Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Hearing set for proposed Castro Hamburger Mary’s

The site of the defunct Patio Cafe in the Castro.

The site of the defunct Patio Cafe in the Castro.

A proposed Hamburger Mary’s franchise in the Castro will go before San Francisco’s planning commission in early December, according to the project sponsor.

In response to a question from the Bay Area Reporter, Les Natali, who is seeking permits to open a location of the fast casual chain at 531 Castro Street, said over the weekend that he was informed Friday the hearing date would be Thursday, December 4.

As the B.A.R. reported on its blog back in February, nearly a year ago Natali sought the city zoning administrator’s opinion on whether Hamburger Mary’s falls under the city’s formula retail rules that require any chain with 11 or more locations nation-wide to seek a conditional use permit to open a new location in San Francisco.

Natali, who also owns the Castro gay bars Badlands and Toad Hall, had argued he didn’t need to seek a conditional use permit because his version of Hamburger Mary’s would differ from the others. But in January Zoning Administrator Scott F. Sanchez ruled that Natali would need to seek permit approval from the Planning Commission as his planned Hamburger Mary’s qualifies as a formula retail business.

According to the company’s website, there are 11 locations of the business across the U.S. While it still lists a twelfth in Palm Springs, that location announced in September it would not reopen this fall, according to a message on both its answering machine and Facebook page.

Hamburger Mary’s was launched in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood in 1972 and quickly gained a loyal LGBT following. The local restaurant shut down in 2001.

A year later the long-running Patio Café, a popular weekend brunch spot in the Castro, closed down. Having taken over the business back in the 1990s, Natali expected to reopen the eatery within a short time frame after a remodel.

Instead, he has spent the last 12 years fighting with city planners over various aspects of the build out to the space, which included his acquiring the building next door and redesigning its ground floor retail spaces.

By May 2012 Natali had planned to reopen the Patio a decade after it last welcomed patrons. But a routine health department inquiry related to his request for an occupancy permit led to a determination that his planning permits were not in order.

That zoning fight, which primarily involved how many seats Natali was allowed to have at the site, was resolved in August of 2013. At the time it was expected that Natali would reopen the Patio as he had said he was in talks with a restaurant operator to take on the business.

The plan changed last fall when Natali decided to team up with the owners of Hamburger Mary’s. According to the company’s website, in 2007 the franchise system was sold to Dale Warner in West Hollywood and brothers Ashley and Brandon Wright in Chicago.

According to Natali’s email over the weekend, he is “now looking for a working-chef-partner. If you know or hear of anyone who may be interested, please ask them to contact me.”

It remains unclear if Natali will be allowed to open a Hamburger Mary’s in the Castro location. The proposal has been met with mixed reactions, with some welcome to seeing anything reactivate the long dormant space.

But others have objected to seeing a chain restaurant be given permission to open. Should the planning commissioners decide to allow Natali to move forward, their decision can be appealed by those opposed to the restaurant.

— Matthew S. Bajko, October 20, 2014 @ 1:38 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

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