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Rent is growing so fast in San Francisco that the innovation at the bottom of the food scene is being squeezed out. If the rent for a restaurant-sized place in Oakland is $12K a month, no starving chef can afford to take a chance on Chilean Chifa or salmon pastrami sandwiches.
John Birdsall, Why Portland’s Food Scene is Better Than S.F.’s Right Now
Last Saturday at Feast, Francis Lam moderated a panel from PDX talking about why the biggest little city in Oregon figures big on the national food map. It was Portland Monthly food critic Karen Brooks, author of The Mighty Gastropolis, who talked about Portland’s democracy of eating. In other cities, chefs at the best restaurants have their own back-channel networks for the good stuff. But in Portland, everybody pretty much has equal access — sandwich shop owners, women who run food carts, home cooks, chefs on national TV. Everybody’s standing in line together at the farmers’ market in Portland, which means the possibility of finding amazing hazelnut-finished pork in a submarine sandwich and not exclusively on high-dollar tasting menus.
"We do fine craft cooking for the masses in a way that no other city has imagined," Brooks says.
Fine craft cooking for the masses. It’s not Joshua Skenes’ $40 bar-bite pigeon that Anna Roth sampled at Saison last summer, it’s the $9 sandwich I got last weekend at Tails & Trotters, a butcher shop in a Portland neighborhood that sells hazelnut-finished pork (they also make a few sandwiches). A healthy craft food scene is all about the scrappy and the affordable, the geeky single-subject passion driving certain people to polish things that are tiny and unremarkable (lager or donuts or chicken wings) until they shine. In San Francisco we like to think we’re all about fine craft cooking for the common man and woman — it’s part of the progressive mythology we construct for ourselves. But have SF’s populist craft foods gone as extinct as the $1,500 flat?
Fine craft sandwiches off a loading dock were what gave Kitchenette its fire. The aspirations for fine craft cooking made Mission Street Food, Mission Burger at Duc Loi, and the first generation of Mission Chinese Food as dangerous and improbable as a litter of tigers under the back porch. Craft gave the Eat Real Festival its first flush of excitement, and the first seasons of Off the Grid at Fort Mason enough heat to push back the wind and the fog.
Oh, fine craft cooking for the masses exists here still — in sandwiches from Pal’s Takeaway and in bowls of Hapa’s ramen, milk teas from the Boba Guys and margheritas from Pizza Del Popolo, the Zilla dog from 4505 Meats and smoky pastrami from Wise Sons, and in Georgian dumplings from Satellite Republic, when you can find them. But in the tech meritocracy that San Francisco feels like now — where a few blocks on Valencia feel as rarefied as a Street View version of Google’s cafeteria — can we really call ourselves a food democracy?
Because, and this is something else Karen Brooks said about Portland, in order to be risk takers as food entrepreneurs — guys like Andy Ricker, who started Pok Pok from a shack on his driveway — you need to be in a place with cheap rents. There is no Kickstarter big enough that can insulate you from five-figure rents, even if you are the genius who comes up with the next Cronut. “When you’re not paying $10,000 a month in rent, you can take chances,” Brooks says.
This will also drive away the entrepreneurial tech start-ups, too. Next stop, Santa Cruz?
Salon founder David Talbot looks at the past, present, and future of technology in San Francisco.
This is so true.
SF is the perfect place to live to be pampered and have your every need catered to. The creators of a city determine its culture - and our creators are solidly upper-middle class entrepreneurs. What types of startups are coming out of SF? Those that pander to our unrealistic lifestyles.
I want some Bi-Rite, I can commission a courier from Get it Now, Zaarly, TaskRabbit, Exec… where else in the world would this type of business model actually take off?
I have enough friends and need for friends that I can choose to use Facebook, or if I want more control, Path, Pair…
I guess this is my official declaration of disillusionment with this scene.
Build something useful. Build something for the rest of the world.
I have written a great deal about my disillusionment with the SF monoculture of self-obsessed wannaprenuerials. None of the this surprises, and I only wonder how long before Catherine leaves SF.
Josh Miller, describing why he moved Branch to NYC after a brief time in San Francisco, cited by Joshua Brustein, in For Tech Start-Ups, New York Has Increasing Allure via NYTimes.com
Jeffries profiles a number of young entrepreneurs who have returned to NYC after a brief tour of Silicon Alley.
Adrianne Jeffries via Betabeat
Whatever the reason, a passel of companies have recently boomeranged back to the city after a season on the far shore. The longtime tech mantra of ‘go West, young founder” is being revised for the simple reason that New York’s tech scene is up-and-coming, more social and more fun. Recent Y Combinator grads Codecademy, The Fridge, MessageParty, Hirehive and Tutorspree all moved back the New York within the past 18 months. Sam Rosen, plucked from Flatiron’s General Assembly for the Mountain View accelerator 500 Startups by superangel Dave McClure, returned after the program ended. “My friends in New York City—one would be in marketing, my good friend was a producer at MTV, other friends are lawyers. Whereas in the Valley you go to the party and everyone is in tech,” he told Betabeat in January. “It’s not like I’m tired of talking about my company, but it’s all we talk about.” Josh Weinstein, founder of the Facebook competitor CollegeOnly who later pivoted to interactive web television with a startup called YouAre.TV, ventured out to the Valley to work with a cofounder and be closer to investor Peter Thiel. In September, he returned—mostly because the cofounder bailed on him, but partly because he felt “isolated,” he said.
And in that last case, maybe because Josh Weinstein discovered the Thiel is barking at the moon nuts, too, and not just the insularity of the monoculture tech world in San Francisco.
Bilton makes the real estate case for tech bubble, but I think all the developers for start-ups and long established players like Apple, Google, Yahoo, and Facebook are simply moving into the city. No one wants to like in Palo Alto or Sunnyvale, any more.
And the Airbnb angle in interesting: it would be worthwhile to see a real exposé os Airbnb, grounded in more than anecdote.
Another element in the world of being a modern nomad — those working in public spaces with pricey computers — is a return to the mores of the middle ages: when bandits strike, you are on your own. A rash of laptop robberies is plaguing SF cafes these days, as criminals take advantage of nomadic geeks, as in this recent case:
[from Laptop thieves descend upon wireless cafes / Grab-and-run robbers find pricey computers easy to resell by Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle]
The 40-year-old San Francisco victim of the March 16 attack suffered a partially collapsed lung and was hospitalized for six days. The two suspects fled with his Apple PowerBook, worth $2,500.
"This poor guy, who got stabbed, all he did was kind of stand up … and almost instantaneously the guy stabbed him,” said Inspector Robert Lynch of the San Francisco police robbery detail. "The whole thing was over in 15 seconds.”
Police say normally quiet cafes are becoming hunting grounds for laptop bandits.
"Now that we have these hot zones, people are bringing laptops out in the street, using them in public cafes,” said police Lt. John Loftus of the robbery detail.
I won’t go so far as to recommend martial arts training (although, why not?), but we nomads are definitely on our own. Don’t expect the cafe owners or other coffee drinkers to save your PC. Make sure you have insurance that covers this kind of theft, and keep your eyes open.