San Francisco

'Dolores Park Café' Celebrates 20th Anniversary

This Saturday, October 7th, Dolores Park Café will celebrate its 20th anniversary with burgers and drinks on its patio, live music, and free coffee all day.

Dolores Park Café is now one of four restaurants owned and operated by Rachel Herbert and her partner, Dana Oppenheim. The duo opened their fourth outpost, Paradise Park Café, last month in North Oakland, and operate two other locations, Precita Park Café and Duboce Park Café.

The Dolores Park location opened in 1997 after Herbert convinced her then-employer, Nidal Nazzal, owner of Burger Joint, to go into business with her.

Herbert had been working at one of Nazzal’s Mission restaurants — Val21, in the Valencia St. location now occupied by Dosa — for five years, when she noticed the restaurant space at 18th and Dolores.

Inside Dolores Park Café.

At the time, Herbert lived just a few blocks away and remarked on how empty the neighborhood was, describing it as a "no man’s land between the Mission and Castro." 

"There was no Tartine, no Bi-Rite, no Delfina, nothing there," Herbert said. "Just a really old, decaying vegetarian restaurant.”

After going in 50/50 with Nazzal, Herbert approached the current restaurant owners to take over their lease and struck a deal.

Renovations took a year, and during that time, anticipation in the community grew.

"At the end of the year, the neighborhood was super excited because they knew there was nothing [else] there," said Herbert. “We had a line out the door from the first day, I was just really lucky.”

After buying out Nazzal’s share in 2000, Herbert was the sole business owner until 2006, when Oppenheim joined her. 

Brunch at Dolores Park Café.

The Mission has changed since the 90s, when Dolores Park had a seedier reputation. 

"The drug dealers would come in first thing in the morning to get orange juice, then the cops would follow around 9am to get coffee," Herbert recalled of those early days, "and I was like, 'everyone’s going to work!'"

The café has also had a strong relationship with Mission High since the beginning, counting some of the school's teachers as regulars during the past two decades.

Similarly, the business itself is old enough to have seen generations of employees.

"I have employees that have worked for me for over 21 years, and some of their kids work in my cafe as well,” said Herbert. "One of them is a barista on the weekends and going to SF State, [and I’m] looking at pictures of them when they were one year old."

Herbert (left) and Oppenheim (front center) celebrate a 2015 Pride event with employees.

20 years later, Dolores Park Café is still a popular spot to grab lunch or a drink. Offering a wide selection of food and drink, the restaurant also features the work of local artists and hosts musicians for a monthly live music event on a Friday night.

"Our mission then and now was to be this neighborhood place that brought people together," said Herbert. "That’s why I felt so good about it [when it opened]. I felt like I had landed."

On Saturday, celebrations for the anniversary event begin at noon, with a portion of the proceeds donated to Love Dolores and Mission High. In addition to food and drink, there will be a henna tattoo artist and tarot card reader.

Live music performances by Lucky Rapp, Deborah Pardes, Shake It Booty Band, True Margrit and others will begin at 7pm. The full menu will be available all day.


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