Popular 24-hour eatery Orphan Andy's stands across the street from Jane Warner Plaza in the heart of the Castro. Owners Bill Pung and Dennis Zieball chatted with Hoodline about the inspiration behind the restaurant, which has been around since the '70s, how their own relationship grew with it, and Orphan Andy's current vitality in an ever-changing city.
Pung and Zieball are married partners as well as co-owners of Orphan Andy's. They met after Zieball found his way to San Francisco in his youth. "My husband is from Nebraska," Pung said. "He was studying to be a mineralogist." Zieball took a break from school and hitchhiked to San Francisco, where he was homeless for 3-4 months. That was more than 40 years ago.
While some might guess that Orphan Andy's name is a gay-ish spin on the popular comic strip Little Orphan Annie, Pung explains the personal and historical origins of the name. "Dennis applied for a job at Andy's Donuts, which was then considered the center of the universe," Pung recalled. "He ended up owning it at age 21."
Andy's Donuts (now Osaka Sushi at 460 Castro St.) closed around 1975, but the popularity of the shop was so great that Zieball wanted to keep the name. Zieball himself had been an orphan who later found parents through adoption, so "Orphan Andy's" was born.
Pung recalls the moment he met Zieball. "I was working in the city, living in the East Bay, and had just come out," he told us. "Dennis had opened Boot Camp, a then-popular gay bar. I stopped in for a beer—it was love at first sight."
From the beginning, Pung and Zieball were an old-fashioned couple. "We didn't just hop into bed, we dated. He asked me to spend a weekend with him—that's how it began."
As Orphan Andy's grew in the community, it had its fair share of favorite employees. One standout is the late Herbie Richards, who was affectionately known as "Mother." Richards passed away around 12 years ago.
"Herbie was quite a character," Pung said. "He was an excellent manager and an all-around good guy who was open and honest. His personality was very campy." Pung laughed as he recalled giving one of his mother's flowing muumuu dresses to Richards, who dutifully wore the outfit to work. (Pung's mother was amused.)
Many of the cherished employees at Orphan Andy's have passed on. "AIDS was a sad time," Pung recalled. "We experienced a lot of people who were taken. It was hard for everyone--we were trying to understand what was going on. A lot of wonderful employees passed—they made Orphan Andy's work."
Currently, fueled in part by the tech boom, the Castro is undergoing changes of another kind, as skyrocketing rents have made the neighborhood unaffordable to many younger LGBTQ residents. Some have said that the Castro is losing its queer identity, but Pung feels differently. "We've been in the neighborhood for close to 42 years," he told us. "It's definitely changing. There's a variety of people here now. It's a shared community and we embrace that. I think it will remain a gay mecca."
Pung acknowledges that today's cost-of-living can be challenging. "People are living just to survive," he said. "Many of the gay kids who want to move into the neighborhood may not be able to stay in San Francisco."
Zieball's past as a homeless youth has made him particularly sympathetic to the neighborhood's challenges. "He understands the homeless," Pung said. "He lived it. He had to find food and shelter. He's compassionate and sympathetic to what's going on out there."
"Everything changes," added Zieball. "The neighborhood was evolving in 1971, transitioning from a middle-class neighborhood. It's always transitioning—it's never the same as it was the previous decade."
Despite the changing times, Pung is grateful for the community support Orphan Andy's has experienced. "We appreciate our success, longevity, and everyone who plays a part in our success. We credit our staff, our landlord, and the tourists—it's a winning recipe."
Orphan Andy's is located at 3991 17th Street. The restaurant is open 24 hours, seven days a week.