A few of San Francisco’s Finest Cooks Are Opening New All-Day Eating places and Cafes
Once upon a time, the all-day café was the little black dress of the restaurant world: your meeting place for coffee and pastries on the commute, a place to meet friends for a quick breakfast, and an easy option for a casual business lunch. It was a convenient destination for happy hour with co-workers and a no-frills dinner choice for those days when you just didn’t feel like cooking.
Today, the all-day café is more of a rarity — less of a wardrobe staple and more of a vintage piece that you only pull out when you find it at the back of your closet. Castro’s Cafe Flore closed in early 2020, ending nearly five decades of all-day operations, and The Grove, a local chain of all-day restaurants, shrank from four locations to one last fall. Most recently, the Reverie Cafe gave up in February, ending its 21-year run of serving coffee by day and beer and wine by night in the Cole Valley neighborhood. As with many current trends in the restaurant industry, the closure could be attributed to the ongoing impact of the pandemic.
But now, alongside the return of restaurants more broadly, a new generation of all-day dining options is emerging in San Francisco — and they’re not coming from first-time restaurateurs, but from the chefs and owners behind successful high-end restaurants. From Automat in NoPa, where chef Matt Kirk has teamed up with David Barzelay, chef and owner of Lazy Bear, to Michelin-starred Sato Omakase’s Dento Union and Dento Coffee & Wine on Folsom by restaurateur Min Choe, could All-day dining options coming soon are trending again.
Over in Lower Pacific Heights, chef Matt Accarrino plans to open the door to his casual cafe Mattina on April 1st. The restaurant’s name translates to “tomorrow” but will serve the neighborhood from sunrise to sunset. Coffee and freshly baked pastries are available, as well as a full menu for lunch and dinner, featuring wood-fired Spiedini and a carefully selected wine list. For Accarrino, who has owned and operated Italian restaurant SPQR just around the corner since 2009, the move into casual dining comes from a combination of wanting to satisfy his personal passions and expanding his ability to connect with the neighborhood serve.
The idea came up during the pandemic. “I’m a cyclist, and everyone knows that stopping for a cup of coffee is part of the culture,” says Accarrino. “So, partly out of selfish motivation, I opened my own coffee shop.” Accarrino’s Coffee and Donuts ran a weekend pop-up on SPQR’s doorstep. When Mattina opens, he’ll be frying the donuts over the weekend, but the new restaurant will give him a broader platform to feed the neighborhood’s hunger for a quick and casual daytime meal.
From a business standpoint, Accarrino says Mattina allows him to connect with more clients. While SPQR only serves a full tasting menu five nights a week, Mattina is starting out with three meals a day, five days a week. The chef understands that even guests who love SPQR may not feel comfortable visiting the restaurant every week. He hopes Mattina will offer a more accessible option to these fans.
Dento Coffee & Wine at SoMa Nathan Choi
Choe, the chef and restaurant owner behind Dento Union and Dento Coffee & Wine in SoMa, shares this sentiment. At the former, coffee and pastries are on the menu of the day. But in the evenings, guests can order cold-smoked tuna in truffle ponzu and fatty tuna with aged soy and caviar. While these dishes are simpler than the sushi and sashimi served at his high-end restaurant, Sato Omakase, they use the same high-quality ingredients. “I wanted to create a place that you could walk into without having to worry so much about the budget,” says Choe. “And later, if you want the full experience, you can always come to my restaurant and have the omakase experience. But maybe that’s a bit too much in everyday life.”
Dento Coffee & Wine also serves the four craft beers that Choe brews with legendary Bay Area brewer Dave McLean specifically for its restaurants. In part, Choe says he wanted to open Dento to have a place to showcase the project, which he has far bigger plans for than just the current brew room in the basement. Later, Choe plans to open a second production facility, expand the line to eight beers, and distribute to not only his own restaurants and bars, but other high-end Japanese and Korean restaurants across the city. In this sense, Dento represents only part of the entrepreneur’s broader vision.
Barzelay, who opened his two-Michelin-star Lazy Bear restaurant in 2009, also sees value in expanding his list of restaurants and bars, which now includes Automat and cocktail bar, True Laurel. Efficiency at the operational level comes from the ability to centralize tasks such as accounting, marketing and human resources. With a single location, all of this work typically falls to third parties, but with multiple restaurants and bars under one roof, Barzelay can say he can bring things in-house.
Of course, it wasn’t operational efficiency that inspired Automat. “A big part of that was the lack of full-time concepts,” says Barzelay. “The lack of anything solid for breakfast or even lunch. Also Matt [Kirk]The food is really great.” Additionally, both Barzelay and Kirk have young families and they longed for a place where they could get a quality meal in a kid-friendly space.
The breakfast roll in the machine. automatic
But the chef says the issues that have always made running an all-day restaurant a challenge have not gone away. If anything, they’re more intimidating than ever. Inflation continues to drive up ingredient prices, and Barzelay points out that even when a restaurant offers a more casual experience, there’s likely still a lot of work going into the food. “No one realizes that every item on Automat’s menu is as labor-intensive as an item on Lazy Bear’s menu,” he says. “Those sandwiches probably cost a lot more than you think.” Staffing, a perennial issue for the restaurant industry, also becomes more complicated when managers and servers are scheduled for a restaurant that’s open nearly 12 hours a day, six days a week.
These days, Barzelay says it’s difficult to get people out of the house just for weekday meals. While diners still seem ready to roll into Lazy Bear for a special night on the town, the chef says he’s not confident the appetite for all-day concepts will be enough for restaurants to make the comeback he wants hoped for in the post -pandemic world. “I think the jury’s still out,” he says.