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Can Cult Ramen Bar Mensho Tokyo Lure Mid-Market Tech Workers From Their Cafeterias?

A food court in the Twitter building will focus on locally established faves like Mensho Tokyo and Hot Bird

Patricia Chang for Curbed SF

Efforts to kickstart a food and beverage revolution have made headlines for nearly a decade, with entrepreneurs who believe that they have the key to the oft-challenging area announcing big plans for new dining options sure to activate the neighborhood. The most recent run at Mid-Market comes from real estate magnate Chris Foley, who is plotting an ambitious food hall at 1355 Market Street (a location more commonly known as the Twitter building) with vendors known for specialties like upscale ramen and Nashville-style hot chicken.

Foley also co-owns the Market, an upscale grocery store/takeout venture that opened with great fanfare in 2015. It was the first food-related venture for Foley, a San Francisco real estate developer who (per his LinkedIn) “specializes in entitlement, financial analysis and land acquisition.” That’s perhaps why, a year after it opened, the Market “shifted focus,” the SF Chronicle reported at the time, moving away from a plan to provide a Ferry Building-style experience for shoppers and leaning more into prepared foods. “The Market cannot sell its groceries, and it is not profitable,” the Chron’s Paolo Lucchesi wrote in 2016, characterizing its struggle as “another indication that San Franciscans — insert your techie stereotypes here — are cooking less often and eating out more and relying on a new generation of delivery services.”

Lucchesi’s words ring even truer in 2019, though there was one thing he didn’t note (and/or anticipate): the ubiquity of tech cafeterias. A brief history: A city incentive known as the Twitter Tax Break (a payroll tax cut of 1.5 percent) prompted companies like Square, Uber, Spotify, and (of course) Twitter to move to the area starting in 2011. Once the well-funded businesses arrived in the area, a boon to businesses was expected, and high-profile restaurants like Bon Marche, Oro, and Cadence opened in the neighborhood.

That didn’t happen. Instead, those and many other restaurants struggled to survive, as many of those tech companies also opened lavish and lovely corporate cafeterias, giving staffers little reason to leave the office for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. So many restaurants closed in the zone that city officials proposed a ban on corporate cafeterias in hopes that it would force workers into spots like the Market. (The ban tanked last fall.)

Those issues didn’t seem to concern Foley, who announced in October of 2018 that he’d be expanding the Market by 14,000 square feet, adding 20–30 new food vendors, and — yet again — promising a “Ferry Building-like experience.” This time, Foley said, the emphasis would be less on specialty groceries and more on prepared foods. Speaking with the Chron, Foley said that they have “figured out how to make it work,” hence his operation’s expansion into spaces adjacent to The Market — and also in the Twitter building — previously occupied by Bon Marche and Dirty Water, both of which closed in recent years.

Now Foley has revealed some of the restaurants that will go into the new space: According to Hoodline, acclaimed Japanese ramen bar Mensho Tokyo, which opened its first U.S. outpost in the Tenderloin in 2016, is one of the new space’s headliners, joining Nashville chicken pop-up Hotbird, a restaurant called Northern Ducks (which “will serve items such as Peking duck and dim sum”); an Ohio coffee shop called 3-19 Coffee; and Heroic Italian, a Santa Monica sandwich and salad spot.

As opposed to an expansion, Foley is now saying that the Market and this food hall — called “Market Square Food Hall,” will be a “separate site and entity” from one another, even though the two spots are next door neighbors. Tom Kolbeck, a spokesperson for the project, tells Hoodline that the fast-casual model of the vendors at the new Hall makes more sense than the sit-down restaurants that previously occupied the space. “People love high-quality food, but they don’t necessarily really have to be in an overdone environment to enjoy great food.”

According to Kolbeck, the cafeteria issue doesn’t worry MSFH, as they expect to cater to residents of the area. “We are creating a living room for the whole neighborhood — this kind of very active, fun, social space where people can come in and feel welcome and comfortable,” Kolbeck says.

It’s worth noting, however, that though the neighborhood is home to several residential developments that are currently under construction, the area is also known for its high concentration of people struggling with drug addiction, mental illness, and homelessness. Speaking with the Chron, Foley admitted this summer that at the Market alone, he loses at least $750,000 a year on security and to shoplifters. The big question is, perhaps, if the lines attracted by cult-favorite food vendors will finally “activate” the area in a way so many other efforts have not.

The Market

1355 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103 (415) 767-5130

Mensho Tokyo

676 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102 (415) 800-8345 Visit Website