It's official: Capp's Corner, an institution in the North Beach dining and drinking scene for more than 50 years, is closing its doors this month after a lease dispute.
The final day, April 19th, will be "business as usual," said Maureen Ginella, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Tom Ginella. "It's not going to be a dirge; it's going to be a celebration."
Ginella said the deal breaker for the eatery at the corner of Powell and Green streets—known for its family-style Italian feasts and old-school charm—was not the rent, but a contractual snag. Maureen said the landlord's attorney wanted Tom and her to personally guarantee above and beyond any insurance policy that they'd be liable for anything "odd or weird" that happened.
"Our personal credit would go down the tubes," she said. "If insurance wouldn't cover it, we were responsible to pay for it. Nobody would sign that kind of personal guarantee—ever." She added, "We're a corporation, so there wasn't a necessity for Tom and I to be personal guarantors. We kept trying to make the deal, trying to make the deal, and they kept saying, 'no, no, no, no, no.'"
Maureen said the problem wasn't with the landlord, Hang Cham Kou, and her family, whom she calls "gracious, wonderful people," but with their attorney, David Jung. She said Gov. Jerry Brown even talked to Jung and set up a mediator, but Jung "blew off the mediator, blew off the governor." (Tom has been friends with Gov. Brown since they were about seven or eight years old and attended St. Brendan Parish School together, Maureen added.)
Capp's Corner opened in 1963, and the Ginellas have owned it since 1986. Since news of the impending closure broke, customers have been showing "a lot of empathy; a lot of sympathy," Maureen said. But she and Tom are at peace with the outcome, with plans to retire to their home in Hawaii.
"If we were 30 years younger, we'd give it a good fight, but it's time," she said.
Maureen said they've been helping the employees line up other jobs. Bartender George McCarthy said he's going to work at Original Joe's in North Beach and transfer to Joe's of Westlake in Daly City when it re-opens in the fall.
Writer Ernest Beyl said he's been a regular at Capp's since the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.
"I walked downhill from my Telegraph Hill apartment and I was looking for a place to get a Bloody Mary," Ernest said. "I walked past Washington Square Bar and Grill and it was closed, and I walked over here and it was jumping. The bartender lived in Marin and brought ice" because the city had no power due to the quake.
Ernest Beyl. Photo: Geri Koeppel/Hoodline
Beyl added, "The landlord's attorney doesn't realize that this neighborhood is going to be diminished by the loss of Capp's Corner. Capp's Corner is an institution in an area where there are a lot of people who eat out all the time and use saloons as their sitting rooms, if you will, because a lot of them live in one-bedroom apartments or studios. This has always been the case in North Beach.... People who use Capp's Corner as a social club, a place to gather, are being forced to move."
Another customer, Christopher Webster, said, "The best bet for business owners is to own the dirt," meaning the real estate, so they don't lose their location. He owned Hogan's Goat Tavern in Dogpatch from 2010–13 and left when the landlord raised his rent from $3,400 a month to $7,300 a month. "They kept it a bar, but nine months later, their rent has gone from $7,300 to $8,200 and the bar is for sale again," he said.
For renters like the Ginellas, closing Capp's Corner was always a possible outcome, but that won't make next weekend any easier.
"It's hard to believe it's not going to be around anymore," Maureen said. "I'm kind of numb. It's going to be difficult to face the 20th."
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