It started with a shift report. “Eziquiel met a ghost last night in the break room,” it began, going on to detail how a dishwasher at the Mission’s hit new sushi restaurant Handroll Project was closing up when he spotted someone in the basement break room. The person had long hair and was dressed in black, sitting in a metal chair facing away from the door. The dishwasher did a double take — surprised to find someone down there since it was so late and most staff had left already — only to find the person gone. He ran upstairs to a co-worker and asked if he’d seen anyone come up the stairs before him. No, he was told, everyone else is outside already.
In the days since that incident, Geoffrey Lee, one of the partners behind the restaurant, has been on the case, investigating the ghostly apparition in an attempt to find out whether or not the buzzy restaurant really might be home to a ghost resident. “I went down a rabbit hole,” Lee says, adding that he’s never been one to give much weight to ghost stories. “But I almost don't want to know the answer.”
It turns out the October 8 ghost spotting isn’t the only unexplained happening to have gone down at the restaurant, Lee says. Someone else reported having the lights flicker on and off for no reason; another member of the team said a plastic container flew across the room on its own. Sometimes, the restaurant’s Wi-Fi goes out suddenly. Lee says that even though he’s never felt anything strange during the many hours he’s spent in the space, which is situated on the high-profile corner of Guerrero and 18th streets, locals have repeatedly told him there’s something off about it. “I always remember people saying in the neighborhood, oh this place is cursed,” he says. “I’m thinking, restaurants fail all the time, that's just what it is.”
Now, he’s not so sure.
Longtime San Francisco residents might remember that before 598 Guerrero Street was home to one of the city’s hottest sushi spots and before it housed chef Aaron London’s short-lived AL’s Deli, the space was home to a Latin-inspired bistro called Platanos. The business had a troubled history, as former San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer described in a 2006 review: “It’s a story of murder, failed ambitions and redemption.”
According to a 2003 story by a pair of Chronicle staff writers, on the night of February 5, 2003, Platanos executive chef Carlos Perez died not far from the restaurant, which had opened only three months prior. A fight had broken out between the chef and a resident nearby over the loud music Perez was playing in his parked car late at night. Following the unexpected death of the restaurant’s chef, the business struggled, closing for a period before reopening under new ownership.
After unearthing this dark piece of history associated with the restaurant, Lee thinks he may have found the identity of Handroll Project’s resident phantom. He’s not sure yet if it’s a friendly spirit or a less welcoming one — Lee’s still trying to wrap his mind around the idea that the restaurant could be haunted at all. “It’s just too crazy,” he says. “Customers have been saying, the veil between the living and the dead is very thin right now because of Halloween and Dia De Los Muertos and I’m like, I’m not trying to hear that stuff,” he says.