After Health Department shutdown, Jane on Larkin owner pushes back on city's inaction

After Health Department shutdown, Jane on Larkin owner pushes back on city's inaction
Photo: Andrea L./Yelp
By Alisa Scerrato - Published on October 21, 2019.

On Wednesday, tipster Rebecca S. alerted us to the sudden closure of popular Tenderloin bakery-cafe Jane on Larkin (925 Larkin St.)

The cafe had been shut down by the SF Department of Health (SFDPH) for what a representative said was "a rodent and cockroach infestation throughout the entire facility, including the kitchen food preparation area and the basement food storage area."

After an inspection on Wednesday morning and another that afternoon, SFDPH verified "sufficient improvement," reinstating Jane's permit to operate.

Jane's owner, Amanda Michael, said she took the shutdown very seriously. But she's also frustrated by the street uncleanliness that surrounds the restaurant, which makes it difficult for her to keep its interior free of pests. 

While Jane received a score of 91 out of 100 on the day of its SFDPH inspection, Michael says it was still shut down because of two visible mouse traps. The mice, she says, are emanating from adjacent Cedar Alley, which is frequently populated by homeless encampments.

Michael says that Jane's staff constantly work to keep both the interior and exterior of the bakery sanitized. Before the shutdown, she'd recently hired an additional employee to hose down the sidewalks and clean up the frequent piles of garbage and excrement around the bakery. She also sprays the interior every two weeks for pest control.

Now, in the wake of the Health Department shutdown, she's considering closing the Larkin Street bakery altogether. 

"We have to deal with crime, mentally unstable people and unsanitary streets," said Michael. "It has become more and more a challenge in that neighborhood every day."

Photo: Rebecca S./Hoodline Tipline

Jane, which often draws lines of customers for its baked goods, salads and juices, also has locations on Fillmore Street and Geary Boulevard. Michael says that the Tenderloin location presents unique challenges. 

The location is right on the dividing line between the Tenderloin, Northern and Central police stations, putting the bakery in something of a no-man's land for SFPD dispatchers. An official SFPD map says the bakery is technically assigned to Northern Station, but Michael's calls often fail to receive a response. 

Recently, Michael said, a man walked into the bakery, took off his pants and began masturbating in front of all the patrons, including children.

Michael called the authorities, who told her to just "push the man out." She pushed back, saying that she was concerned about putting her employees at a potential health risk by touching someone who was fully exposed.

But when no one came to help, Michael's staff had no choice but to force the man out the door. After repeated calls, she said, officers finally showed up — two-and-a-half hours later.

"I can promise you that if I called the police about someone masturbating at my store on Fillmore Street, they'd be there in two minutes," she said. 

Jane on Larkin is located adjacent to Cedar Alley, which is frequently populated by homeless encampments. | Photo: Kevin Y./Yelp

Michael says she's sent several letters and emails to Mayor London Breed's office over the past year, but hasn't received a response. Her Supervisor, District 6's Matt Haney, did respond to a request, but has yet to arrange a meeting with her. 

"I love [the Tenderloin] space, and it is really difficult to think about closing," she said. "But it is truly the most challenging it has ever been down there. The rampant crime and lack of help from our officials is troubling."

In the meantime, Michael wants to reassure customers that she's doing everything in her power to keep the space sanitary. While she wasn't required by SFDPH to close for the full day on Wednesday, she didn't re-open her doors until Thursday, so that she and her staff could take the entire kitchen apart and deep-clean everything. 

"It's a tough situation right now and I don't have the answers," she said. "But it definitely feels like we are fighting an uphill battle to keep our doors open with rising costs and crime, and we get no help."