Isla Vida is now bringing laid-back vibes, rotisserie jerk chicken, and a new black- and woman-owned business to San Francisco’s historically African American Fillmore District. The new counter-service restaurant from Jay Foster, Matthew Washington, and Erin Traylor greeted its first customers at 1325 Fillmore Street yesterday and celebrates a grand opening this Wednesday, October 17th.
Foster, a North Carolina native, opened his now beloved soul food restaurant Farmerbrown in 2006 and sister spot Little Skillet in 2008. Matthew Washington, a former server at Farmerbrown, is a Fillmore District native and music producer, and Erin Traylor is an operations manager at Farmerbrown. With Isla Vida, they hope to go back to the roots of soul food in the African diaspora, gathering influences from Miami, Cuba, and beyond.
In addition to chicken, roasted on a custom built wood fire rotisserie grill, Isla Vida is cooking up tostones, Cubano sandwiches, and smoothies, plus churros made to order for dessert. Customers order at a walk-up counter and take a seat inside, or outside in a covered patio space (with heat lamps to compensate for the sub-tropical San Francisco weather).
“Isla Vida is island life,” Washington explained in an Indiegogo video campaign for the restaurant, which raised $18,000. “Not just picture perfect sand, white sand beaches, clear blue water, palm trees, but the people, the heart and soul of the island, the culture, the art, the food.”
At 1325 Fillmore, Isla Vida replaces Black Bark BBQ, from chef David Lawrence and Monetta White, the longtime Fillmore neighborhood advocates behind 1300 Fillmore, which also closed last year after a decade in business. When 1300 Fillmore’s neighbor in the Fillmore Heritage Center, the jazz Club Yoshi’s, closed in 2016, foot traffic to the area dropped off precipitously, and the restaurant wasn’t able to continue. This summer, the city sued the Fillmore Heritage Center’s developer for millions in unpaid loans. Meanwhile, the Fillmore’s historically black population has dwindled in recent years — the result of rising rents and the legacy of devastating urban renewal projects. Black-owned businesses have struggled to retain a foothold in the neighborhood — something Isla Vida hopes to correct.
“Being born and raised in San Francisco, and more specifically the Fillmore district, this has always been a dream of mine... to employ people in the community that I come from”, Washington says.
Hours at Isla Vida are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. The business has no plans to use third party delivery options, but may establish its own delivery channels.