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Bi-Rite Street Café Proposed for Civic Center

A $1 million donation could bring Bi-Rite food and ice cream downtown

WRNS Studio

As part of major renovations to Civic Center Plaza, a charitable foundation has pledged $1 million to build a street café to be run by Bi-Rite, the popular grocery and ice cream shop with two San Francisco locations. The Helen Diller Family Foundation, which already donated $10 million to build two new playgrounds at either end of Civic Center Plaza along Larkin Street, is pledging another $1 million to give kids and grownups a place to buy lunch or some ice cream.

The cafe, which would be located at the corner of Grove and Larkin Streets, will need Planning Department approval to proceed, but the Recreation and Parks Department is onboard. Plans call for a permanent, but potentially removable cafe structure with daytime seating. According to preliminary designs commissioned from WRNS Studio, the architecture firm behind projects from Hayes Valley’s playground to Airbnb’s headquarters, the cafe kiosk would be built from transparent materials to avoid obstructing views of the playground and City Hall itself.

WRNS Studio
WRNS Studio
WRNS Studio

The Diller Foundation’s $1 million donation for the cafe space goes to the Civic Center Community Benefit District, who selected Bi-Rite specifically for the project. Established in 1940 and operated by second-generation owner Sam Mogannam, Bi-Rite can be seen as much as a symbol of old San Francisco as of contemporary, trend-setting San Francisco. The Trust for Public Land would oversee the cafe’s construction, were it approved.

The $10 million for playgrounds and $1 million for a cafe are just San Francisco’s latest effort to “activate” Civic Center, a tragically underused commons that’s been ridiculed by city planners and critics since Jane Jacobs. But if Civic Center’s problem is simply a lack of visitors, the line for Bi-Rite ice cream could be just what the doctor ordered.

WRNS Studio

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