The owner of the long dormant Patio Cafe eatery in the heart of San Francisco’s gay Castro district wants to open a Hamburger Mary’s at the location.
The national burger chain launched in the city’s South of Market neighborhood in 1972 and quickly gained a loyal LGBT following. While that location shut down in 2001, there are now 12 Hamburger Mary’s restaurants across the country, particularly in southern California and Florida, according to the company’s website.
In November Les Natali, who battled the city’s planning department for a decade over zoning issues as he remodeled the 531 Castro Street restaurant space, obtained all necessary permits last August to reopen the Patio space.
In November he 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.
According to the company’s website, in 2007 the Hamburger Mary’s franchise system was sold to Dale Warner in West Hollywood and brothers Ashley and Brandon Wright in Chicago. With successful franchise locations of their own, they also seek out local franchisees in order to meet their goal of bringing a Hamburger Mary’s franchise “to every major city in the country.”
In late January Zoning Administrator Scott F. Sanchez ruled that Natali would need to seek permit approval from the Planning Commission as Hamburger Mary’s does qualify as a formula retail business.
In response to questions from the Bay Area Reporter this week, Natali said he had decided to go forward with the application for conditional use authorization to open a Hamburger Mary’s at the Patio Cafe.
In an email he sent today (Thursday, February 6), to the B.A.R. and a Castro neighborhood group, Natali wrote that he had asked his attorney to begin the planning approval process and to schedule a neighborhood meeting at the earliest possible date.
“I am looking forward to opening Hamburger Mary’s at the Patio Cafe as soon as possible, and I am hopeful I can have your support and the support of the neighborhood,” wrote Natali.
He said he had hoped to avoid having to go through an additional permit approval process as he felt Hamburger Mary’s was not “a typical” formula retail business.
“Each of the Hamburger Mary’s 11 locations in the U.S. is locally-owned and operated as a neighborhood establishment,” wrote Natali. “A new San Francisco Hamburger Mary’s would be unique – as was the original Hamburger Mary’s on Folsom Street.”
In his initial request to the zoning administrator, Natali wrote that the Castro restaurant “would not look like any other Hamburger Mary’s.” It would look “virtually the same” as the Patio Cafe currently looks, he added.
“The facade of the Patio Cafe will remain as it is, the only thing that will change is the name. ‘Hamburger Mary’s’ would replace the name ‘Patio Cafe’ on the existing sign,” wrote Natali. “There would be no Hamburger Mary’s logo signage, no change in building facade, no change in awning.”
As for the interior of the Patio Cafe that would remain “as it is,” wrote Natali.
“We would add some artwork and some ‘antique’ items on the walls, and we may
change the interior paint color,” he states in his letter. “We will display the Hamburger Mary’s name in the interior, however the signage would not be a standardized or logo signage. The signage will be specific to the San Francisco location.”
He also noted that Hamburger Mary’s employees are not required to wear logo clothing and that staff at the Castro location would have different outfits than found at the other locations.