For a few days at least, national chatter regarding the dismal state of San Francisco’s downtown will have to hit the back burner as international dignitaries arrive in the city in droves. From November 11 to 17, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) will host its Economic Leaders’ Week in San Francisco.
It’s the first time APEC has brought the conference to the Bay Area and only the second time the summit has been held in the United States. The forum itself was founded in 1989 and brings together 21 members from throughout the Pacific Rim to discuss and facilitate economic policy. Economic Leaders’ Week caps the end of a yearlong set of conversations and events, taking over San Francisco’s Moscone Center and the surrounding area. During the conference, Chinese President Xi Jinping will walk the 48 hills alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, President Joe Biden, and thousands of conference attendees, according to KQED.
In anticipation of the conference, federal authorities have worked with San Francisco city officials to secure the area between Market and Harrison streets and Second and Fifth streets — about nine blocks throughout downtown, SoMa, and Civic Center. The closures will impact public train schedules and local transit, and parts of the area will be accessible to conference attendees only while other areas will be open for anyone to pass through after clearing a security checkpoint. The full slate of APEC-related road closures and areas impacted by conference security are listed online.
Businesses within affected zones have been told by the city that they will be allowed to operate as normal, but some restaurant owners say the city hasn’t done enough to communicate with them ahead of the major event. Further, some say APEC’s security measures could hinder supply deliveries, third-party delivery drivers, and customers who aren’t attending the conference but are trying to make prebooked reservations.
Office of Economic and Workforce Development communications director Gloria Chan tells Eater SF a coalition of more than 150 interagency officials and community members worked together to minimize impacts and prepare the city for APEC. The city department learned details about street closures and transit delays at the same time as the public, when the Secret Service held a press conference on October 18, Chan says. The city then set about informing local businesses, and as of the week of October 23, Chan says that city representatives have gone door to door in the area to share information they received from APEC and the federal government. The OEWD distributed 10,000 informational flyers throughout the Moscone and Nob Hill areas and will conduct another round of door-to-door outreach as of November 8. Further, the city attempted to get in touch with major stakeholders in the area starting in early August.
As far as the financial impact on restaurants in the area, Chan confirmed some conference attendees will have lunches catered but ambassadors and volunteers from the city and APEC will be on the ground to assist at checkpoints and direct attendees to nearby restaurants and cafes. That hasn’t put all business owners at ease, though.
San Francisco-based Detroit-style pizzeria Joyride Pizza has two locations downtown, one on Market Street — outside of the area that will be closed off during the APEC event — and one inside the security zone at Yerba Buena Gardens. Co-founder Jesse Jacobs says it’s exciting to have such important guests come to San Francisco and a good sign of health for the city. Still, the street closures will likely be a big hit to his business. “This introduces a lot of challenges,” Jacobs says. “Word on the street is 20,000 people are coming. It’s possible they’re customers, it’s possible they’ll be catered to. I’ve gotten no indication either way.”
Additionally, he says the restaurant won’t be able to receive deliveries as usual during the nine-day conference. Suppliers will not be able to make the usual arrangements to access his restaurant throughout the event. Uber and DoorDash drivers won’t be able to get to his shops to pick up delivery orders, which he says account for almost 50 percent of his business. Jacobs confirms that he and other business owners in the area were invited to a few meetings throughout the past month and notices were delivered by mail. But he would have preferred if the city offset the costs of any lost business due to the event, an idea supported by Supervisor Connie Chan’s recently board-backed initiative. “It was like, ‘Hey the president’s going to be here. Expect security.’ End of story,” he says.
David Cohen, chef and CEO of fast-casual San Francisco mini-chain the Grove, is a bit more optimistic. The 690 Mission Street outpost of the restaurant is squarely within the street closures, and he says it’s wonderful to see so many tourists returning to the area. Still, he, too, is concerned about accessibility for suppliers and customers placing to-go orders. He’s set up alternative drop-off times for his usual deliveries and asked staff to leave home earlier to accommodate much-delayed travel schedules. “This puts Moscone Center back on the map as the premiere destination for conventions,” Cohen says. “Obviously, with the security and shutdowns, we’re trying to manage. But over the last few years, we’ve become experts at handling difficult situations.”
Cohen says he contacted city officials in advance of the event, trying to understand how the security checkpoints would impact his business. For instance, one of the enormous barricades will be constructed right outside the restaurant’s doors. He was told some of the event’s logistics were determined at the federal level, and was also told by officials at city hall that this is the first National Special Security Event (NSSE) in California. As such, he’s not resentful toward San Francisco politicians despite believing that the event will hurt business. “It’s a huge hit. It’s a financial hit,” Cohen says, “but the city has a great opportunity to do wonderful things to bring people to the Grove, to small businesses in the area.”
Mourad Lahlou, chef of the eponymous Moroccan fine dining restaurant Mourad on New Montgomery Street, says he feels optimistic about the event. Like Cohen and Jacobs, he thinks APEC is a sign of health for the area, but moreover, he points out that locals will be able to dine at his restaurant, albeit with traffic delays. “In this area, hit really hard by COVID and post-COVID, it’s a huge boost and a glimpse back at how things used to be,” Lahlou says. “I’m looking forward to it from a business perspective.”
He says Mourad is already booked throughout the conference, and, if his restaurant’s private rooms get booked out for the majority of those nights, he could stand to make $500,000 during APEC. On the other hand, if guests cancel their reservations once they realize there will be delays in reaching the restaurant, and if APEC-goers don’t book the restaurant’s private dining rooms, he’d be lucky to hit $100,000 in sales that week. To accommodate possible travel delays, the restaurant will allow guests to arrive later than usual while still keeping their reservation. “I anticipate both scenarios,” Lahlou says. “I think we’ll make money on rentals, but I do worry about the casual diner or tourist. There’s no obligation for them to fulfill that reservation, and it’s not their fault if they can’t get here.”
Philip Shun, manager at Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ, says he’s had a lot of concerns about the event leading to potential interruptions to business operations. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that protesters plan to rally around the conference site in favor of causes including climate change, workers’ rights, and Palestinian liberation. Plus, he says that outside of newspaper stories and online information, there hasn’t been any information provided to him. He tried to speak to his neighbors at the Intercontinental hotel, but he says they didn’t have any information about closures and access points either. His staff are concerned, alongside his delivery drivers and suppliers, as they haven’t been able to make new plans. “We’ll lose a lot of business during the week. We didn’t get enough information from the city,” Shun says. “Maybe we’ll have to close the business during that week.”
For Jacobs, it doesn’t matter that one of his pizzerias is inside Moscone Center, where the conference will be held, making it theoretically easier for attendees to access. Best-case scenario is that his shops become go-to spots for conferencegoers, which would help him recoup the money lost from deliveries. “I’d love to report back that that’s what happened,” Jacobs says. “But, clearly, politics is more important than a small business. This is like a governmental-induced pandemic of sorts.”