After over four years of negotiations, support from the Board of Supervisors and much anticipation, Mama's on Washington Square, North Beach's famed brunch spot, has abandoned its efforts to open a second location, Lil' Mama's, in the former Piazza Market space at 627 Vallejo St.
But that doesn't mean that the space, which has been vacant since 2012, will remain that way. Local retailer Cole Hardware has signed a lease in Lil' Mama's stead, and has already started renovations for its fifth location.
The Sanchez family, which first opened Mama's on Stockton Street in 1951, hoped that a second location in the vacant Piazza Market (formerly Rossi's Market) would potentially reduce the long waits for which their small restaurant is known. But after spending years contending with zoning issues that required legislative changes, the family decided to move on.
“We continued looking to possibly open it, but it just didn’t make sense at the end of the day,” Vince Sanchez told Inside Scoop.
But Sanchez also said that Mama's hasn't given up on the idea of opening up a second location. The family has a few neighborhoods in mind for expansion, but they're keeping a tight lid on them for the time being.
The opportunity to move into North Beach was a long-awaited one for Cole Hardware owner Rick Karp. He told us he's received repeated requests from North Beach residents to open a store there, and he's been seeking a location in the neighborhood for more than 15 years.
In fact, he said, he'd previously looked at the Piazza Market location, ultimately passing it up because of the cost of rent at the time. Knowing that Mama's was vying for the same location, he even spoke with Sanchez at one point, telling him that he "hoped to be his neighbor someday."
And Kathleen Dooley, SF Small Business Commissioner and Board Member of North Beach Business Association told us that she has been in contact with Karp over the years to keep him apprised of any new vacancies in the neighborhood.
"After communicating with the Karp family for at least 10 years, I am so happy to see a family business who believes in participating in the life of the communities they are located in, join us in North Beach." she told us. "They will also be providing around 20 good new jobs for the neighborhood."
Karp's interest in the space was renewed by a chance "bump-in" in April with District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who mentioned that Lil' Mama's didn't look like it would materialize. Karp jumped at the opportunity, but in June, right when he was about to seal the deal on expanding to North Beach, he lost his Mission Street location to a catastrophic fire. But citing a desire to move on and to serve a neighborhood that he says is lacking a proper hardware store, Karp decided to proceed.
Things are moving quickly on the new space, in part because Karp doesn't need to go through the conditional use authorization process with Planning—the location is already zoned for retail. Crews have already "started swinging hammers," he said, and the demolition phase should take only a couple of weeks before construction and remodeling begin. Karp hopes to be up and running for an early 2017 opening.
Karp told us that each Cole location is a little different, and has a unique personality that fits with the character of the neighborhood. The new North Beach store will be no different, he said. "This is a dream come true for me, and I hope it will be the same for the neighbors as well."
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