15 years after introducing San Francisco diners to its highly regarded South Indian cuisine, Dosa will close its original location on Valencia Street. “I love the Mission, I love San Francisco, and I love that location,” says co-owner Anjan Mitra. “So it’s really painful to make that decision.”
The restaurant’s last day of service will be September 30. After that, the group will turn its focus to its larger, 10-year-old DOSA location on Fillmore, and its newer, fast-casual Oakland location, dosa by Dosa, as well as its line of retail items like lassis, available in stores such as Whole Foods.
Mitra cites several factors for the Valencia closure: Dosa’s rent has tripled since its first days in 2005, well before Valencia was the retail hub it’s become today. “But rent doesn’t tell the whole story,” Mitra says. “The rent’s an issue because you’re spending 45 percent on labor, as opposed to 35 percent.... When you have a neighborhood restaurant working on slim margins, there’s no give.”
Rising minimum wages and mounting SF employer mandates, such as the Healthcare Security Ordinance, have put Dosa’s labor costs at an all-time high. “While we strongly believe that these are necessary and excellent benefits for our staff, it places an unsustainable burden on San Francisco restaurants,” Mitra argues. He’d like to see more services provided by the city, state, and federal government — not shunted to small businesses. “You can’t put the burden on [neighborhood restaurants] or they won’t survive.”
After the end the month, Dosa will move some, but not all, of its Valencia Street workers to its elegant, high-ceilinged location on Fillmore Street. There, they’ll keep preparing fresh uttapam, bondas with Dungeness crab, and the restaurant’s signature dosas. But like other restaurateurs who met recently with politicians to discuss their plight at city hall, Mitra is deeply concerned about the future of independent restaurants in the city.
Another major factor Mitra sees is downward price pressure from online delivery food services. First, venture capital backed food-tech companies, like meal delivery service Munchery, poached restaurant workers with better wages, then they folded without paying vendors. Now, third-party delivery companies like UberEats are blowing through venture funding, operating at losses while undercutting brick-and-mortar restaurants.
“[We don’t] have powerful lobbyists helping them with tax breaks or the luxury of operating at losses for many years,” argues Mitra — who left the tech industry himself to open Dosa. “We have to make money every two weeks to make payroll and pay our vendors.”
Mitra and his co-owner, partner Emily Mitra, say they’re proud to live in San Francisco, and happy to raise their children here. That’s why they’re so eager to see the city make changes.
“San Francisco [can’t] sustain neighborhood restaurants at affordable prices and still expect the restaurants to pay for everything our employees need,” Mitra says.