San Francisco Cow Hollow neighborhood is home to a multitude of bars and restaurants, most of which serve beer, wine, and spirits to thirsty patrons from the area and beyond. It appears, however, that enough is enough for the residents of the district, as some local watchdogs have mounted an effort to ensure that one of its newest restaurants is denied the opportunity to serve booze.
East Coast burger chain Shake Shack opened its first San Francisco location in Cow Hollow earlier this month with much fanfare, including a ceremonial ribbon-cutting and a performance from, of all the possibilities available, an Ingleside-area’s private high school marching band. When it opened, Eater SF and other outlets reported, the restaurant would be serving their own branded beer (Brooklyn Brewery ShackMeister) and wine (called Shack Red and Shack White), as well as beers from local breweries Fort Point Beer Company and 21st Amendment.
But that was wrong. In fact, Shake Shack wasn’t able to serve any alcohol when it opened, a spokesperson has since confirmed to Eater SF, as when it threw open its doors on February 3, it didn’t even have a liquor license.
According to ABC spokesperson John Carr, “Citizens have expressed concern about noise, public nuisance and overconcentration of alcoholic beverage licenses” in the area, a complaint serious enough that it might necessitate a hearing in front the agency’s Administrative Law Court.
Opposition to the Cow Hollow Shake Shack was never in short supply. The chain, which was founded by New York city restaurant magnate Danny Meyer as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in the early 2000s, now sports about 281 locations, Culinary Director Mark Rosati told Eater SF last month. That places it firmly within San Francisco’s “formula retail” permitting program, a city planning code regulation that requires businesses with more than 11 locations worldwide to undergo review from community members as well as city agencies.
That’s one of the reasons it took so long for Shake Shack to open at 3060 Fillmore Street, in the location of a shuttered-since-2016 grocery store. It wasn’t until early 2018 that the space had a prospective tenant, when Shake Shack filed plans to open in the space. While some were excited that the vacant corner business would again be filled, others complained about the crowds the popular restaurant could bring to the neighborhood.
“They’re taking out a service that we need here, a grocery store, and replacing it with a fast food restaurant that’s known for its long lines,” area resident Yasmin Yamat told ABC 7 in 2018. “It’s very residential here,” another neighbor, Hardeep Rahul, said, worrying that the restaurant would be “bringing up the noise level and congestion” in Cow Hollow.
Despite the complaints, Shake Shack persisted, forging its way through the city’s laborious change-of-use process (which would allow the former grocery store to become a restaurant) as well jumping through SF’s formula retail hoops. Along the way, it even picked up a tenant to share the space: Indie Superette, a health-focused mini-mart and grab-and go venue from SF restaurant empire builder Michael Mina.
In fact, the San Francisco Business Times reported last month, Indie Superette was intended to provide an answer to complaints that Shake Shack would be denying the area a grocery store. Alec Paddock, the Development Manager of Shake Shack/Indie Superette landlord CenterCal says, “We kept hearing from the community that they wanted a small-format grocery store, but after hearing from 20, 30, 40 different operators that the space was too awkward and it was too difficult a time to expand in the grocery industry, we had to find a creative solution.”
That solution was Indie, the rent for which, Paddock told SF’s Planning Commission, would be set at a below market rate to allow it to survive. In fact, Paddock says, Indie’s rent would be subsidized by what CenterCal would charge Shake Shack and a third tenant, a gym called Rumble Fitness, in order to provide Indie the best chance to succeed.
So, the lack of grocery store complaint was seemingly settled, and worries about long lines — which Shake Shack has definitely attracted since it opened — have seemingly been spun into a positive: SF Chronicle reported that “many local officials and businesses stand firmly in Shake Shack’s camp. They believe the buzzy burger empire will draw increased foot traffic and enliven a retail corridor pocked with vacant storefronts.”
And yet, it appears that some residents of the area are still doing what they can to stymie Shake Shack, this time mounting a complaint with the state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). Eater SF first learned of this issue on February 6, when, after waiting in a moderate-length line, an employee told Eater “We’re not serving alcohol.”
According to a spokesperson for Shake Shack who spoke with Eater SF on February 11, “It turns out the Cow Hollow location opened without their liquor license yet approved, so that is why it is currently not selling beer and wine; however, they are expecting the liquor license to come through any day now.”
That’s not precisely true, as it turns out. According to ABC spokesperson John Carr, Shake Shack got an interim operating permit — which allows on-site beer and wine sales - on February 6. That permit was granted, Carr says, to allow the restaurant to serve drinks while it navigates a November 1 protest filed against a permanent liquor license for the restaurant.
According to Carr, the complaint must now be decided on by the ABC’s Office of Administrative Law, which “will review the calendar to determine when a public hearing can be held to hear the concerns of the community, hear from the licensee and ABC.”
Here’s how it works, according to the ABC’s website: A lawyer with the ABC will rep that agency, Shake Shack will appear with their counsel, and any protestant(s) will come either solo or with a lawyer to plead the case against a license, all in front of an administrative law judge. IN the hearing, an “ABC investigator will testify as to his or her investigation. The applicant and any protestant(s) may testify and/or present other evidence” and “the protestant must appear at the hearing or the protest is abandoned.”
Carr says that complaints like these are often resolved before the OAL hearing stage, as venues that are being complained about will reach out to area residents upset by the application in an attempt to seek a compromise (for example, shorter hours or noise control assurances). It’s unclear if Shake Shack is making that effort, as when asked its spokesperson would only say that it “is working diligently to receive the permanent liquor license before the temporary license expires,” which it will on June 6.
It’s worth noting here that one voice has been conspicuously silent on the matter: District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who represents Cow Hollow. Despite repeated efforts to determine where her office stands on Shake Shack’s permitting problem, Eater SF did not receive a response as of publication time.
Of course, all is not lost if Shake Shack doesn’t manage to resolve its community problems before its interim liquor license expires. According to Carr, if a final decision on the original permanent application hasn’t been made by then (which it might not be, as the OAL hearing hasn’t even been scheduled yet), the ABC could issue another temporary license.
That said, a resolution at that level might not be the end of the story, either: The ABC could always punt a final, final decision on Shake Shack’s liquor license to the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety and Neighborhood Services committee, which is sometimes tasked to rule on the “public convenience or necessity” of a contested liquor license. That’s a committee made up of D8 Supe Mandelman, D 10 Supe Walton, and Stefani — which, given the latter Supe’s silence on the issue so far, could mean anything for diners’ ongoing chances to quaff a ShackMeister with their smash-style ShackBurger or crinkle-cut fries.