Don’t panic. Zazie, a 28-year-old Cole Valley bistro known well beyond the neighborhood for its popular weekend brunch and progressive labor policies, has indeed been sold, KPIX reports — but its new owners are also longtime employees of the spot, and the staff-driven sale is the second such transaction in the business’s history.
As noted on Zazie’s website, the restaurant was opened in 1992 by Catherine Opoix, a Louis Malle fan who named the spot after one of the filmmaker’s most famous works, Zazie dans le Metro.
In 2005, Opoix sold the restaurant to Jennifer Bennett, a veteran of the San Francisco restaurant scene who since 2000 had toiled at Zazie’s general manager. According to a Hoodline report from 2015, as soon as she took charge of the restaurant, Bennett made front-facing changes like the addition of heaters and upgrades to the spot’s dinner menu, as well as internal innovations like a 401K fund with employer-matched contributions for staff.
In the years since, Bennett has been a vocal advocate for restaurant workers, bluntly explaining why staffers need subsidized health care and eliminating tips “as a way to bring equality to the front and back of house and create a profit-sharing model.”
Her restaurant also scored the approbation of then Chron critic Michael Bauer, who termed the unpretentious spot “satisfying and reasonably priced.” She also made headlines for complaining on Facebook about children who behave poorly in restaurants, a faux pas that divided the kid-friendly neighborhood (but didn’t appear to make a dent in the restaurant’s epic brunch wait list).
In 2018, Bennett took over Napa County’s Calistoga Kitchen, and with partners Shaun McGrath, Jenna Hodges, and Kaitlin Jones (all former staffers at the neighboring Sam’s Social Club) revamped it into a spot called Lovina. (It, too, has a notable brunch menu, and its dinner offerings aren’t bad, either.) In 2020, Bennett moved to Calistoga full time, Zazie’s website reads.
With two restaurants in her portfolio, and only one of them in her hometown, it’s understandable if Bennett felt stretched a bit thin. “I was approached by many people that wanted to franchise the business, and they would offer me insane amounts of money,” Bennett tells KPIX, but though she says she had reached “a point when you feel like you’ve given the restaurant all that you can and made all the changes that you wanted to make,” that didn’t feel like the right decision.
Instead, Bennett writes on Zazie’s website, she sold the business to Mario Rojas, who’s worked at Zazie for the past 21 years; Francisco Romero (17 years at Zazie), and Megan Cornelius (12 years at Zazie). The team took over operations on Wednesday, January 15, Bennett says, though Bennett “is remaining as a 25% owner — consulting and advising the new owners as Zazie moves into the next decade.”
Of course, Zazie fans — many of whom freaked out 12 years ago when the spot briefly shuttered for renovation — might be worried about the change. After all, in recent days news has broken of Savor’s closure (opened in 2000, new owners in 2017, shuttered Sunday) and the end of an era for Amnesia (opened in 2000, sold in 2015, closing in March). Bennett agrees that it’s hard out there for a bar or bistro, telling KPIX “yes, a lot of restaurants don’t make it,” but that “most restaurants are not working the way we do...They’re not respecting their staff, including them in day-to-day activities and in the revenue shares.”
Zazie’s new owners, Bennett writes, “are the heart of Zazie and with them together as a strong family, this place will continue to be Old San Francisco in a world of So Much Change...I can’t wait to see what they do, with all their energy and excitement!”