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The international news agency Reuters rocked Noe Valley's chocolate world this summer when it reported July 21 that "Dubai's Al Nassma, the world's first brand of chocolate made with camel's milk, is in talks to expand into new Arab markets, Europe, Japan, and the United States. Al Nassma is also in talks with British department store Harrods and San Francisco's Chocolate Covered to sell its products."
Jack Epstein, owner of Chocolate Covered at 24th and Castro, says, "I was quite surprised by the news, since while we were 'in talks' at the time, I had frankly not yet decided if I would carry their brand, and I was leaning towards 'no.'
"However, when I saw that I was next to Harrods in the story, I decided that I should go with it, and placed an order for shipment of five different flavors. They are flown in directly from Dubai to San Francisco and then delivered to my store," he says.
The 70-gram bar costs a mere 12 dollars and comes in plain milk chocolate, spicy chocolate ("Arabia"), one with dates, another with macadamia nuts, and a dark (70 percent) chocolate.
Epstein says that it was not long before he was getting calls from all over the United States, from those who wanted to place orders. "I am almost sold out of the first shipment, but expect another shipment to arrive very soon."
The chocolate bars are being touted by Al Nassma, according to Reuters, as containing "five times more Vitamin C than cow's milk" candy bars. The company also claims the camel's milk is "less fat, less lactose, and more insulin, making it a good option for diabetics and those who are lactose intolerant."
According to Epstein, Al Nassma has a 3,000-camel farm where the milk is gathered, then it is processed into powder and shipped to Vienna, where it is mixed with honey, spices, and nuts, then shipped back to Dubai. "The transportation costs alone," says Epstein, "are between two and three dollars a bar."
According to the Reuters report, Al Nassma, founded last year, is owned by Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
Sounds like the sheikh and his people did their worldwide demographics to determine demand for their chocolate products, and decided to start with London's Knightsbridge neighborhood and in the U.S., Noe Valley.
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CIRCLING OF THE GREEN: The distinctive demographics of Noe Valley have led Circle Bank--a small Marin bank headquartered in Novato, with branches in San Rafael, Santa Rosa, and Petaluma --to vie to open its fifth branch in Noe Valley. Circle Bank, privately owned, is one of the very few banks that make loans on tenancy-in-common ownership properties (TICs), of which there are many in San Francisco. Circle also specializes in small business loans.
"We have a strong client base in San Francisco," says Erick Kostuchek, vice president and branch administrator, "and particularly in Noe Valley."
According to Kostuchek, the bank hopes to lease space in two of the vacant storefronts near Whole Foods Market. One is Noe Valley Video's old spot, and the other is the space just vacated by Aveda (see next page). The bank is currently going through the federal, state, and local red tape (including obtaining a conditional use permit from City Planning). Kostuchek could give no estimate of when the bank would be good to go.
By the way, Kostuchek is no stranger to the neighborhood. "I spent a lot of time visiting my grandmother on Fair Oaks and on 24th Street during the late '70s and early '80s."
Neighborhood demographics also played a role in the decision of Bettina Limaco and her husband Marco Pietschmann to take over the space once occupied by Ritz Camera (3980 24th near Noe). The couple will open Green 11, featuring bulk sales of organic bath and cleaning products.
"We currently have a very small space on Union Street and wanted to open a second store," says Limaco, "and Noe Valley has the perfect demographics and store space for retailing our products." Their inventory includes shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lotion, soap bars, liquid soap, kitchen cleaners, bath cleaners, and soaps for laundry and pets.
Green 11 customers will be able to bring in their own containers to fill and refill. "These are high-quality organic products which the customer will find more affordable, and be able to control the quantity of what they purchase," Limaco says. Green 11 will also supply empty starter containers.
Limaco says the store will have a "soft opening" sometime in mid-September.
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BETWEEN A DEEP AND A SOFT PLACE: A soft opening on Aug. 26 is the way brothers Mark and Mel Mendaros chose to introduce the neighborhood to Deep Restaurant, which now occupies the space on Church near Day, formerly known as Deep Sushi.
The Mendaros, according to Mark, are introducing "a modern Izakaya menu," which in Japan features sushi and other small dishes that are served to complement the beers and saki. "We have hired Thomas Weibull, who was chef at Plouf [the seafood bistro in the Financial District], and put together a fabulous menu with a variety dishes," priced at $5 to $12.
Mark is excited about opening Deep in his neighborhood--he, his wife, and child live on Diamond Street and are encouraged by the favorable response the restaurant has already had from local residents.
To update the updates, Scott McDonald reports that Noeteca Café and Wine Bar on Dolores Street will have its own "soft opening" on Sept. 9. As you Rumors readers know, Noeteca tried to open in March but was delayed by a seemingly endless permit process. McDonald says the "final-final" is expected during the first week of September and then the doors will softly open.
And finally, after 10 months of promoting itself at 24th and Sanchez, soft-serve frozen yogurt made a "hard opening" Aug. 8 at Belgano, which appears also to have changed its name to Noe Tuttimelon. The yogurt's arrival was announced by banners and flyers, and included free samples for the first 500 who showed up, besides prizes and a raffle. The shop will still sell gelato, cupcakes, and Leonidas chocolates, but the main attraction now seems to be the "fro-yo."
Two flavors of yogurt are swirling out of the machines: "original tart" ($2.50 for a small) and blueberry, which is a tad sweeter, the server says. For 99 cents more, you can add toppings, like mandarin oranges, chocolate chips, kiwis, raspberries, gummy bears, granola, M&Ms, Captain Crunch, and Fruity Pebbles. According to Tuttimelon's website, "Our yogurt contains probiotic, and the live and active culture count exceeds eight times the National Yogurt Association's requirement."
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THE CHANGING OF THE GARDENERS: Glen Potter and his partner Steve Bacik, longtime owners of the floratorium Accent on Flowers at 24th and Castro, have sold the business to Yuliya Labunsky, who also owns Flowers of the Valley across the street.
"I'm 79 years old, and it is time for me to retire," says Potter. Potter and Bacik, who live in Noe Valley on 26th Street, took over Accent in 1973. "I was a banker and Steve had always been a florist, and at one time we also had shops on Mission and then Nob Hill." Bacik is still working in the shop and Potter is still doing the deliveries.
According to Labunsky, Accent on Flowers will now carry "more garden stuff, like potted plants, garden tools, soil, pots, and plant food, in addition to the fresh-cut flowers and our FTD and Teleflora services."
Labunsky took over Flowers of the Valley last year (after it had been opened seven years ago by Andrei and Natasha Tchesnokova). She first arrived in San Francisco in 1998 from Odessa in Ukraine, where she worked with her family on "a small, 15-hectare rose farm."
In other gardening news, it looks like the Church Street vintage jewelry and furniture store When Modern Was has rented out the garage portion of its space and the back yard to Susan Prentice. On or around Sept. 21, Prentice will open a full-service plant nursery called Independent Nature. She'll be selling potted plants, trees, decorative pots, garden accessories, and edibles grown in the back yard, where she'll also teach organic gardening. Prentice currently teaches at Fort Mason and is a beekeeper, and yes, she will be selling honey from her bees in season. She, WMW, and neighboring stores at Church and 27th will have a sidewalk sale Oct. 3.
Many of you will remember that the WMW garage, which is next to Eric's Restaurant, is the same spot that housed the popular Mia's Flowers from '91 to '05.
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THE BIRDS AND THE BARKS: The changing of the guard at Accent on Flowers has created somewhat of a dilemma for Potter, Bacik, and Labunsky. It seems that Sidney Bird, the store pet for the past 20 years, does not want to leave. Potter says his African Grey Parrot is "not too happy at home and wants to go to the store, so we have left Sidney there."
Sidney has made many friends who have patronized Accent over the years, and he/she ("We don't know if Sidney is a boy or a girl," says Bacik) is quite talkative and able to express what is on her/his mind. "Sidney becomes very quiet when at home, which is not normal, and quite happy at the shop," says Potter, "so we will just have to wait and see what happens."
Just for Fun at 24th and Noe has two new store pets: Clipsie Anne and Tarkheena Tarva, two female Shetland Sheepdog puppies (shelties) who are now 12 weeks old. They join existing greeters Rabadash, Tommy, and Roscoe. You all might remember that Just for Fun was one of the first stores in Downtown Noe Valley to have a "store pet." For over 10 years, the dog behind the counter was a sheltie named Digory. Digory passed away last fall.
"The puppies are having the greatest time greeting all of our customers," says Just for Fun co-owner David Eiland.
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MANI FORTUNES: Noe Valley Day Glow Spa is the newest entry in the neighborhood's gaggle of nail salons, which seem to outnumber the existing corner grocery stores.
The Day Glow Spa is opening (or already has by the time you read this) at 4023 24th Street, in the space formerly occupied by the Wells Fargo minibank.
Services at the spa, says owner Gwen Holcrost, will include manicures and pedicures, waxing, makeup, spray-tanning, and facials. Holcrost moved (back) to San Francisco this spring from Drogheda, Ireland (a suburb of Dublin), where she operates another day spa called the Red Door.
"It is a long commute," she says, "but I have a very good crew of managers there, so I can split my time between San Francisco and Ireland."
Holcrost used to live in San Francisco in the early 1990s, but moved back to Ireland to start her day spa business. "It became very popular," she says. "But I was missing San Francisco, so I moved back here last April. I really like this neighborhood, which gives me very good feelings, especially from all the people who have popped their head into the new shop to ask what is coming in and to wish me well."
While there is much competition among neighborhood nail salons, it appears that the first fortune teller in more than 10 years has opened a shop in Downtown Noe Valley, at 4010 24th Street. Which, to all of you economic prognosticators, could mean that someone who can tell the future has confidence in the fortunes of our commercial strip.
The fortune-telling Nina--she only goes by one name--says she moved here, with her sister Marie, from Fisherman's Wharf, "because this is such a beautiful neighborhood and it is so peaceful." The sisters opened their doors at the end of August and say they have "a few walk-ins every day." Services offered include "palm, tarot card, aura, psychic, and energy balance readings of the past, present, and future." The business hours are from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. ,and most of the readings will cost $65, but you can get your palm read for 20 bucks. Good luck!
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IN OTHER STORED-UP NEWS: Rumors were circulating last month that a veterinarian had his eye on the closed Streetlight Records space. Owner Robert Fallon's real estate agent, Mark Kaplan of Rockwell Properties, would neither confirm nor deny any such rumor.
"The owner, however, has pulled the commercial store off the rental market, and has decided to sell the building," said Kaplan in late August. The asking price is a cool $2.2 million, and Kaplan says he is currently negotiating a sale, but refused to comment on who that potential buyer might be.
As for the fate of the storefront recently vacated by Phoenix Books on the corner of 24th and Vicksburg , according to Realtor Sue Bowie, the building is currently on the market for sale, although she refused to say for how much. However, Bowie did say that she is willing to enter into a commercial lease for the store "if a tenant is interested." Rent? "That is negotiable," said the tight-lipped Bowie. She said any interested tenant should call her for details: 415-642-4000.
As mentioned previously, the Noe Valley Aveda outlet was set to close at the end of August. Nobody at the store wanted to talk about it. Said the store manager (who refused to identify herself), "I don't really want to talk about it, but we are all very sad the store is closing." That space might become half a Circle Bank.
It looks like there are no takers for Andiamo Deli (corner of Diamond and Elizabeth ) and the "For Sale" sign has been changed to "For Rent."
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NOTED NOE VALLEYANS: San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain has appeared in Noe Valley larger than life on the billboard at the corner of Jersey and Castro. He also has been frequently seen in normal size, shopping on 24th Street or walking his dog in Upper Noe Valley.
The San Francisco Chronicle ran a feature by Meredith May on July 26 about Cain and his move to Noe Valley with his fiancée, Chelsea Williams.
May reported that Cain and Williams "chose Noe Valley,...because it was a neighborhood of young people and kids with a small-town feel, and there's a dog park within walking distance where they can take his lab, Cali, and her cocker spaniel, Tater."
Cain told May, "It's simple here--we'll go to 24th Street and people will stop me and say hi, but they aren't in your face about it."
Our attempts to reach Cain were unsuccessful, and it appears we will have to wait to interview the hometown boy until after the team wins the World Series.
Kudos go out to Noe Valleyan and former Friends of Noe Valley president Jeannene Przyblyski, who has just been appointed Dean of Academic Affairs at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she has been a tenured faculty member for many years. She has taught in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and chairs the program at SFAI in History and Theory of Contemporary Art.
"I hope Noe Valleyans will take advantage of the many free programs at SFAI, and attend one of the many exhibitions we have at the school," she says.
Przyblyski has been in the local press this summer regarding her resignation from the San Francisco Arts Commission. She was appointed in 2004, and served on the 15-member commission's Executive Committee, besides chairing both the Civic Design Review and the Visual Arts Committee.
Evidently, several members of the commission, including Przyblyski, were upset over new rules proposed by Supervisor Chris Daly that would require commissioners, who work as volunteers, to provide financial statements on all sources of income. "If I would have known that the financial reporting requirement was going to become equivalent to that of an elected official, I would have been working instead to run for supervisor," she says.
Oh, and no she is not running for supervisor. "I have a lot to do at SFAI," laughs Przyblyski.
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THAT'S ALL, YOU ALL. Before I go, congratulations to the many Noe Valley businesses that made this year's San Francisco Bay Guardian "Best of the Bay": Ambiance, the Ark, Lovejoy's, Cooks Boulevard, Drewes Brothers Meats, Just Awesome, Natural Resources, Peekabootique, Rabat, and Shoe Biz (and Noe Valley icon Ruth Asawa was named Best Artist).
Remember, think global but shop local. Ciao for now.