After roughly a year in business, Babu Ji has closed in San Francisco. According to chef and co-owner Jessi Singh, the restaurant he operates with partner Jennifer Singh, in the Mission District at 14th and Valencia, will remain open for private events and catering, as well as for delivery on Caviar and Uber Eats. Singh emphasizes that his lease is ongoing, and with years left on it, he’s “dedicated to SF.”
According to Instagram, the last night of regular service at the restaurant was Sunday, December 17. Appliances such as a grab-it-yourself beer fridge appear to have been removed from the premises.
The Singhs started serving Babu Ji’s cheeky, contemporary Indian cuisine and tasting menus in Australia, where they operated three restaurants. They sold those businesses before moving to New York City, where they opened Babu Ji to buzz and lines in the East Village. As Eater New York critic Ryan Sutton put it in 2015, the NYC Babu Ji “infused innovative Indian food with Momofuku-style cool.”
The Singhs expanded to San Francisco in winter 2016, citing an affection for the city as the place where they first met. Their Mission location, at 280 Valencia Street, was formerly home to a restaurant from Alexander Alioto, a member of the famous SF restaurant family. That restaurant struggled to fill its 74-seat dining room despite well-received food. Undeterred, the Singhs revamped the space with sassy, Bollywood pop decor, filling it with a bubbly atmosphere and a seemingly healthy stream of customers.
But soon after opening in San Francisco, the Singhs were confronted with two wage lawsuits related to their New York restaurant. The couple allegedly withheld tips and overtime pay from workers, even threatening servers and their families. The Singhs later settled the lawsuits for a total of $130,000 without admitting wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the duo’s original NYC Babu Ji location closed suddenly.
Then, with just as little warning, Babu Ji reopened in New York at a new, larger location the summer. The new restaurant came with backing from mega-restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow of China Grill Management. Chodorow and his son became the owners of NYC’s Babu Ji, with Jessi and Jennifer Singh their employees.
Here in San Francisco, Jessi Singh pins the (not-quite-complete) closure on expenses, rather than the new structure of New York’s Babu Ji or other issues.
“My favorite beloved city has become so expensive, it's very hard to live here with family,” says Singh. Now he’ll look for a place “where self-employed people can afford to live and work,” and is exploring options in Southern California.
“It was an absolute pleasure to serve our guests and to work with our team and suppliers,” says Jennifer Sing. “Each [made] our SF experience very special.”
And, as Jessi emphasizes, there’s still Babu Ji delivery. “For us, the delivery platform has been so great,” he says. “I think it’s the new way of home dining.” To complete the Babu Ji experience at home, diners will just have to use their own grab-it-yourself beer fridge.