Noe Valley Voice September 1998

Extreme Pizza Gets Roasted at Friends Meeting

By Pat Rose

Extreme Pizza underwent sort of a trial by fire at the August meeting of the residents group Friends of Noe Valley.

Still, the gourmet pizza parlor, which specializes in "take and bake" pizzas, is forging ahead with plans to move into the old Bakers of Paris slot on 24th Street.

Extreme Pizza owner Todd Parent -- who operates two other Extreme Pizza stores in the city -- presented his plans at the Friends meeting at the Noe Valley Library on Aug. 13.

Parent said his Noe Valley store would be "very similar to our Fillmore Street location. We'll have a counter service with 10 to 15 stools where we'll serve salads, sandwiches, baked slices, and soda," he said.

Parent promised there would be no outdoor seating nor food preparation on site. It will be done at the Fillmore store, he pointed out.

He added that he had no plans to apply for a liquor license and that his hours of operation would be seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 or 10 in the evening.

Then he sat back and listened to a wide range of objections from the neighborhood's most prominent watchdog group.

"This sounds too much like a restaurant," said one member of the Friends.

"We already have plenty of pizza places in the neighborhood," said another. "We don't need another one."

Another member asked Parent if he intended to offer delivery service at the 24th Street store. No, no delivery, he said. But the Friends seemed wary.

Said Friends member Harry Stern, "Our main concern is that a former bakery could become a restaurant. We want to maintain the commercial diversity of the neighborhood and ensure that we keep the proliferation of restaurants to a manageable level." Stern added that his group had watched too many storefronts converted into cafes and restaurants due to what he called "permit creep." "We have this floating environment where a non-food-serving establishment soon becomes a food-serving establishment. That's what we're against," Stern said.

"We'd rather see Extreme Pizza go into a space like WrapWorks, a place that's already a restaurant. [The Chevy's restaurant chain, which owns WrapWorks, has reportedly put it up for sale.] And we'd like to see a bakery or retail store go into the Bakers of Paris space."

Parent insisted that Extreme Pizza was not a full-service restaurant. "Eighty percent of our business is takeout. Only 20 percent of customers eat in at our other two stores. But we're flexible about how much seating we'll have at the 24th Street location," he said.

He also noted that the WrapWorks space was not affordable for small businesses like his. "The landlords who own the Bakers of Paris space are offering substantial rent abatements to make it affordable for us. We can probably do our whole startup in this space for $40,000.

"At a space like WrapWorks it would cost us more like $400,000," Parent said.

In fact, the cost of space has become prohibitive for many small merchants who want to start a business in Noe Valley. It's gone from $2 and $3 a square foot 10 years ago to $3 and $4 today.

A 1987 ordinance prohibiting new restaurants from opening on 24th Street, combined with a more recent moratorium on specialty grocery and retail coffee stores (which expired last fall), has added to the debate over what constitutes a "restaurant" in Noe Valley. Plus, at the urging of Friends, Supervisor Sue Bierman has introduced a law that would permanently ban juice bars and coffee stores on 24th Street.

According to Elizabeth Street resident Jean Amos, a longtime member of Friends, the real problem with determining what kind of business should go in the Bakers of Paris slot lies with the City Planning Department. For decades there's been no real enforcement of the permit processes governing food purveyors on 24th Street. "The frustration with the Planning Department was so obvious at that meeting," Amos said. "I think the Extreme Pizza guys just got caught in the crossfire of frustration that we're now getting a cafe, instead of just a bakery.

"It's the way it happens time after time in the neighborhood," Amos continued. "They're getting in under a technicality and creating a cafe. Over the years we've slowed things down, but the Planning Department still doesn't give us enough information to work with."

What type of business is the Bakers of Paris storefront zoned for?

According to Bob Passmore, Planning Department zoning administrator, Bakers of Paris was originally classified as a small, self-service restaurant, in the same category as bakeries, ice cream stores, and candy stores. However, soon after it opened, it was granted a conditional use permit to sell takeout food.

"Generally speaking, something like Bakers of Paris would be considered a small restaurant and could be replaced by an Extreme Pizza," said Passmore. "But because of specific conditions at Bakers of Paris, namely that they served sandwiches rather than pizza, we have advised Extreme Pizza to file for a new conditional use permit to modify the old one."

Meanwhile, Claire Pilcher, one of the founders of Friends and the chief drafter of the coffee store moratorium, says she's looked at the planning code since the meeting with Extreme Pizza and decided not to oppose Parent's plans to open in that space. "Personally I am not opposed to Extreme Pizza. What the hell, it's going to be approved anyway," Pilcher said. "My feeling is that since there is this technical wording that includes bakeries and candy shops in that category, we can't fight it. But this problem of 'permit creep' is the city's fault because they haven't enforced it in the past. Bakers of Paris had a permit for takeout but didn't have a permit for seating, and installed it anyway."

Pilcher added that she was concerned that the Friends of Noe Valley might be viewed as a conservative group that only wanted to stop progress. "The thing that makes Noe Valley attractive to people is the fact that it has these cute little shops. But we don't want to become another Union or Chestnut Street." And the Friends have worked hard to maintain the smaller scale and pace of 24th Street.

As for Extreme Pizza, Parent says he'll push on with his efforts to lease the Bakers of Paris space in spite of the opposition. And he will apply for the conditional use permit from City Planning.

"I think Extreme Pizza will do very well and will fit into the neighborhood well, as a little guy catering to the local merchants and neighbors," said Parent.

"At the same time, I think everyone has a right to their opinion. I want to be in Noe Valley for the right reasons. We'll either open here for the right ones, or we won't."