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THE RESTAURANT RUMOR MILL in Downtown Noe Valley has been churning this past month about the sudden closing of City Grill on 24th Street, after less than a five-month run.
You all remember the cafe--it's the one with American food that opened Jan. 18 in Kookez' former spot, a few doors up from Castro Street.
By May, the rumors were already circulating that the Grill was for sale, and by June the talk was that it had been sold. Then in early June, the doors were bolted, the front windows were papered over, and a sign appeared, saying, "Bistro 24." Say what?
"After a few months, it was just too much for me to do," explains City Grill chef/owner Stefano Coppola, who also owns the Italian Lupa Restaurant next door. "Having to do all the shopping and preparation for two kitchens was, to say the least, impossible for me to keep up. What was I thinking back in January?"
Coppola also confirms his former plans to sell.
"Yes, I put it up for sale, but then the word got out that I was selling...and I was approached by Pierre Mange about changing the menu. He had been a sous chef at Chow [in Lafayette] and SPQR, and most recently worked as sous chef right here in Noe Valley at Contigo. He proposed that he take over the kitchen and change the menu to 15 or 20 small plates of American comfort food."
Backing up this story is Chef Mange, who happens to live on 26th Street: "[At Bistro 24] we will have a frequently changing menu made with local organic and sustainable products where possible, which will include around 15 small plates and five entrees."
Mange says the small plate items will include things like "fresh shelled beans with pork ragu, heirloom tomatoes and grilled calamari, grilled oysters, lamb sliders, and entrées like fried chicken, steak, and pork chops."
When will this happen? According to Coppola, Bistro 24 will open for dinner on July 1. He's "so happy things turned around and someone creative could take over all the duties in the kitchen." (Editorial flash: It opened on schedule.)
Oh, and don't worry about Contigo. Owner/chef Brett Emerson has customers out the door almost every night, good reviews, and a 4.5-star rating on Yelp.com. Says co-owner Elan Drucker, "We have a great crew of four line chefs here and a very enthusiastic staff. Actually, we have not hired a new sous chef."
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A LOT ON MY PLATE: The rumors have not panned out that Scott McDonald and Alex Kamprasert will open their Noeteca Café & Wine Bar on the first of July. More likely Noeteca's doors will swing open between July 15 and early August, the two owners say. (Remember it took three years to open Contigo.)
As you Rumors regulars know, McDonald and Kamprasert have been trying to open their Dolores and Valley Street breakfast-brunch-and-dinner cafe since March 2009, when they took over the Last Laugh Coffeehouse.
"We closed in March thinking we would make some minor changes and reopen in mid-April, but we were wrong," says McDonald. "We've had to go to so many city agencies, causing so many delays waiting for permits."
The cafe did win its ABC approval. "But we had more delays getting permits from the City Planning, Health, and Building Inspection departments,...and then we got some great help from Supervisor Bevan Dufty, and are finishing up the permit process, so we can finally install the new counter and paint the interior."
Noeteca will be open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. McDonald promises three square meals a day and 25 kinds of wine to enjoy with your repast.
In other food news, Andiamo Deli, on the corner of Diamond and Elizabeth, is for sale. The price: $45K, which includes the fixtures and and the existing inventory. "It's a turnkey sale," says local realtor Ed Mullins, who is representing deli owners Tom Di Serio and Danny Forchione.
"Twenty-two years is enough," says Di Serio. "We are going to retire to our Diamond Heights home, and then do a lot of traveling."
To readers who are already missing the lasagna and meatball sandwiches, Di Serio promises, "We will give the buyer all of our recipes as part of the deal."
As for the biggest change they've seen in Noe Valley in the last two decades, Di Serio and Forchione agree. "It's definitely the million-dollar homes."
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THE LAST CALA/BELL TOLLS: All you loyal Cala/Bell/Ralphs/Kroger customers who shop at the chain's last remaining supermarket in San Francisco (on the corner of California and Hyde streets) will be happy to learn that the store, which was scheduled to close in December of this year, has won an extension on its lease and will stay open and operating until January 2011.
Rumors are that the store may remain open after that date. Evidently, the neighbors who occupy the many apartments in the area fear that if Cala closes they will have no place to shop within miles, except Whole Foods on California. And the residents have made their fears known to the Board of Supervisors.
Noe Valleons who shop for their nutritional supplements at the 24th Street GNC store will have to find them at another location. GNC's lease expired, and the ubiquitous vitamin seller has closed its store between Sanchez and Noe, which originally opened in 1999.
Another lease that expired and was not renewed was that of the beauty supply store Maddykat (also known as MadKat), which was owned and operated by Isa Muhawieh of Isa's Salon on Castro.
"We lost our lease, and the landlord would not renew, so we had no choice but to close up," says Muhawieh. "We opened up our hair salon with supplies there 25 years ago, and moved the salon over to Castro Street eight years ago."
He says he will reopen Madkat in a new location, which he hopes will be in Noe Valley.
Rumors are out there that the space will become a hair salon, but all work in the former MadKat suddenly stopped at the end of June.
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A POIGNANT YARN: Noe Knit owner Susan Herrick Cornish has unveiled to the Voice the reasons she closed her knitting store (at 3957 24th) this spring:
"There were many reasons for closing, but the bottom line was the economy. It was the hardest thing ever, to decide to close. The day that I sent out the e-mail announcing the closure, there were customers lined up at the door, many in tears," Cornish relates sadly.
"Unfortunately, there are still customers who do not understand the relationship between brick-and-mortar stores and the effect of the Internet market. Customers come in to see and touch the yarn, only to go home and buy on the Internet....
"It is SO important to shop locally," she adds.
Cornish also cites the vacancies in Downtown Noe Valley.
"The closures on the street were hard to absorb--Noe Valley Video, then Streetlight.... The foot traffic on the street had been declining since last October. Bell Market closing was the final blow.
"I called Obama, to see about a bailout, but he was busy with the car companies."
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SHORT SHRIFTS: Good News, the newsstand and magazine shop in that same block of 24th Street, reports that the daily sales of the morning Chronicle have dropped almost 50 percent in the past year. "Our Sunday sales have dropped from 350 newspapers every Sunday to sometimes less than a hundred," says Good Newsman Sam Salameh.
Salameh says his customers tell him they are getting their (Chron) news on the Internet. But they're still dropping by for magazines, not to mention the candy.
Evidently, many of you in Upper Noe Valley have signed up to be on Ingleside Station Capt. David Lazar's almost-daily blog about the police actions that have taken place in that district (which runs south from Cesar Chavez past Glen Park). Vicki Rosen, president of Upper Noe Neighbors, has encouraged members to sign up via e-mail. Capt. Lazar reports that the number of subscribers is increasing steadily and now numbers over 1,100.
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GRIPES OF WRATH: The little kids playing at Noe Courts (corner of 24th and Douglass) have been getting the short shrift. Many moms and dads who take their toddlers to the playground are upset by the Recreation and Park Department's recent less-than-effective solution to the design defect in the Noe Courts new children's playground, which opened last year.
The problem is that parents are finding out their toddlers can (and do) take an 18-inch fall to a flower bed, off a short retaining wall on the southeast end of the playground. The clear solution is to build a fence or barricade along the wall. Rec and Park's solution, however, was to set up a barricade along the wall with caution tape and warning signs.
Friends of Noe Courts president Laura Norman e-mailed the Rec and Park man in charge, Marvin Yee, in early June. He responded that "Rec and Park is looking into installing a barrier/fence along the edge to address parental concerns with kids falling of the edge. In the meantime, the barriers are placed there to keep the kids away from that edge."
Can't Rec and Park finish this little job? It's just a fence.
One other item in the Gripes of Wrath department. Whoever last used the checkers and chess set at the mini-mini-park next to Le Zinc on 24th Street forgot to put the checkers and chess pieces back in the metal box. Please bring the pieces back or you will be stricken with a pox.
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MORE MOVIES TO WATCH: Those taking a Noe Valley "staycation" might want to attend the Wednesday Night Movies being sponsored by Video Wave and Fima Photography, which are across the street from each other on Castro near Jersey. According to VW's Gwen Sanderson, the free weekly event will start Wednesday, July 15, at 6:30 p.m., and continue each Wednesday thereafter until the end of August. "We will be showing, to start off with, family films in the big viewing room at Fima Photography [1414 Castro], and free refreshments will be served," says Sanderson. The program will consist of a short subject and then a feature-length film, and may be followed by a final short.
The titles of the films will be posted in Video Wave's window and on the community bulletin board at the 24th Street mini-park in front of the Saturday Farmers' Market near Vicksburg. Also, various merchants will have posters in their windows, says Sanderson.
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SCHOOL'S OUT FOR SUMMER and there is good news for the students at James Lick Middle School. The Noe Valley Farmers' Market (NVFM) and the new Whole Foods Market in Noe Valley have come up with plans to, according to NVFM co-founder and board member Peter Gabel, create an organic garden in conjunction with a seventh-grade elective science class.
"This project was initiated by Farmers' Market board member Leslie Crawford with my support and, most importantly, the support of James Lick Principal Bita Nazarian. It will be an elective class, which gets seventh graders involved in the building of beds, the planting of healthy food, and the watering and care of the gardens. This will be coordinated with an academic curriculum that teaches students about not only gardening and horticulture, but also plant biology and nutrition," reveals Gabel.
Whole Foods, according to Gabel, has "really leaped in to help, providing expertise" in various aspects of the project, "and offering to do fundraising to support the costs of construction of the garden beds." Whole Foods also agreed to purchase the soil and plants.
The planning group is looking for neighborhood volunteers to assist in this project. If you are an aficionado of this realm and want to put some energy in the right place at the right time, call Leslie Crawford at 282-2472.
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THAT'S ALL, YOU ALL. Before I go, I want to send out best wishes to Supervisor Bevan Dufty's chief of staff Boe Hayward and his bride Sophie Middlebrook, who became Mr. and Mrs. on June 13 in Calistoga, and then honeymooned in Bora Bora.
Bye, kids. Be good until September.