Owner Shuai Yang says he spent about $6,000 in lumber to build the parklet outside of his family’s popular and long-standing Chinese restaurant Old Mandarin Islamic in the Outer Sunset. It took him and his uncle about a week to construct the outdoor dining area in summer 2020, he estimates. But as of Monday, June 28, the parklet is gone, effectively slashing the restaurant’s already-limited seating by about a third and eliminating its ability to offer outdoor seating for customers who may not be comfortable dining indoors yet.
Yang, whose family owns the 22-year-old restaurant known for serving Chinese-Muslim cuisine, says Pacific Gas & Electric told him he had to tear down the parklet even though he has a permit from the city to keep it up until the end of 2021. Losing the outdoor dining area is a big blow for the small business owner, particularly after fighting to stay open all of last year.
“I felt treated unfairly,” Yang says. “I understand people have rules to follow and I just felt [it was] a little bit unfair of PG&E, as a giant company compared to a small business that’s struggled all last year. And now this hits me, you know? I was like, man, can the world get any better in 2021?”
In an emailed statement to Eater SF, PG&E said it’s updating its existing infrastructure to be more reliable and cost-effective. That means a section of the natural gas system on Vicente Street, where Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant is located, is being upgraded — which is why the restaurant’s parklet needed to be moved. Current city guidelines require that businesses “relocate parklets or temporarily clear the road of other obstructions” to accommodate utility or emergency work, according to the statement.
“We understand how challenging the pandemic has been on many restaurant owners, and we continue to work with the City of San Francisco to find a solution that gives us access to our facilities and minimizes impact to businesses with parklets,” the statement read in part.
Yang says he first got word he might have to take down the parklet about a month ago, when he was contacted by PG&E by phone. A company representative told him he may have to deconstruct the parklet so the power company could do road work. But the PG&E rep said the company would send out a carpenter to talk to Yang and assess the situation. Yang says that never happened — or at least, he was never contacted by a carpenter or anyone else from PG&E again.
After that call, Yang says he spent weeks trying to get in touch with anyone at PG&E who could give him more information about the work planned for the area around his business and how it might impact the restaurant. He called various departments but was never able to get solid answers. “I tried my best to talk to them because I really didn’t want to tear down my parklet. I tried to keep it until the end of this year, you know?” Yang says. “I paid money. We haven’t opened fully for indoor yet.”
Yang says he got a second phone call last week when the city Public Works department told him he had just 24 hours to remove the parklet, though he was able to negotiate three days to take it down. While he understands PG&E needs to be able to do their work, Yang also says he’s been given the runaround and still doesn’t fully understand how or why he had to deconstruct the parklet.
“If something was an emergency, I’m willing to help, whatever I can do for them,” Yang says. “But I’m a customer for PG&E, too. I paid all my bills last year even though it was a struggling time for a small business. I paid for everything. I just wished PG&E could talk to their customers. Maybe appreciate us a little.”
PG&E says the work on Vincent Street, which is already underway, should be completed by mid-August “barring inclement weather or other unforeseen factors.” But Yang says he’s not sure he’ll have the resources to rebuild the parklet at a later date. Lumber prices have skyrocketed since the pandemic, and since he had to cut some of the timber he used to build to parklet the first time, Yang can’t reuse some of the materials and would have to buy more.
He’s also afraid he could just end up back in the same situation.
“It just went down the drain because they just think they can do anything. I just hope this doesn’t happen to anybody else,” Yang says. “What if I built it back in and they do this again?”
Updated Wednesday, June 30, 4:45 p.m.: This article was updated to include the response and statement from PG&E, which the company provided after initial publication.