It’s spooky season and stories of haunted Bay Area restaurants are popping up left and right. Now we’re back with stories from two chefs who say they had ghostly experiences in the same Mission District kitchen.
Chef Siska Silitonga doesn’t believe in ghosts or consider herself superstitious. But after working in a commissary kitchen in the Mission District and experiencing some unexplainable events, she admits she began questioning whether the building could be haunted. Silitonga rented kitchen space out of the Mission Language and Vocational School on 19th and Florida streets for two years starting in 2017. One night, while cooking past 11 p.m. in the school’s kitchen, Silitonga says she heard classroom doors opening and closing in the darkened hallway. She thought it was perhaps a janitor, but when she talked to staff during the day, they told her no one cleaned the school at night. She began dreading returning to the building alone at night, but given that the kitchen was used for classes during the day, the evening was the only time she had access.
One night, she closed all of the classroom doors while she cooked. “I want to make sure if any supernatural things happen, I know,” she says. But rather than the sound of doors opening and closing, instead, she heard the distinctive swing of the men’s restroom door. It was around 12:30 a.m. “I get goosebumps,” she recalls, remembering how she turned around and prepared to face the phantom. “I brace myself and brought the mop from the kitchen and also a knife, just in case it is some random guy breaking in that needed the bathroom,” she says. She stepped out into the hallway and opened the bathroom door — but no one was there. She decided to head home immediately after, and never went back to the school at night alone again. “That was my moment of bravery,” Silitonga says. “I mean, I should have just gone home, but I was like, ‘I want to know if this is me going crazy, or what.’”
It would be one thing if Silitonga was the only person who experienced such things, but chef Raul Garcia-Antolin of Caliente Bistro Kitchen worked at the Mission Language and Vocational School around the same time and had similar paranormal encounters. He was a culinary instructor at the school for two and a half years, and he described the building as having an “aura of eeriness.” For him, the strange events would on specific days; particularly when the day was “kind of dark and a little misty and a little foggy.” He, too, heard phantom doors opening and closing, and he says that on days with that certain kind of spooky weather, he and a few others would even wait outside for an hour or so before they’d venture inside for the morning.
Garcia-Antolin had his own memorable confrontation in the building. As he recalls it, the day was strange: the school’s entire computer system shut down and everyone, including students, went home early. Those that remained cleaned, turned equipment off, and prepared to leave. Garcia-Antolin was in the kitchen working on his laptop while a co-worker used the restroom when he heard footsteps coming down the stairway from the second floor. Then he heard a flush. “So then I’m looking at the stairs, waiting for the person to come down,” he says. “Like, who could be up there? Maybe somebody who was lingering.” He walked up the stairs to check who was still around, but all the doors were locked. He opened a few with his master key, but in each, the lights were off with no one inside. He even went out onto a patio, which had tables with tablecloths and began searching for the source of the mystery sounds. “I check underneath the tables, and I was like, somebody’s playing with me,” he remembers.
Confused, he went back down to the kitchen, where he ran into his co-worker. “He said, ‘Why do you keep going up and down the stairs?’” Garcia-Antolin recalls. “I said, ‘I’m coming down the stairs for the first time. I went upstairs thinking somebody was up there.’ Then he said, ‘Somebody was already up there because I heard somebody walk up, I thought that was you.’ Then we hear the pots and the pans begin to rattle [in the kitchen].” The two men grabbed their belongings and left quickly, closing up the building on the way. They waited outside for 30 minutes to see if anyone would come out — no one did. From then on, the two always tried to work in larger groups, ensuring a third or fourth person was with them in the school restaurant. Ultimately Garcia-Antolin says he didn’t experience anything strange happen again.
Both Silitonga and Garcia-Antolin say they don’t believe the “ghost” was a negative energy. But the general sentiment seemed to be not to talk about any possible ghostly residents, he says. “We knew that there was something there, we just never wanted to talk about it,” he says. “It was kind of like, don’t give it any more attention that it needs, just leave them alone, and they’ll leave you alone.”