Eaters who are missing their downtown power lunches and waterfront walks might be wondering: What’s up with the Ferry Building these days? Well, San Francisco’s historic food hall is still standing tall at the foot of Market Street, even if the ferry boats themselves are fewer and farther between, and coyotes are now scavenging the empty streets of SoMa instead of tech conference nerds.
In fact, the Ferry Building has remained open throughout the shelter in place. The city’s famous landmark holds a unique position for a few different reasons. The doors never closed to the interior of the building because unlike local malls and shopping centers that were forced to shutter, the Ferry Building is both a transit center and a dining hub, giving those essential food businesses the option of staying open for takeout and delivery. Additionally, it boasts a big outdoor space, with plenty of room for outdoor markets and outdoor seating, not to mention a beautiful (if brisk) view of the bay.
Still, as a transit center, the Ferry Building traffics in commuters, and as a historic landmark, it draws in tourists, and both those crowds are gone. Without a doubt, decreased foot traffic has taken a toll on the many restaurants, food businesses, and farmers’ markets inside and outside the building. And in fact, the Ferry Building was already seeing some turnover before the crisis hit. Now, some food businesses are packing up shop and sweeping out stalls, while others are optimistically reopening for outdoor dining. Here’s the latest on all of the comings and goings.
Before the crisis, the Ferry Building had already seen a few prominent closings. Traci Des Jardins closed Mijita Cocina Mexicana in December, after 15 years of chilaquiles, simply saying her lease was up. Tanya Holland closed Brown Sugar Kitchen in January, shuttering the only SF outpost for her fried chicken and waffles after less than a year. MarketBar also announced plans to close in April — the first sit-down restaurant in the building, it enjoyed a prime corner spot for 17 years. The owner said lease negotiations were “grueling” and the rent was ultimately too high, although Hudson Pacific management company countered that they had a long wait list of merchants and high demand for the space.
After the shelter-in-place orders, many of the restaurants and food businesses in the building temporarily shuttered. Acme Bread was a notable exception, staying open for takeout since the beginning, still keeping the city in sourdough. Delica Japanese deli also kept the katsu sandwiches coming, and El Porteno never stopped baking off Argentinian empanadas. (And let’s be honest, a box of frozen empanadas is a quarantine dream.)
There have, however, been a couple of permanent closures. Farm Fresh to You, which had a stall within the market, actually preempted the crisis by closing on March 1, and the Epicurean Trader will be taking over that space, replacing vegetables with wine, cheese, charcuterie, and handcrafted goods. San Francisco Fish Company has closed permanently, a spokesperson confirmed, clearing out its beautiful local crab, salmon, and oysters after 16 years. That leaves the historic building by the bay without a resident fishmonger. It’s sad news, hitting right when California king salmon is finally coming in.
Many of the food stalls have reopened for takeout. The Ferry Building is maintaining a list of what’s open, and a spokesperson recently confirmed that Daily Driver is open for bagels and cream cheese and Miette is offering macarons and gingersnaps.
Several of the sit-down restaurants are reopening for outdoor dining. Gott’s Roadside has reopened its patio in the front, and is serving cheeseburgers and milkshakes in the foggy air. Hog Island is back to cracking oysters on its back patio, under the gaze of steely-eyed seagulls. The Slanted Door is a notable exception. Charles Phan’s groundbreaking Vietnamese-Californian restaurant remains dim, but we’ll update as soon as we hear back on the cellophane noodles.
As of June 22, the plazas in front of and behind the building also opened up snappy blue-and-white umbrellas above carefully spaced tables. If you feel comfortable sitting down with a cafe au lait and canelé from Boulette’s Larder, of all the outdoor dining options in the city, it seems like a well managed space.
Never least, the legendary farmers’ market never closed, even if there are fewer star chefs than usual, swinging through early and snapping up the best strawberries. CUESA has gone the extra mile to support small farmers during this time, enforcing social distancing, offering a market box, and even curbside pickup. They’re open as per usual on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, so slide in early or on weekdays for extra breathing room. Compared to a grocery store, it’s a refreshing open air experience, although it’s hard to keep the crowds away from those Early Girl tomatoes.