Less than nine years after touching down in San Francisco’s Mission District, chef James Syhabout’s casual restaurant Hawker Fare closed its door permanently on Sunday, January 29. A post on the business Instagram announced the sudden news on the restaurant’s last day, and invited customers to “join us [for] our last big party.”
The reasons cited for the closure in the post included “the growing food, labor, and operating cost was insurmountable.” Eater SF reached out to Syhabout for comment but didn’t hear back in time for publication; on the chef’s personal Instagram, however, Syhabout wrote the restaurant almost made it to its ninth year by a few days and thanked the staff and guests from over the years. “With a heavy heart and lack of sleep for the past few days I am sad to announce that Hawker Fare San Francisco has to come to an end, today we celebrate our final day of operations,” Syhabout wrote. “Hawker Fare will exist forever in spirit and in print.”
Syhabout opened the first Hawker Fare in 2011, bringing the casual Thai and Laotian restaurant to Oakland, followed by the Valencia Street location in 2015. The Valencia Street location was Syhabout’s first restaurant foray into San Francisco. He opened that location with chef de cuisine Supasit Puttikaew, who went on to open Berkeley Thai favorite, Funky Elephant. The Hawker Fare restaurants were a personal project, as noted in Syhabout’s book, Hawker Fare: Stories & Recipes From a Refugee Chef’s Isan Thai & Lao Roots.
The Oakland restaurant closed in 2017 even as the San Francisco location continued on. In an elegy for the East Bay restaurant, writer John Birdsall wrote about Syhabout’s connection to the food and city. “He took his original rice-bowl concept, dug in, and made the Oakland location of Hawker Fare something personal, cooking the food, fierce and vital, he grew up with on that Oakland block,” Birdsall wrote. “He also managed to erase every trace of chef’s ego, cooking to honor his mom and the women who taught her.”
Hawking Bird in Temescal is Syhabout’s last remaining casual restaurant, which opened following the closure of Hawker Fare in Oakland. The fast-casual Hawking Bird brought back some of the Hawker Fare favorites and is perhaps the last spot to get the much-loved poached chicken and rice dish khao mun gai. Meanwhile, Syhabout recently received a nod on this year’s James Beard Awards long list for best chef, California and his Michelin-starred restaurant Commis in Oakland remains open.