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How This Flooded San Francisco Restaurant’s Superfan Raised Nearly $200K in Relief Funds

William Meeker is a longtime fan of Rintaro in the Mission District and wanted to help out

Dining room at Rintaro Rintaro
Paolo Bicchieri is a reporter at Eater SF writing about Bay Area restaurant and bar trends, coffee and cafes, and pop-ups.

The atmospheric river that descended on San Francisco on New Year’s Eve flooded a number of businesses in the city’s Mission District, including the Pink Onion, Rainbow Grocery, and Japanese restaurant Rintaro. In the area, flood water rose to upwards of seven to eight feet. For the Pink Onion’s part, owner Matthew Coric told SFGATE the damages will cost at least $50,000 to repair.

So far, it’s unclear how much of the damages Rintaro’s insurer will or won’t cover, owner and operator Sylvan Mishima Brackett says.

Thankfully, he’s got friends like William Meeker, a Rintaro longtime fan and pepper supplier through his company Mill Pepper who set up a GoFundMe on January 4 to benefit the flooded restaurant. So far, the fund has raised more than $180,000. “I wasn’t sure money would even help the problem,” Meeker says. “But I reached out, as Sylvan isn’t much the type of person to ask for help.”

Brackett says the response is overwhelming. “The flood waters were one thing,” Brackett says. “But the amount of support that came out of the woodwork — it’s really changed the mood to know there’s this big wide world rooting for us.”

The money raised will help pay the 30-odd staff who work at the restaurant while they’re stuck at home with the restaurant closed. For restoration, the restaurant uses about 10 people a day on-site at any time, Brackett says, and the fund will go to pay those staff as well. The restaurant also prepared about 50 bento boxes for a New Year’s Eve meal that couldn’t happen due to the flooding, so some of the money will go to recouping that cost. Virginia Vaughn, a manager at Rintaro, and Brackett made the decision to allocate funds in this way. “Our refrigerators are completely bare,” Brackett says. “We need to restock fish, meat, sauces, vegetables, and a lot of our dry goods were destroyed as well.”

Meeker has been a Rintaro fan for about a decade. He grew up in Portland, Oregon where he attended a Japanese immersion program, which gave him a love of the culture and country. “The cheapest ticket to Japan is Rintaro,” Meeker says. In 2017, Meeker began importing pepper from Japan as Mill Pepper. Shancho, a special Japanese variety of pepper, comes from Wakayama and is used sparingly at Rintaro. Meeker became the supplier for the restaurant; now, Brackett has known Will for about five years and stays in touch with Meeker regularly.

When he saw the flooding, Meeker says he felt helpless. He messaged everyone who commented on Rintaro’s Instagram post to ask for support, then set an initial fundraising goal of $75,000. Michael Tusk at Cotogna helped spread the word, the network of former colleagues from Chez Panisse (where Brackett used to work) showed up, and Gilbert Pilgram at Zuni contributed — including by adding two dishes to the menu at their restaurant which benefitted Rintaro. With all that support, the fundraiser breezed by that first benchmark within seven hours. Meeker extended the goal a few more times, deciding to stop asking at $150,000. “It took a village,” Meeker says. “But I think everybody had that same love for Rintaro and respect for Sylvan that I did.”


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