Salesforce announced last week that employees will be able to continue working from home well beyond the pandemic, declaring: “the 9-to-5 workday is dead; and the employee experience is about more than ping-pong tables and snacks.” Most employees will now have the option of coming into the office only one to three days a week. They’re joining workers at companies like Twitter, Pinterest, Dropbox, and Yelp, which already made the call that employees will have the flexibility to work from home indefinitely. But Salesforce may have the biggest impact, as the largest private employer in San Francisco, with as many as 10,000 workers downtown, as the SF Chronicle details.
In the days following, there have been dire predictions about what the disappearance of tech workers might mean for economic recovery in the SoMa neighborhood — and its reliance on the thousands of employees’ coffee, lunch, and happy hour purchases — and in the city of San Francisco. Its effects could threaten to crumble the future of the snack economy and all of the food businesses that have been built up around these tech giants over the years.
Dining culture varies at different tech companies, so keep in mind that unlike many of its competitors, Salesforce actually didn’t have big cafeterias that kept employees on-site with full-service breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There was private dining in the “Ohana floors” at the top of the tower, but that was reportedly an exclusive experience for Hawai‘i-obsessed billionaire Marc Benioff and other executives. For the majority of the workforce, there was no free lunch at Salesforce, and every day they left their shining towers to frequent food businesses in the neighborhood.
Salesforce owns or leases five locations downtown. Salesforce Tower is the tallest skyscraper in San Francisco at 1,070 feet. Salesforce West is across the street, at 50 Fremont, and Salesforce East is on the opposite corner, at 350 Mission. A new skyscraper is under construction at 546 Howard, and Salesforce is also acquiring Slack at 500 Howard. The announcement says Salesforce will be “reimagining our spaces” as “community hubs,” which may mean fewer desks and more shared spaces, but does not clarify if the company will be keeping all of its existing office space. And each of these buildings has its own unique dining options, open to the general public but built with the Salesforce workforce in mind.
Salesforce East is home to Trailblazer Tavern, the Hawaiian restaurant that opened at the end of 2018. It’s a Michael Mina restaurant looking out over the lobby, combining a Hawaiian indoor-outdoor vibe with Salesforce’s national parks theme. Across the street on Mission, International Smoke, the meaty, smoky partnership between Michael Mina and Ayesha Curry, is in the base of the sinking Millennium Tower.
Eater SF reached out to the Mina Group, but given employee furloughs, no one was available to comment. As of publication time, Trailblazer Tavern and International Smoke remain temporarily closed. Across Market, the Michael Mina flagship at 252 California is running a virtual kitchen with a big mashed-up menu for takeout and delivery, with everything from ribs to butter mochi cake. Pabu is the only Mina location downtown that is currently open for outdoor dining, as well as sending out Tokyo hot chicken sandwiches for delivery.
The Salesforce Transit Center was also intended to be a dining destination for the general public. The highly anticipated rooftop park, which cost $2.2 billion, finally opened in July 2019 as a sunny lunch and coffee hangout, with brick-and-mortar restaurants surrounding the gleaming urban space. Andytown Coffee Roasters was one of the first food businesses to move in and remains lonely. Co-owner and founder Lauren Crabbe confirms this location closed temporarily on March 16, and has been shuttered for almost a year now. Andytown is technically in a Facebook building (181 Fremont), and Crabbe says Facebook has been a “fantastic” landlord and that it is committed to reopening whenever people start commuting downtown again.
“People would take a little detour after they got off the bus and come and get coffee before they went into their office,” says Crabbe. “It wasn’t solely Salesforce. There’s a whole economic ecosystem there with all of the companies in that area. There are banks, lawyers, architects, all kinds of people. … And there are people who live down there. The East Cut is a neighborhood. For me, that’s the most heartbreaking thing: We don’t get to see our regulars taking their kids to the rooftop park. We really miss that community. And yes, a lot of it was commuters, but not all of it.”
Of the other restaurants that were announced in or near the park, most never actually moved in. Boutique Crenn was exciting news for downtown diners, promising croissants from chef Dominique Crenn, whose restaurant Atelier Crenn has three Michelin stars. There were teasers, including a pop-up out of a temporary cube at the base of the gondola, but since the pandemic, Dominique Crenn has declined to comment about any plans to open a permanent location in the actual tower. Chef Sho Kamio of Iyasare in Berkeley was supposed to take over the enviable location in the center of the rooftop park, and told Eater SF in early February that he was still planning to open, but did not comment on this latest Salesforce news. Dim Baos dim sum restaurant, from the former longtime chef of Koi Palace, could not be reached. Estas Mano, a popular coffee pop-up, moved out of its cube and hit the open road in a van months ago.
In addition to the brick-and-mortar restaurants in the tower and at the park level, the ground level of the Transbay Transit Center was a prime parking spot for food trucks. Off the Grid hosted a location inside the terminal, and Señor Sisig, the Filipino-American favorite, joined the crowd there once or twice a week. Chef Gil Payumo says it was one of several Señor Sisig locations in SoMa and the FiDi, and prior to the pandemic, “Those downtown locations were the most valuable spots. It was a mass amount of people getting lunch at the same time, in the same area. … Our downtown business was our bread and butter.”
Señor Sisig is holding on to those hard-won permits for now, with the hopes that it’ll be able to test out this location again in a few months. But with so few trucks in action at the moment, it did just sadly have to sell off one of its trucks for the first time.
Brock Keeling, the former editor of the late, great Curbed SF, actually lives within walking distance, and strolls the “peaceful and quiet” park once or twice a week. He sees signs of life, with an upscale market and pet store open for business and the gym rolling some equipment outside, but it’s nowhere near the pre-pandemic lunch and happy hour rush.
“It’s completely desolate,” says Keeling. “In the surrounding neighborhood, as well as the park itself, there’s nothing going on. ... It’s going to decimate food retail and other food businesses.” Observing the “gargantuan” tech offices, he fears empty towers and vacant storefronts, juxtaposed with all of the people who need homes in San Francisco. “Looking at all those empty towers, it’s staggering. You have these oversized shafts of glass and steel with no one inside them. It’s eerie.”