August 1 Five, the Civic Center–area modern Indian restaurant known for its lushly designed dining room and ambitious menu, will permanently close, founder Hetal Shah announced Friday morning. The four-year-old restaurant will continue to serve takeout and delivery through December 20.
Shah, a former Google manager, opened August 1 Five in November of 2016 after she says she saw “a huge gap in the San Francisco dining scene” when it came to modern takes on traditional Indian dishes. After a brief search, she found the 4,000-square-foot spot at 524 Van Ness Avenue, an address that’s been home to a panoply of less-upscale restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen.
After a peacock-inspired redesign, the restaurant opened with an 100-seat bar, velvet-lined booths, and a Cal-Indian menu of small plates and sharable platters. But no curries, Shat told Eater SF at the time, saying “We wanted to make sure it didn’t feel like a traditional Indian restaurant .... The food and experience is not traditional.”
The restaurant swiftly became a destination for ballet-, opera-, symphony-, and theater-goers, as well as families celebrating after wedding ceremonies at nearby City Hall. Within a year of its opening, then SF Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer had honored it with 3.5 stars, saying that “every dish has something distinctive” and “every dish offers elements of surprise.”
In the past few years, it joined a couple of other upscale Indian restaurants in the city: Rooh opened in SoMa in 2017 with an equally flashy interior, and last year, chef Srijith Gopinathan’s fine dining menu at Union Square’s Campton Place earned it two Michelin stars (the only South Asian restaurant in the country to hold such an honor).
August 1 Five’s prime location on Van Ness became more challenging when the seemingly unending construction project to revamp that street began. Speaking with the SF Business Times in November of 2019, Shah said that after three years of torn-up and shut down streets, “people don’t come down here anymore — they go around — and a lot of our traffic used to be through reservations with a decent amount of walk-ins.”
“People are now canceling or not showing up at all because they either get stuck in traffic or can’t find parking with all of the streets being blocked off for the construction,” Shah said then, and that was before the pandemic. Speaking with Hoodline in September of 2020, Shah said that the impact of the construction project (which was slated to end in 2019, but now has a projected conclusion of 2022) put them at a disadvantage even prior to this year's shutdown, with revenue dropping by 30 percent as a result of the street closures. ”COVID-19 only makes things worse,” she said.
In an email sent Friday, however, Shah didn’t mention either of those factors, simply saying “I'm grateful for the invaluable lessons these last few years have taught me. I got the opportunity to grow and learn through my team of employees, with all their personal hardships and through the fascinating journeys of our diners. Special shoutout to my fellow restaurateurs — pioneers in their fields and doing a fabulous job in making San Francisco such an exciting dining hub for people from all over the world.”
“I truly believe that this industry plays a pivotal role in shaping the youth and immigrant population of this country,” Shah says, “and some fortunate ones like me walk away with a treasure chest full of lifelong lessons of humility, learning what it truly takes to hustle, and most importantly, the art of kindness.”