After floating the idea in an Instagram post in late February, the James Beard Award-recognized restauranteurs behind Cassava in North Beach have made it official: Yuka Ioroi and Kris Toliao will bring their talents back to the Richmond District, where they made their restaurant a neighborhood staple before relocating to North Beach in October 2022. In the next month, they aim to reopen the doors to the Balboa Street space that housed Cassava for the last decade and will flip it into a wine bar called, simply enough, Wine Bar by Cassava. “People were used to us being there for 10 years,” Ioroi says. “And we love that space.”
Initially, the couple hoped to find partners to operate the wine bar while they focused on keeping their relatively young North Beach location on the right track. But Ioroi says it hasn’t been easy to find partners who share the couple’s ethos about how to run an equitable restaurant. For example, front and back-of-house staff at Cassava split tips equally, and all workers get full medical benefits and a 401K with a 5 percent employer match. “The way we run a business is very different from the way other people do,” she says. “So we're just going to open it ourselves until we find a better opportunity.”
It should be a quick turnaround. Ioroi says they’re making minimal changes to the space itself and are going to move over some of the furniture that didn’t quite fit at the North Beach location. One thing she’s excited to note: After three years of shrouding the front of the space’s windows with wooden boards, a move first made during the COVID-induced closures of 2020, they’re going to pull down the coverings and let the natural light shine in. Of course, they plan to keep the boards, which feature a colorful mural; they’ll just bring them inside the restaurant to adorn and add color to the space.
Ioroi says she’s also hopeful they’ll be able to keep the restaurant’s parklet in place. They removed the roof prior to winding down the Balboa space, but now she envisions installing tables with fire pits sunk inside since there’s nothing covering the top.
As for the wine list, Ioroi says fans can expect a selection similar to what’s offered at Cassava. “We’re not natural wine people,” Ioroi says with a laugh. “It’s not really my forte, per se, so we want to stick to the classic regions and gorgeous wines that we have [at Cassava].” That being said, they hope to expand their selection of California wines, specifically to bring in more bottles from wineries owned by women and people of color. Ioroi says it’s not always easy to connect with these smaller women- and POC-owned wineries, but she wants the wine bar’s list of domestic bottles to reflect the state as she — an Asian American woman — and Tolio know it. “We want to represent the California we see,” she says. “And we want the wine list to reflect that.”
There will be a small food component to the wine bar, meaning smaller plates and appetizers that will be prepped by the team at Cassava in North Beach, to be reheated and finished up at the wine bar. Ioroi says part of the motivation for moving forward with the wine bar on their own came out of wanting to create more shifts for the North Beach restaurant’s staff. The cavalcade of atmospheric rivers and generally rough weather that’s battered the Bay Area all year has been hard on the restaurant, which perches on Columbus Street, in a neighborhood with limited parking but, usually, a lot of foot traffic.
But it’s also nice to know the neighborhood wants them back, she says. “The neighborhood is so excited about the idea.”
The Wine Bar by Cassava (3519 Balboa Street) is expected to open before the end of April 2023.