal will be to institute building improvements and decor that will create a warm welcome for arriving visitors, connecting them to the rich history of the building and its site, and encouraging engagement with the natural environment through activation of the building’s outdoor decks, terraces and street frontages," says Hans Baldauf, Principal of BCV. "We see an opportunity to make the building dynamic by providing multiple food and retail offerings."
Whether or not the place will get to call itself The Cliff House remains an open question. The press release acknowledges that the former operators, Mary and Dan Hountalas, trademarked the name, and "are seeking payment in order to allow the building to continue to be called the Cliff House." The Hountalases relinquished their lease in 2020 and have repeatedly expressed their disappointment in the Park Service's decision to put the building out for open bids.
Stay tuned for more details as we get them. In the meantime, Leff and his team are collecting public input and memories at this website.