Big changes are in store for the Commissary and Arguello, two high-profile restaurants inside Presidio National Park that are helmed by renowned chef Traci Des Jardins. What shape those changes will take is still unclear, however, as the spots are losing a prominent partner and — some workers say — “ghosting” it’s furloughed workers in the process.
There are actually three food businesses hanging in the balance. There’s the Commissary, which opened in the Presidio’s historic army barracks in 2014 with a Spanish menu of croquettas, patatas bravas, and paella. Arguello restaurant followed with Mexican fare and tequila cocktails. Then there’s Presidio Foods Catering, which does big catering business, including weddings and corporate events in the park. All three were managed as a three-way partnership between renowned chef Traci Des Jardins, Bon Appétit Management Company, and the Presidio Trust, operating in a striking natural setting at the foot of Golden Gate Bridge.
All three food businesses temporarily ceased operations when the city’s shelter-in-place order went down in March. Situated at the far northwest corner of the city, they serve a park, not a neighborhood, and balanced business between dining and catering. That said, thousands of people live in the Presidio, and it’s hard to imagine a better place to enjoy some outdoor dining.
Despite that, 130 employees were furloughed in March, a spokesperson from Bon Appétit Management Company confirmed to Eater SF. (Bon Appétit Management, of course, is the giant restaurant company that also serves Google and Chase Center, and more than 1,000 cafes in 33 states.)
The SF Chronicle first reported that the Commissary and Arguello restaurants were closing for good, in an article that ran back in in May. Jean Fraser, the CEO of the Presidio Trust, is quoted as saying that the restaurants would not be reopening. “It’s harder to bring a restaurant back up,” Fraser was quoted as saying in the Chron’s report.
A former employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said the Chron report was the first news furloughed staff had heard on their fates in over a month, as well as the first indication that they might be losing their jobs.
“I’m almost a hundred percent sure that it’s closing, but they won’t say anything about it, which is even more frustrating,” the former employee told Eater SF. “Imagine if you got furloughed from your job, and then essentially ghosted. … as the shelter in place went on and on, there was no communication whatsoever.”
When the article ran, the former employee says they reached out to both Bon Appétit reps and Traci Des Jardins, and was not able to get any answers. “Nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. From anybody. Just ghosted,” the former employee says, estimating that at least a dozen colleagues called him, all asking “what the hell was going on.”
According to Bonnie Powell, the Director of Communications for Bon Appétit, “the Chronicle article from May 3 was inaccurate,” but though they’ve requested a correction, “it never ran.” According to Powell, it’s the current partnership structure that’s over, as the Presidio Trust “plans to shift the operations to a lease structure with a third-party tenant.” In other words, it will no longer be a partner, and will instead will act only as the landlord of the spaces.
“Bon Appétit Management Company and Traci Des Jardins have moved forward in our discussion with the Trust, and we are definitely planning to reopen operations at the Presidio,” Powell says, but “the details are still being worked out.” In the meantime, Powell says, “we have recently laid off a handful of our 130 employees who were on furlough” but “have no plans at this time to lay off more.”
In the past year, Des Jardins seems to have been moving away from operating her own restaurants, in favor of collaborations and branded projects. Public House, her partnership with Bon Appétit Management in Oracle Park, is still temporarily shuttered. School Night, her cocktail bar slash events space in Dogpatch, is also dark.
She also closed Jardiniere, her flagship restaurant, just last year, after two decades of French-influenced fine dining in Hayes Valley. She closed Mijita Cocina Mexicana just six months ago, ending 15 years of casual Mexican fare in the Ferry Building. Presumably, she won’t be offering any more tours in Mexico anytime soon, although she may continue partnering with venture-backed tech brands like Plenty and Impossible Foods. The big question now is if she wants to get back in the trenches with her three operations in the Presidio — or if the pandemic has prompted her to reevaluate. Despite repeated requests for comment, however, Des Jardins refused to comment directly on this story.
If any former or furloughed employees from the Commissary, Arguello, or Presidio Foods have any additional information, please let us know.