New small businesses in San Francisco face monumental challenges: creating a solid concept, finding a location, preparing the interior/exterior, putting together a team, navigating city regulations and permits. And that's before a single customer walks in the door.
Hoodline checked in with four Castro businesses that have opened within the last year to see how things are going since opening, what they've had to overcome, and how they are evolving in a constantly changing city, where customer bases can shift seemingly overnight.
At 2200 Market St., Brewcade, a bar featuring vintage arcade machines, and Hecho, an upscale Mexican restaurant, have had their share of challenges throughout the year. Last Saturday was one of them: a fire, which started in Hecho's kitchen, burned between the walls of the two businesses. Hecho resumed dinner service right away after a brief evacuation, but Brewcade was forced to close for several days to repair the damage.
Hecho's chef, Cory Armenta, told us that the restaurant had made some corrective changes to the stove after the fire, but otherwise, he says it's “business as usual” for the Mexican restaurant. Owners Jesse Woodward and Dana Gleim, also of nearby sports bar Hi-Tops, did not comment on the fire. Brewcade was able to reopen for business on Tuesday.
Before last week's fire, we spoke to Shawn Vergara, owner and proprietor of Brewcade, about his experience in the arcade-bar business. He told us that his biggest new innovation is a shift in the bar's layout. When Brewcade debuted last December, the team quickly realized that its machine and bar setup “didn’t quite have a good flow,” Vergara said. So Brewcade realigned the machines to create a more open space, and ordered some new games (including three pinball machines), based on customers’ requests.
"We constantly strive to respond to customer feedback about suggestions for improvement," Vergara told Hoodline. "Our games are often difficult to manage because they are old—some date 30 years back—and materials to keep games running aren’t easy to obtain." To help smooth the process, he and his sister/business manager, Tiffny Vergara Chung, recently hired a game guy on weekends to help with coin jams and other glitches that may occur. “We want to make sure people are getting their best possible experience here," he said.
Brewcade is one of only five businesses in the U.S. that carries the 10-player arcade game Killer Queen. Assuming there was no damage to the machine in Saturday's fire, they plan to hold tournaments for Killer Queen in the coming months.
Vergara also shook up the entrance to the bar, which was originally more of a lounging area where people could sit and drink. He decided to put the games right inside the front door, where they could be seen from the street. The result feels “more like an arcade bar," and is intended to draw more people in. They’ve also recently added patio seating out front on the sidewalk, and they eventually plan to show Bay Area sporting events onscreen throughout the bar.
While Brewcade is now recovering from its first major challenge since opening, Hecho encountered problems almost immediately after it debuted last fall. Latino groups and residents voiced strong opposition to the restaurant's original name, Bandidos, which has historical roots as an ethnic slur. The owners said the moniker wasn't intended to offend, and quickly changed the restaurant's name to Hecho (Spanish for “
to make" "made").
But the name change wasn't the only challenge for Hecho, which has cycled through new chefs and a few rounds of change in management over the past year. Nonetheless, the business has done well and grown.
"When we originally opened, we intended on having the restaurant be walk-ins only, since San Francisco is such a walking city,” co-owner Woodward told us. "However, the restaurant became busy so quickly that we had to switch over and take reservations." Woodward said Hecho's patrons are a mix of neighbors and clientele from all over the city.
Armenta, the restaurant's new chef, has recently changed up the menu to offer Mexican food made with “fresh and sustainable ingredients,” which the owners say has helped them hit their stride. The green chile verde is one of their most popular menu items, and the bar offers a variety of tequila and mezcal. Their latest innovation is a new summer cocktail—a watermelon margarita called “La Sandia.”
While Hecho and Brewcade have struggled to find their groove, hot dog spot Dapper Dog, which opened seven months ago, seems to have caught on immediately. "Business has been going very well," owner Bassel Khoury told us. “We just experienced our first Pride. It was pretty intense, and a big learning experience, because there was a lot of traffic and people on the street. That said, with a bus stop and Muni station right here, there are always a lot of people coming or going, which is great for business."
"When I first had the idea to open a business in the Castro, I was looking to open a sandwich shop," Khoury told Hoodline. "But I felt that there was room for something different." As a result, he based hot dog recipes on popular sandwiches, such as Dapper Dog's best-seller, the bánh mì hot dog. "People like to post the bánh mì [dog] on Instagram, and it is written up in a lot of food blogs," he said.
Khoury feels very fortunate that things took off right away for his business. “We have a really good following and customer base—a lot of regulars, such as the local merchants and bar patrons. We also get people from [Castro Theatre] traffic, people waiting in line for the shows. We really see a lot of familiar faces in here.”
The youngest freshman business in this story is gallery/studio/art class hybrid Spark Arts (4229 18th St.), which has also had a good experience since opening on June 1st.
Studio manager and co-owner Angie Sticher told us that things have been going great since Spark opened last month. "We are really lucky,” she said, citing an appearance in 7x7's Best of San Francisco list as a watershed moment. Gallery exhibits are nearly booked up for the rest of the year.
"Things are going so well that we haven’t had to solicit business much at all," Sticher told us. "Artists typically come directly to us, because they are eager to show their art in our space. The neighborhood really needed an art space like this."
Thanks to its immediate popularity, Spark has already added 10 new courses for July, such as dance, mixed media, and watercolor. They’ve also added new workshops for photography and improv comedy. "We are always on the lookout for new ideas, and are listening to what people in the neighborhood ask for,” Sticher said.
Classes are open and ready for enrollment; to book a class, visit sparkarts.com.
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