Issue:  Vol. 44 / No. 43 / 23 October 2014
 

See’s Candies, Illy coffee shop plan to open Castro stores

A new coffee shop is headed to where a frame store once was on upper Market Street. (Photo: Google)

A new coffee shop is headed to where a frame store once was on upper Market Street. (Photo: Google)

A new Italian-inspired coffee shop and an outlet of a famous local chocolatier are headed to the city’s gay Castro district this fall.

The second Espressamente Illy cafe in San Francisco is planning an October opening at 2349 Market Street. It will be the company’s ninth in America, and therefore, did not trigger San Francisco’s rules governing formula retail chains as it only applies to those with more than 11 American outlets.

The vacant storefront formerly had housed a frame store, while a proposal to revamp it as a new bar was withdrawn due to neighborhood opposition.

Instead, Joe Gurdock and his business partner Steve Walker landed the lease in order to expand into the neighborhood where Gurdock attended elementary school. (He was a student at what is now the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy and met famed gay disco star Sylvester, who would entertain the school kids.)

“We will build out an authentic Italian cafe” in the 1,600 square foot space, Gurdock told Castro merchants at their monthly meeting this morning (Thursday, August 1).

Founded in 1933 by Francesco Illy, the company produces and sells worldwide a single blend of premium quality espresso coffee that is sold at various high-end retailers. It also works with local franchise owners to open Illy-branded cafes in their hometowns.

Two years ago Gurdock opened his first Illy cafe at 123 Battery Street downtown. He has worked with famed local chef Joyce Goldstein to develop the stores’ lunch menus, which include Italian meat and salmon sandwiches, frittatas, and a tuna and white bean salad.

The drinks and food “will be served in glassware and porcelain,” said Gurdock, as customers are “meant to hang out there.”

The Castro location will have a communal table for eight people, a lounge area and table seating with free Wi-Fi. Its hours likely will be from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.

Planning staff recently granted Gurdock his change of use permit for the storefront, and he is shooting for an October 15 opening date. There is also a backyard patio that won’t immediately be opened to customers but could be in the future.

“It will be a place for people to gather and socialize in a non-alcoholic venue,” he said.

See’s Candies eyes spot next to Safeway

The grand opening of a See's Candies in Oklahoma with the company's trademark tile work.

The grand opening of a See’s Candies in Oklahoma with the company’s trademark tile work.

Down the street at the Safeway shopping plaza, South San Francisco-based See’s Candies would like to open in the 1,900 square foot space that had been occupied by Mike’s Cameras, formerly known as Wolf Camera.

The photography store is closing that location at 2016 Market Street. It would be See’s first location in the Castro and the company would like to be open in time for the Christmas shopping season.

The company does fall under the city’s formula retail rules, and thus, will need to seek a conditional use permit from the planning commission. Due to it also being next to the major grocery chain and a Jamba Juice, it is expected to trigger the new rule along upper Market Street that requires a formula retailer that brings the number of chain stores within a 300-foot radius to 20 percent or higher not be recommended for approval by planning staff.

But the policy is meant to be flexible, and the planning commission could vote to allow See’s to open if it has considerable neighborhood support. So far it does not appear it will be hotly contested, and the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro voted to endorse its permit application.

“We are expecting with planning staff that they have to follow the mandate and recommend denial, but they are not fundamentally opposed to our use,” said Ahmad Mohazab, with Tecta Associates, the architect working on the project. “We consider ourselves to be a local company. Our first San Francisco store opened in 1936.”

According to See’s website, Charles See along with his mother and his wife, Florence, opened their first candy shop and kitchen on Western Avenue in Los Angeles in November of 1921. The company expanded throughout California following World War II as the state’s population grew.

In 1972, the See’s family sold the company to Berkshire Hathaway Inc., presided over by Chairman Warren Buffett. Today there are more than 200 See’s chocolate shops around the world with factories located in both Los Angeles and South San Francisco.

The company has long donated its products to local LGBT and AIDS charities, from the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus to the AIDS Emergency Fund. More recently it became a donor to the Castro Country Club; Mohazab worked on the club’s renovation plans and a build-out of an eatery in its garage space that is now beginning construction.

David Friedman, See’s director of real estate, said the company would look to increase its financial giving to LGBT groups now that it is pursuing a site in the city’s gayborhood.

The company hopes to go before the Planning Commission by October in order to open by mid-December.

— Matthew S. Bajko, August 1, 2013 @ 4:13 pm PST
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