San Francisco Is Losing Its Great, Inexpensive Restaurants

By Publications Checkout
San Francisco Is Losing Its Great, Inexpensive Restaurants

On Thursday, the Michelin Guide announced its 2018 Bib Gourmand winners for San Francisco with only 67 restaurants on the list this year, a decrease from the 74 restaurants in 2017. Twelve restaurants in total dropped off, once you factor in some new additions. In 2016, there were 73 restaurants, and in 2015, 76 were on the list.

Restaurants that rate a spot on the Bib Gourmand list are defined as places that offer notable food at a reasonable price. Michelin specifically defines that as two courses plus dessert or wine for $40, not including tax or tip. A group of anonymous inspectors choose the restaurants. Bib Gourmand restaurants are not eligible to receive Michelin stars.

Of the four newcomers to this year’s Bib Gourmand list, none is in San Francisco proper. They are the soul food-inspired Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland; Playa,  a Mexican restaurant in Mill Valley; and two Peninsula spots, Pausa in San Mateo, which specializes in authentic Italian food, and the Sichuan-focused Royal Feast in Millbrae.

Some of the attrition on the 2018 list is due to places that simply fell off (or maybe even got promoted to the star list, proper), like Bistro Jeanty in Yountville, Bistro 29 in Santa Rosa, and Le Garage in Sausalito. But the alarming rate of restaurant closures in the Bay Area also accounts for the dip on the list, with spots like Bar Tartine and Mason Pacific in San Francisco and Scopa in Healdsburg wine country shutting their doors.

Changing Economics


Factors like skyrocketing rents, minimum wage and health care have certainly taken a toll on Bib Gourmand-style restaurants around the Bay Area. More than 60 restaurants closed between Sept. 2016 and Jan. 2017, according to the East Bay Times. “We’re at this precipice where the model of the full-service restaurant is being pushed to the brink,” said Gwyneth Borden, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

Although ecstatic by the news of her Bib Gourmand, Brown Sugar Kitchen’s chef/owner Tanya Holland echoed the sentiment during a phone interview: “It’s so challenging to operate this kind of restaurant in the Bay Area right now” especially when it comes to staffing, she said. “The issue is that the tech companies have million-dollar kitchens and budgets, they’re taking all the great talent and offering benefits and 9-to-5 hours. Meanwhile, the restaurant business is a grind, and the cost of doing business is insane in the Bay Area. Independent operators are getting pushed out. I cook accessible food, and you have to charge accessible prices for that.”

“My business model in this current facility doesn’t even work,” she continues. “It’s too small. I’m opening a 100-seat restaurant with a liquor license, and I’m launching a counter at Ferry Plaza building. Those are the kinds of models that work right now.”

On the other hand, San Francisco’s appetite—and budget—for high-priced fine dining spots is solid. Restaurants like Saison, where a dinner can cost $1,000, and Benu, where a tasting menu starts at $285, continue to be packed. In fact, the list might be expanding: We’ll find out on Oct. 12, when Michelin announces their San Francisco star list.

News by Bloomberg - edited by Hospitality Ireland