When a massage parlor turned allegedly illicit weed operation moved out of a large space on Judah Street, Laura Seymour knew it was time to take a leap. Though she has been working in interior and floral design for years, the restaurant job she had when she first moved to San Francisco over 15 years ago “stayed in my blood,” she says, “and when you really love something, it never leaves you.” So she signed a lease, taught herself how to make pizza, and Damnfine — a restaurant that opens in the Outer Sunset on January 15 — was born.
That’s right, Damnfine. The restaurant — which Seymour says will serve “all of my favorite things,” meaning pizza, coffee, and wine — got its name after she saw a vintage sign advertising “damn fine stuff.” “It hit me that, well, ‘damn fine stuff’ really encompasses all the things,” Seymour explains. “So, when you’re drinking our coffee, it’s Damnfine Coffee, when you visit us at night, you are having Damnfine Pizza.”
The pizza portion of the menu will be available starting today, while the coffee operation will launch in the next few weeks, Seymour says (more on that in a minute). She installed a 5,500-lb wood-burning oven in the restaurant during a hot weekend this past summer, and has been refining her own pizza recipe ever since.
While she was teaching herself to make pizza, Seymour grew “obsessed” with naturally fermented dough, eventually settling on a three-day, cold rise process for her crusts that she claims is unlike others you’ll find in the city. The difference, she says, comes from a high-protein flour and lengthy rise time, a combination that breaks down the dough’s gluten content more fully — resulting in a pizza that’s “easier to digest and won’t leave you feeling like shit afterwards,” Seymour says. (Those interested in the theories behind fermented dough and cold rises should can read more here and here.) “I was always a person who left my crusts on my plate,” she adds, “but you want to eat these crusts, they taste so good.”
For now, Damnfine’s lineup of pizzas is simple, with crowd-pleasers like a simple margarita, pepperoni, or a five-cheese with mozzarella, toma, provolone, fontina, and grated pecorino romano. More daring combinations include a mixed mushroom with enoki, king oyster, beech, bunapi and baby bellas; a pesto pie with potatos and pancetta, and a traditional clam-topped pizza with garlic butter and herbed ricotta. (You can see the full menu here.)
It’s a new thing for the Outer Sunset, which is rich in spots serving big, floppy slices like Pizza Place on Noriega, as well as decades-old delivery stand-bys like Brothers, and Golden Gate Pizza’s hybrid Indian/pizza spot. To score a wood-fired pie, one would typically have to cross the park to Fiorella, which for five years now has done a booming business on Clement Street.
Along with wood-fired pizza, Damnfine has two other things those other pizzerias don’t have: A full liquor license, which allows it to serve to-go cocktails, and an all-day plan (menu?) that includes coffee and pastries. Colin O’Malley, Seymour’s partner in business and life, is the driving force behind the bar program, Seymour says: a long-time beverage industry veteran, he’s the co-owner of both John Colin’s, a SoMa bar shuttered for the pandemic, and Sunset Cantina, the bar and Mexican food spot next door to Damnfine, which O’Malley opened in the fall of 2019.
While it opened in a longstanding restaurant space, Damnfine is the first food business to occupy it. For years, the address was home to a massage parlor with a questionable reputation, and shortly after O’Malley got the keys to the place next door, the cops arrived again — this time to bust a “guy who was growing pot illegally,” Seymour says. After that, the pair contacted the landlord and struck a deal to turn the long-shadowy address into a well-lit, open-to-the-public “place for people to gather,” as Seymour says. And while she acknowledges that’s not an option during the coronavirus crisis, she sees Damnfine as a post-pandemic “date night place,” a spot to grab dinner and a cocktail for the neighborhood’s diverse mix of multi-generation SF natives, artists and surfers, and young families.
Seymour hopes that in the mornings, those folks will return for a cup of joe and a pastry or two. She’s sourcing her own green coffee beans, and will have them toll-roasted in the East Bay. “That way,” she says, “we’ll have beans under our own label.” She’s also working out a relationship with a baker for a curated list of baked goods, with an eye on croissants. “Where can you get a really great croissant out here?” she asks, rhetorically. A really amazing croissant might be the market differentiator Seymour needs in the increasingly-crowded Sunset/Parkside coffee scene, which numbers old faithful Java Beach, 50-year-old roastery Henry’s House of Coffee, Trouble Coffee, and Andytown Coffee Roasters. All lie within blocks of Damnfine, and all are fantastic spots with loyal patrons, but none of them — as of publication — have an exceptional croissant.
For now, Seymour is focused on getting her oven fired up and ready for her first patrons this Friday night. During the restaurant’s launch, orders should be placed via their website during business hours, though walk-ups are fine, too. By the end of the month, Seymour expects the restaurant to be doing its own delivery to the Sunset and Outer Richmond, with delivery app Dooordash serving the rest of the city. After that will come expanded hours, then the coffee business...and eventually, a plan for more community-focused initiatives like a pizza with a donation component, and an art gallery indoors. “Oh, and focaccia!” Seymour says, adding that they will eventually make it in-house.
Although Seymour isn’t short on ideas or plans for the new business, she’s pacing herself — right now, she says, she and O’Malley are “doing every job” themselves. “One day, we’ll have a dining room full of people,” she says, “but right now, I just want to get things started.”
Damnfine opens on Friday, January 15, and will be open Wednesdays-Sundays from 5-9 p.m. Orders can be placed online here.