Another day, another business closure in San Francisco (you'll never guess why)

La Cocina opened in the Tenderloin in 2021. The concept was a single space with a bunch of different food options. It was always intended to be a temporary arrangement but not quite this temporary.

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The much-anticipated food hall opened in April 2021, and its closure comes about one-and-a-half years in advance of the scheduled end of its run in 2025 when an affordable housing development is expected to break ground on the site.

As with every other business that has closed this year, there are multiple reasons. For one thing, the decline of foot traffic thanks to people working from home means there just isn’t the lunch rush there might have been prior to the pandemic. But the city’s other well-known problems also played a role. Wafa Bahloul, a chef manning one of the stalls at La Cocina, described the situation to the SF Chronicle:

“We worked very hard — every business here, not just me — to bring more people here, to let people know about this amazing place,” she said. “But what happened outside versus inside was totally opposite. The best solution was to just shut the doors.

She said the sidewalks outside were too dangerous and unpleasant to lure people to dinner as night fell, meaning the cooks were almost entirely reliant on a lunchtime crowd in a city with many workers still toiling from home.

Her husband, who works with her, recently witnessed a shooting outside La Cocina. Drug use, drug dealing, public defecation and urination, and trash are common sights on the sidewalks outside La Cocina before it opens and after it shuts. During operating hours, the block is mostly clear — but only because La Cocina was spending $275,000 a year on security it couldn’t afford.

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The site wasn’t anywhere close to breaking even. They were spending over $200k a month on expenses (including $23 a month on security) and only bringing in about $24k a month. The only reason it lasted this long is because private donors and the mayor’s officer were subsidizing it. The people who were working security blamed a lack of effort by police.

Damian Morffet and Ron Haysbert, who work security at La Cocina, put the blame for its failure squarely on a shrugging City Hall and an inconsistent, lackluster Police Department. They said when they were growing up, drug dealers and people using drugs felt uncomfortable in public — but now they’re given free rein over public sidewalks while families, kids and people just trying to get lunch are made to feel uncomfortable.

“If the police were consistent with their patrols and efforts, people would come out here at night,” Morffet said.

“The cops drive by and look, and they don’t do anything,” Haysbert agreed.

Just in the past week, they said a homeless man took down his pants and defecated on the sidewalk outside. No one did anything. It was cleaned up but still smelled like excrement a day later. Morffet summed it up saying, “This is not the city we grew up in.”

Why don’t the police do anything about this? All you have to do is ask the police and they’ll tell you. I wrote about this back in February.

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The police blame lack of staff for this. SFPD currently has 1,923 officers for a city of just over 800,000 but hundred of those officers are out of leave. The actual force is closer to 1,500. Like a lot of cities on the west coast, SFPD has “recruitment and retention problems.” I think we can all guess why. For the same reasons Portland, Seattle and other cities are having the same problem. No one wants to be a cop in a progressive city where officials are quick to see police as the problem rather than the solution.

There’s a direct connection between what is happening in SF and the defund-the-police summer of 2020. Again, that’s not the only problem these businesses are struggling with but it’s certainly a major factor keeping customers away. Here’s a story about La Cocina from when it opened in 2021:

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