Bissap Baobab, the Mission's popular Senegalese restaurant and dance club, has held strong for almost two decades. But due to an evolving neighborhood and clientele, owner Marco Senghor is introducing some changes in the new year: two additional chefs, new menus, and new lunch hours.
For almost two decades, Senghor has been serving a very small menu of the same four traditional Senegalese dishes. Now, he said, it's time for a change.
When he first opened, “I was just trying to learn English at the time, so I just did four dishes, and that was my way of learning how to run a restaurant," he said. "After 19 years, I am still making the same dishes."
To amp up his offerings and expand, he’s hired on Senegal native Oumar Diouf, who trained in kitchens in Buenos Aires and Rio, including cooking for up to 5,000 people a day during the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Diouf's specialty is “healthy food,” Senghor said, noting that he specializes in salads and dishes with grains and quinoa, but also makes a lot of traditional Senegalese dishes with chicken, lamb, and fish.
Senghor has also hired Koudous Moutairou, a native of Benin in Africa. Previously a manager at Mitchell's Ice Cream, Moutairou plans to create ice cream with African flavors, such as hibiscus and ginger, for the restaurant.
On January 2nd, Senghor plans to open the smaller of his two spaces, Little Baobab, for lunch, serving quick and easy counter-service dishes for busy locals from 11am-3pm daily. He says that he and the other chefs are still working on what they'll serve, but they are leaning toward an African-style burrito or empanada called a “taxi bush,” which means “rapid car.”
The larger Bissap Baobab space will continue to offer dinner (5:30-10pm), as well as late-night dancing on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Senghor has been at 19th and Mission since the '90s, when it was a “war zone” ridden with prostitution and gangs, he said. But something “magic” happened to Bissap Baobab in 1998: Spearhead’s Michael Franti recorded his album Live at the Baobab there, catapulting the restaurant into worldwide fame.
After the album was released, musicians started calling Senghor, thinking the Baobab was a recording studio. Some would even show up in person, surprised to find that it was just a little Senegalese restaurant in the Mission.
Senghor sustained a setback in 2013 when a fire broke out in the space, but he was eventually able to get it up and running again after a few months. He even expanded to Oakland in 2014, to serve his regular clientele as they were priced out of San Francisco and moved to the East Bay. But he's still looking to hold on to his Mission roots.
For those seeking a sneak preview of the new menu, Bissap Baobab will throwing a New Year's Eve party next week, with DJs, dancing, and a buffet offering the first taste of Diouf's new menu items, as well as some classic dishes from Senghor.
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