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BELLS ARE RINGING in Downtown Noe Valley. Although nobody will confirm or deny it, there is quite a bit of evidence that the chain which owns Bell Market will be leaving Noe Valley soon. Bye bye, Kroger. Bye bye, Ralphs.
In April, Bell's customers started seeing small signs of a change, like no more Ralphs trucks rolling in, no monitor in the parking lot, fresher produce (try the organic asparagus), reorders promised for items like Heinz Steak Sauce, liquidation prices on Kroger brand products, and, of course, a quick refill on the bin of chocolate malted-milk balls.
And there were big things, too, like the workers at the store finding out from their union that negotiations were under way with the parties purchasing the store.
And then there was the late April lunch meeting between our District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty and Harley Delano. Delano, as you Rumors regulars know, is heading a group that is trying to buy our Bell and the Cala in Eureka Valley, among other Cala/Bell stores. Interestingly, Delano was part of the group that sold our market to Kroger at the end of the last century.
Supervisor Dufty confirmed that "after constantly calling Ralphs/Kroger people in Southern California, finally they gave approval for and put me in touch with Mr. Delano for a meeting."
Says Dufty: "I really can't say too much about it, and Mr. Delano has contractual confidentiality agreements, but I know that his group is currently negotiating with the store workers' union, and both sides are optimistic."
Dufty adds that he was quite impressed with Mr. Delano. "He seemed very enthusiastic about taking over these stores [again], and told me he wants the luster of Bell Markets brought back. He also seemed very supportive of organic foods and quality brands, and I learned at lunch that he is a vegetarian."
Perhaps it is no coincidence that Dufty is co-sponsoring (with Supervisor Fiona Ma) a measure to require any new grocery store owner in the City and County of San Francisco to continue the employment of existing store workers for 90 days after the store changes hands. That measure may have passed the Board of Supes by the time you read this.
As for Bell's new ownership, look for notices to be posted at the entrance soon.
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WHEN THE STARS MAKE YOU DROOL JUST LIKE PASTA FAZOOL: Downtown Upper Noe Valley was the focus of Amanda Berne's "The Inside Scoop" column in the Food Section of the Chronicle, which duly scooped Rumors on April 26 with the headline "Italian Renaissance Hits Noe Valley."
Berne wrote: "My dogs are still barking from my recent treasure hunt--I mean, Scoop reporting--tracking down all the new happenings in San Francisco's Noe Valley." This treasure hunt uncovered three new restaurants at the Church Street end of Upper Noe Valley.
"It was the most fun column I've done in a while," Berne says. "I got out of the office and pounded the pavement to find out what was going on."
Berne says her interest was piqued when she got so much response to her story about a new restaurant on 30th Street, where Verona used to be. (See La Ciccia, in this month's Store Trek, page 37.)
Then, all of a sudden, "people were calling me and sending me e-mails, asking me what kind of restaurant was going to open in the Mikeytom space, or what was going to happen to Yianni's, or what kind of French restaurant was going to open where Long Island used to be, and who was taking over Hungry Joe's."
Three of those items had been teased in April's Rumors, but Berne's research turned up some additional details, particularly about the former Mikeytom Market space at the corner of Church and Day streets. She reports that Roy Lui and Filip Yip plan to open a California-Asian restaurant in July. The restaurant's name is still under consideration, but the chef will be Alex Placencia, who previously worked at the Nectar Wine Lounge, Colibri Mexican Bistro, and the U Street Lounge on Union Street.
As for Long Island, the Voice has confirmed that the new French restaurant is going to be called Bistro 1689--the address is 1689 Church Street--and the chef will be Christopher Pastena, formerly of Bruno's on Mission Street and the Eastside West supper club on Fillmore Street.
We also talked to the two brothers who will be taking over Hungry Joe's, the small café across the street from Mikeytom (1748 Church Street). Eddie Naser and his younger brother Kamal, who are part-owners of the Grind on Haight Street, say they will rename the diner and call it Toast. They'll keep serving bacon-and-egg breakfasts and sandwiches for lunch every day, but plan to expand the menu and add some hearty salads.
"We are famous over on Haight Street for our Caesar salads with chicken and for our hamburgers, so we will bring them to Noe Valley," says Eddie Naser, who used to live in Noe and is happy to be back in the neighborhood. The brothers plan to open in June, after giving the diner a facelift and a brand new kitchen.
The Yianni story is coming to us piecemeal. One thing we're sure of: Yianni's Greek restaurant, on Church Street near 29th for the past 41/2 years, is now closed. And according to Berne, a new restaurant called Joey and Eddy's Seafood (owned by Joseph Manzare) will be taking Yianni's place in the near future.
If all these eateries succeed, where will people park? I guess the answer is for us locals to walk (or ride the J). That way, we can eat more toast.
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BALAT LIKES ICE CREAM: The April shock in Downtown Noe Valley was the abrupt closing of Isabella's Dessert and Ice Cream Café, after four years at Castro and 24th Street. However, the good news is that ice cream will continue to drip at that corner. (Before Isabella's, the place was Rory's Twisted Scoop for 15 years, and before that, Bud's Ice Cream, the pride of local creameries.)
Isabella's owner, Ray Baluyot, has sold the café to Rami Balat, who says he wants to surprise the neighborhood with the new shop's fare. However, Balat tells us the menu will include his favorite, Mitchell's Ice Cream. Twenty-five-year-old Rami Balat currently works with his father, Karim Balat, at the venerable Noe Valley Deli, on 24th near Sanchez.
Rami says he is respectful of the Bud's tradition. "That corner," he says, "needs some care, which I want to give."
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WANDERLUST: Noe Valley is losing its only full-service travel agency, Value Vacation, which has been headquartered at the corner of Sanchez and 23rd for the past six years. The business was formerly known as Dirt Cheap Travel, founded 26 years ago at 23rd and Vicksburg.
Owner and 26th Street resident Ellen Clark says the corner building was sold at the end of last year. The new owners are planning to do something with the space, and she has to move the business.
But Clark will still be making reservations for us jet-setters. "I am moving the travel agency to the Lakeshore District in Oakland, but I'll still be living here in Noe Valley. I can do a lot from home or meet with my clients in their homes with my laptop," she says.
"I am a vacation destination specialist, so I do high-end travel plans, and currently meet clients not only in Noe Valley but many clients who live in the East Bay," Clark adds. "I work in a virtual world, so I don't need to cross the Bay Bridge that often. However, to maintain IATA ticketing status, I must have a physical office."
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BETHANY NOT TRAVELING: To the relief of many, Bethany United Methodist Church is not going to sell its building on Sanchez at Clipper. Rather, the building will be remodeled. Also, the people in charge will be selling the land at Market and Noe streets, where the church had originally planned to move. Pastor Nobu Hanaoka will be taking a leave and going on sabbatical at the end of June.
EYE ON THE NABE: Noe Valley will be the lucky neighborhood featured on the CBS Channel 5 (KPIX) "Eye on the Bay" show on Friday, May 12, at 7 p.m., with a repeat broadcast on Saturday, May 13, at 9:30 a.m.
Show host Liam Mayclem was out on 24th Street in April, interviewing Voice co-publisher Sally Smith and chatting with many other locals about the charms of our urban village. Mayclem, who has lived in Noe Valley for 12 years, says he's excited about finally getting a chance to spotlight his own neighborhood.
"Noe Valley's my home and sanctuary, and I wanted to show off my favorite places, like Bliss Bar, Savor, Streetlight where I buy my music, and Phoenix where I buy my books. It's also an opportunity for me to put my friends and neighbors on the telly," he laughs.
By the way, Mayclem, 37, is an Irishman with an English accent, "since my parents are Irish and I lived in Northern Ireland--in Omagh, not too far from Belfast--most of my life, but I was born in London."
Sounds like a perfect Noe Valleyan.
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OTHER LOCAL TALENT: On March 24, Noe Valley poet Kim Shuck graced the crowd at Cover to Cover bookstore with readings from Smuggling Cherokee, a book of poems that has already won two awards: the Diane Decorah Award for Poetry and the Native Writers Circle of the Americas First Book Award.
Shuck is the daughter of Rose and Ed Shuck (owners of Noevalley.com) and a graduate in 1969 of the first class of the Noe Valley Nursery School. Kim also went to local schools Alvarado, Everett, Lick-Wilmerding, and San Francisco State, where she became a lecturer in Native American studies. Later, she got a master of fine arts degree in weaving.
"I really enjoyed reading at Cover to Cover," says Kim, "since I remember going to Books Plus [Cover to Cover's predecessor] in the very early 1970s and reading poetry there. I also used to go across the street to the Wooly Mammoth and run my fingers through all the yarn and then walk up to Plate's Bakery for some cookies."
Kim, who lives on Eureka Street, says her favorite poem in the book is "Home Song," but she thinks you all will especially like "The Roots of This." You can pick up a copy at Cover to Cover for $12.95.
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REBIRTH OF BRADLEY: Speaking of the Noe Valley Nursery School, it seems that certain preschool parents are returning to a time-tested childbirth approach.
Lamaze is out and Bradley is in, say Ginger Basharat and Georgia Rue, two moms at the parent co-op nursery school who are (independently) teaching classes in the Bradley Method, the natural childbirth method first popularized in the 1940s by ob-gyn Robert A. Bradley.
What's different about Bradley? "With Lamaze, you distract yourself from the pain through breathing and having a focal point. The breathing is very much in the chest, with different panting patterns," says Bisharat. "We do abdominal breathing in the Bradley Method, which is more relaxing."
Bisharat says the Bradley course, which is 12 sessions long, takes moms-to-be through tips on nutrition, exercise, physiology, and postpartum care. "But another big thing is the importance of the father, husband, or partner acting as the mom's primary labor support, someone she knows and trusts to help her through the whole process."
She says the two instructors will be glad to answer more questions. Call Bisharat at 563-1477 or Rue at 216-3958.
Or you could stop by the nursery school at 1021 Sanchez Street. While you're there, say hi to longtime nursery school director Nina Youkelson. She'll be retiring in June. Bisharat says the parent co-op has settled on a replacement, but they haven't made the person an offer yet, so the moms are keeping quiet about who's going to try to step into Youkelson's storied shoes.
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ANSWERS, PLEASE: As promised, here are the answers to last month's Noe Valley history quiz:
g Rite Aid is located where Surf Super Market once was.
g The town of Shufat in Jordan is the birthplace of Shufat Market's owner, Omar Kamal.
g The East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club began in 1904.
g Claire Pilcher was Friends of Noe Valley's first president.
g Douglass Park was once a stone quarry.
g The End of the Line was a bar, in the spot where La Ciccia is now.
g San Francisco's second steepest hill is 22nd Street between Church and Vicksburg.
g Panos' was a restaurant on the corner of 24th and Noe, where Pasta Pomodoro is now.
g The cable car barn was remodeled into Little Bell Market and then into our Walgreen's (Castro near Jersey). And--my bad--the street south, not north, of Army Street (Cesar Chavez) used to be called Navy Street.
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THOUGH I'VE BEEN BAD, and a little verbose lately, my editors at this paper have put the report on global warming I commissioned from the Noe Valley Bureau of Investigation (NVBI) in my April '06 column online. To read it, go to www .noevalleyvoice.com and type "Hugh R. Fludded" after clicking on Search.