In an ongoing mystery more than 15 years in the making, the former location of The Patio Café currently remains vacant, as it has been ever since its closure, ostensibly for remodeling, in 1999.
Since 2014, Hoodline has reported on plans for the burger chain Hamburger Mary's to open San Francisco franchise location in the Les Natali-owned space. While Natali secured a conditional-use permit in 2014 for the chain to move in, the continued vacancy has left many in the neighborhood wondering what exactly is going on.
Early last week, we reached out to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), and found that Natali has had a current and valid liquor license for The Patio. When asked for clarification on the length of a valid license and the terms in which a property owner is allowed to keep one, ABC Information Officer John Carr told us that "The business is currently closed for repairs and expects to open in a few weeks."
We asked the ABC for an explanation of the rules and found that when a licensed premise is closed for any reason for more than 15 consecutive days, the license must be surrendered to the ABC, and that the license could then be reactivated once the business was open again (within one year).
This explanation further confuses things, as The Patio has been closed for much longer than 15 consecutive days, and ABC records show that the Patio's liquor license was renewed in 2009, when it had already been closed for 10 years.
Following our inquiries on April 22nd, we received a update from Carr, informing us that Natali had voluntarily surrendered his liquor license, but once again under the reasoning that the premises were undergoing repairs.
We reached out to Natali, who gave his own explanation for the license surrender:
We surrendered license because the ABC will need to reinspect the premises after the design work is completed and the restaurant is ready to open. The license will be reactivated when the restaurant is ready to open.
Natali also said that Hamburger Mary's is expected to open as soon as they find a chef and that "restaurant designer Craige Walters is expected to finish the interior design work within a few weeks."
This isn't the first time that Natali has actively sought a chef for Hamburger Mary's. He has posted signage in the windows of the vacant space, as well as ads online in August and February of last year. Currently the windows have a sign advertising for "Restaurant Management Opportunity For A Hamburger Mary's Operation."
Ashley Wright, who owns Hamburger Mary's with his twin brother Brandon, confirmed that there were still plans to open at the old Patio space. "It is taking a bit longer than we had hoped and expected. I believe the franchisee is currently trying to put together a management team."
Natali's conditional use authorization was granted in December of 2014 and expires December 4th, 2017. With the window to open Hamburger Mary's nearing the halfway mark, readers, the Castro Merchants, and many locals are unhappy with the lack of movement.
District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener shared his thoughts on the space, and business in the area as a whole:
I very much want the Patio space to reopen, and I’m frustrated that it’s still vacant. With that said, we also need to focus on the positive. While this one space has remained vacant for far too long, we have filled scores of retail spaces in the Castro in the past few years, including major vacant spaces now occupied by Strut, Soulcycle, CVS, and Weaver's Coffee. Our neighborhood commercial area – with many new businesses, a new health center, new wide sidewalks and a great new streetscape – is in great shape. Let’s continue to push for the Patio space to reopen, and let’s also keep in mind the many positive changes we are seeing.
If all goes according to Natali, we should see Hamburger Mary's opening soon. As we continue to monitor the space, share your thoughts on the ongoing saga in the comments below.