Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Sep 26, 2013 02:09 AM

Is the SF food scene running out of gas due to high rents & tech bubble?

Are Portland and West & East Oakland doing more edgy things and allowing chefs to take chances?

Interesting & provocative article by John Birdsall in the SF Weekly:

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Hard to dispute, isn't it? Is there any place in reasonable driving distance of SF that's affordable? What about Pacifica?

    4 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      There are places in SF proper that have much more reasonable rents, but it would be hard to attract restaurant customers to those neighborhoods.

      1. re: Tripeler

        Right, that's why Outerlands and Mission Chinese Food went out of business.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I was thinking of even cheaper places. Mission Chinese Food is in a comparatively expensive location, though Outerlands really isn't.

    2. Is that even a question? I've believed this to be true for at least a year now, especially compared to Oakland. The Mission is conspicuous proof of that to me. Just how many fancy Italian places does one neighborhood need? Did we really need another Tacolicious? Don't get me wrong, you could walk randomly into any one of those places and have a perfectly lovely meal, but no one would ever call these places "edgy." I guess it would be edgy if they opened a Pizzeria Tacolicious, but that seems unlikely to happen.

      Regarding Portland, I'm no expert, but when I was there last year, I ate my way through a fair number of restaurants, and frankly, I prefer SF's restaurants, although I'd be pretty happy if we had their food truck situation.

      1. SF has pretty much everything that Portland does and a lot more besides. We don't have to go to Oregon to stand in line for pork sandwiches at a farmers market. They don't have the diversity or high end we do.

        Oakland's a cheaper place to open a restaurant, but SF seems like a stronger market. Would Gajalee make it in Oakland? Una Pizza Napoletana? Lers Ros?

        1. hard to debate that the sf food scene is in an 'ebb' phase rather than a 'flow' phase.
          it seems there are fewer exciting new concepts than a city of this size, with this food population, than there should be. and valencia being 'google's cafeteria' is hysterical in its accuracy. while there are things like dandelion, craftsmen and wolves, and others, things like tacolicious, curry up now, mau, and the ridiculous beta brand 'clothing; store. in three years, valenica will be an outdoor suburban shopping mall.....

          26 Replies
          1. re: frontzNskrontz

            It's an old SF tradition to hate on the latest wave of newcomers but the technies have money and eat out.

            2001 and 2008 were ebbs. I bet 2013 will turn out to be the all-time high of new restaurants opening in SF. I can't even keep track of all the new places let alone try more than a small fraction. Just scroll down this list:


            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              The tech industry and the interwebz titans are notorious for being cheap and not giving back to the community. Even the historical robber barons of California gave back. Compare that to when Larry Ellison "gives back" to SF on America's Cup, it cost SF a pretty penny.

              1. re: ML8000

                I think that's just mindless prejudice. Most of the conversations I overhear in restaurants and bars in SF are among techies.

                The people I hear ranting against techies are mostly old slackers and hippies who can remain in SF only because they have rent control.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  By conventional standards, Silicon Valley and Tech has not given like other "big boys" in the past, despite a widening income gap. I believe it's the macho nerd libertarian ethos. There's way more info but you can do the search.


                  Any way, like many I left SF long ago and bought a house in the East Bay.


                  1. re: ML8000

                    I absolutely know what you mean by the macho nerd libertarian ethos. That's perfect.

                    1. re: ML8000

                      The Silicon Valley Community Foundation's fund almost doubled in size from 2007 to 2012, from $1.5 billion to $2.9 billion. Somebody's making a lot of donations.

                      That article is about how some Silicon Valley charitable foundations are giving less to local organizations than they did five years ago. Without more details, it's hard to know what that trend means.

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I left San Francisco in 2002 because I was tired - after living in SF for 6 years and the bay area generally for 15 - of continually reading and hearing how I was destroying San Francisco by driving up rents and creating gentrification, because I was in the tech industry and had money.

                      The fact that I participated in the cultural life of the city as a musican - that I patronized a wide variety of bars and restaurants - enjoyed strange geek underground scenes - was born in the east bay - lived in an old house not one of the then-new ugly lofts - and a million other things - would never be enough.

                      Now, honestly, a joy of the peninsula is I don't have to be ashamed of being successful, and I can drive 40 minutes and dine just about anywhere from Campbell to the Mission. I continue to be amazed at the astonishing diversity within an hour of my house - although I'm now a huge fan of LA.

                      Last night I hit Zare at Flytrap. We were on our way to a data visualization display at the hackerspace in the same block (which we had miscalculated, it's next week).

                      GF was very, very happy with Zare, loved the fact that it had all the Moroccan / whatever influences that Zare brings (not just italian). In particular we loved this strange stuffed tomato, which I mentioned reminded me of a chaat somehow. The entire place was EMPTY because Oracle Open World was on its last day and it looked like lots of large tables and groups had booked in, but hadn't yet arrived. We had a fairly fast and well paced dinner at the bar (in n out in less than an hour).

                      Bartender was pretty good. The pisco sour had a little too much bitters - at least, I've never had one with that much bitters, although it was something more cinnamon than the standard type and very tasty. Although I wouldn't call it the top bar in the city they're knocking out some tasty drinks.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Yeah, persian. Great melding of tastes.

                    3. re: ML8000

                      I don't agree that techies are cheap. Far from it. The ones I know (very young guys, mostly) don't have very good taste in food, but they do spend their money on it.

                      1. re: ML8000

                        I don't think this maxim applies to dining out (or drinking); when I've heard the same thing said, it's usually spoken of charitable giving to traditional society interests, like the opera or ballet, which I'd agree a 35-year-old millionaire who was an early Fbook employee might be less likely to care about.

                        Everyone I know who works in tech (from not super-well-paid start-up workers to super-well-paid established tech company workers) dines out a lot--they work long hours, maybe eat lunch in the office, but eat at restaurants at night. AQ, for example, has been a Twitter heavy crowd every time I've been, and the new beer bar that opened up across the street from Twitter was so slammed at 7 p.m. it was hard to move.

                        I would be curious, actually, if new restaurants that beckon the tech crowd are more likely to close later than a typical SF restaurant because at least among my group of friends in SF, people are increasingly working later and wanting to dine later, closer to but not quite NYC hours.

                        1. re: ML8000

                          "not giving back to the community"

                          in what sense? not sure what you mean exactly by this.

                          1. re: ML8000

                            Yes and no. It's true that they may not naturally be good tippers and they have to be trained to be a good diners at time (although you could say that for many people that either haven't worked in a service industry or who don't eat out regularly) but you'll find the regulars at most mid and upper level restaurants are usually in tech or tech related. They may be one of the reason for the higher rents but they are also a huge cash influx for restaurants not to mention the insane amounts of corp. events that tech companies do every day in this city at restaurants.

                            1. re: tjinsf

                              You may also notice that SF only has one industry - tech - remaining. There's a few other companies in SF - a bit of retail (Levis / Gap), a bit of Finance (remainders of WellsFargo, Schwab) - but I think you'd have to say it's majority tourism and tech.

                              1. re: bbulkow

                                SF has several hundred thousand jobs that are not tech or tourism. Other major employment sectors include state and federal government agencies, hospitals, insurance companies, pension funds, colleges, and law firms.


                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Still I agree with the spirit of bbulkow's comment, in the sense of distinctive local employments, and in the case of tech jobs, those with relatively recent history.

                                  A few generations ago it was tourism and shipping and finance (complete with the San Francisco Stock Exchange). The original West Coast deep-water port, with the whole population and subculture of stevedores it supported. (The passenger liners -- liners, not "cruise" ships -- that I saw at the piers 50 years ago lost out to cheap air travel; freight lost out to containerized Oakland with lower average labor costs and lower random "loss" of goods, similar to New Orleans losing its port business to Galveston.) Tourism remains; SF is no longer the dominant W.-Coast financial center it was in 1920 or 1950; most of the other employments that Robert cited have long stable local histories and aren't at all distinctive to SF.

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    Corporate headquarters, insurance, banking, retail, law firms, health care, colleges, and federal and state agencies employ more people in SF than tech companies and tourism. The top five private employers in SF are Levi Strauss, Bechtel, Fireman's Fund, Delta Dental, and Del Monte Foods.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      Source? Del Monte only has 479 Bay Area employees according to . I assume that's where you're getting this list of 5.

                                      The list is not of "private" employers as we usually think of the private sector, but rather PRIVATELY HELD companies - ie corporations whose stock is not traded on the public markets. I see no reason why the composition of a company's investors matters to this discussion.

                                      1. re: bigwheel042

                                        My bad, those are the largest companies in terms of revenue that have employees in SF. The 25 largest employers in SF in 2010 were:

                                        26,554 City & County of SF
                                        24,759 UCSF
                                        9,214 Wells Fargo
                                        6,800 California Pacific Medical Center
                                        5,629 Kaiser Permanente
                                        5,555 State of California
                                        4,697 US Postal Service
                                        4,394 PG&E
                                        3,804 Gap Inc.
                                        3,804 Charles Schwab
                                        3,000 City College of SF
                                        2,637 ABM Industries
                                        2,472 Catholic Healthcare West
                                        1,951 Safeway
                                        1,885 USF
                                        1,548 Deloitte
                                        1,227 SF State U
                                        1,200 Hilton
                                        1,200 Levi Strauss
                                        1,104 Blue Shield
                                        1,100 SF Marriott
                                        1,096 St. Francis Memorial Hospital
                                        1,037 Accenture
                                        960 YMCA of SF

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          No, they aren't the largest companies in terms of revenue. They are the largest PRIVATELY HELD companies in terms of revenue. McKesson, Google, and Wells Fargo dwarf Levi Strauss in revenue.

                                          1. re: bigwheel042

                                            This is starting to seem very off-topic, but there are so many businesses that don't necessarily employ huge numbers of people, but that have changed the city simply because they weren't here a few years ago: AirBnB, Goodreads, Marin Software, Uber...Twitter...

                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            I actually think that list makes my point. I don't consider government to be an industry, and every region needs a certain amount of health care, and there's one large university, then you have a smattering of individual companies with a little bit of financial services and a little bit of retail.

                                            I also dislike any analysis that believes that this area stops at the border of the city of san francisco. It'll just miss the point.

                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                              Whether an employer is an industry or not is irrelevant, my point is that the majority of well-paid jobs in SF are not in tech, so the restaurant industry is not completely dominated by the supposed herd mentality of techies. SF has several orders of magnitude more government jobs than most places due to the large number of state and federal agencies that are located there. Same goes for higher education and health care. In many ways it's a regional capital.

                                              Birdsall didn't claim that his alleged problem was unique to SF. He said that chefs have to go to East or West Oakland to take chances since otherwise they're faced with $12,000 a month rents.

                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          The spirit, I said -- not the letter. Insurance, retail, government etc are not unique to or publicly associated as signature industries of SF. In the way that tourism (with all its supporting restaurants and hotels that some locals too use) has always been, and shipping used to be, and high-tech (often meaning, narrowly, software) lately became. With all those recent articles about Googlers commuting from SF and so on, in media like the New Yorker


                                          and the London Review of Books


                                          Rather as the state of Washington was once known for fish, lumber, and Boeing, and is now known for Boeing, Microsoft, and coffee houses -- even if none of those ever actually employed as much as a plurality of workers.

                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                            The claim was that there's little employment left in SF except for tech companies and tourism.

                                            In fact the majority of SF residents and workers are not in tech, even if some people who don't live here think there's nobody else here.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Note that of the authors of the two recent articles I linked above about SF trends -- very relevant in themselves to this whole topic, incidentally -- one wrote as a SF resident, the other grew up on the peninsula.

                          2. It's an interesting article and I think right in some ways.

                            Some of the things I'm always struck with when I'm eating in Portland is how empty the restaurants are during the week and the lower prices. I think that costs are cheaper there but there isn't as large a pool of people who are used to eating out every meal or spending at the high end for regular meals.

                            Without a doubt Portland owns SF when it comes to cheap eats but at the highest level, it doesn't have as many options and the creativity seems to be at the same level. As much as people want to complain about those tech people, those tech people are guys (and some women) who have no problem paying for dinner ever night and aren't afraid to try new dishes and pay for it.

                            Having been here for the last bubble, the restaurant scene here seems far more alive and growing than it did for that one.

                            Also one of the good things about the Mission being overprice center is that good restaurants are moving into other neighborhoods. The quality of food in the Castro, Dogpatch, Glen Park and Portola seems to have all gotten better.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: tjinsf

                              What's good in Portola? Queen's for po-boys has managed to last a few years, but is there anything else chow-worthy? (Unlike the first three, it's hardly a techie-rich neighborhood, in any case.)

                              1. re: bigwheel042

                                I would love to know what's good in Portola as well! I'm one of those "techies" I guess, but I moved from Hayes to Portola for affordable housing. There are a few good Chinese places out here, but I don't think they are considered Portola (like Beijing Restaurant at Mission & Silver).