Noe Valley Voice April 1997


Residents Fuming Over Odors from Hahn's Hibachi

By Joe Franklin

Noe Valley residents living within a two-block radius of Hahn's Hibachi, the Korean barbecue at the corner of Castro and 24th streets, have been plugging their noses since the cafe opened just over a year ago. Now after months of complaining about the restaurant's aroma, and not sensing much relief, the neighbors are starting to steam.

They claim the barbecue smoke, emitted from the restaurant's exterior exhaust system, wafts into nearby back yards and through open windows, causing itchy eyes, irritated asthma, shortened tempers, and a general degradation of lifestyle.

"I've lived here for 25 years, and once in a while we get a little whiff of garlic from Little Italy," says Jersey Street resident Lawrence Kulig. "But this stuff from Hahn's is overwhelming."

Hahn's owner David Bass says he has taken steps to curb the exhaust, including increasing the thickness of charcoal filters above the grill from 2 to 8 inches, installing larger and more powerful ventilating fans, and boosting the exhaust system to shoot the smells higher into the air, up over neighboring rooftops. He asks local residents to bear with him until he can correct the problem.

"The last thing I want to do is upset the people around me, because they're my neighbors and generally my customers," said Bass. "I know I wouldn't like [the smoke] in my life, and that's why I'm making these improvements. I'm continuing to work with it the best I can.

"Before we put this system in, the smoke and odors were far, far worse," Bass said. "I've run into a series of maintenance difficulties, but I think that now, with these latest improvements, things are going to work out pretty good."

Lois Eugenio, who has lived at the corner of Jersey and Castro streets for 24 years, says the crusade to quell the Hahn's odors goes beyond just a couple of households -- the entire neighborhood has gotten involved.

"We had a meeting last April where 20 or so people came, including Mr. Bass," she said. "He told us repairs would be expensive, but that he would see to them. Well, nothing has worked, and we've given him over a year, and we want the odor gone. That's all we want."

Eugenio admits that the fumes blow her way a little less often than they used to, but when they do invade her house, the odors are as bad as ever. "If I have any windows open, it comes right in and hangs like a burnt soy sauce smell," she said.

Lorraine Sherrill, who lives two blocks away at the corner of Castro and 26th streets, says that Hahn's smoke has triggered asthma attacks and driven her indoors on many occasions.

"Mr. Bass better quit messing around and go for the big guns," she said. "I've lived here for 67 years now. This is a good neighborhood, and I want it to stay a good neighborhood. As it is, people can't work in their back yards or sit out on their porches. He's out of compliance, he knows he's out of compliance, and he still operates."

Sherrill is referring to the neighbors' contention that Bass is operating Hahn's Hibachi under a fast-food permit while employing a wait staff, which would require him to have a full-service permit.

She and other residents have laid their case before Friends of Noe Valley and the East & West of Castro Improvement Club. They've also asked the Planning Department to investigate. If the city decides Hahn's takeout is indeed a full-service restaurant, Bass might need to apply for a conditional use permit. This would give nearby dwellers an opportunity to voice their concerns in a public forum.

But Bass thinks the permit issue is a smokescreen, being raised just to make matters more difficult for him.

"It's like a Catch-22," he said. "If we didn't have a wait staff, it'd be so congested with people standing at the counter that it would be a safety problem. We've got to sit them down to keep the area inside the restaurant open. Until now, the permits haven't been an issue; the odors are the issue. Most of the people who live near here either one, don't care about the smell, or two, enjoy it."

Lawrence Kulig finds that hard to believe. He started a petition to have the smells snuffed, and gathered 30 signatures from his Jersey Street neighbors within just a few days.

"We have nothing against Mr. Bass, the food, or the employees. Rene [the chef], who's been working with us, has been an absolute charm," he said. "However, the pungent odors are Mr. Bass' responsibility. When you open a restaurant, you've got to have the wherewithal to take care of these kinds of things."

Kulig said the neighbors' next move might be to write the city attorney and ask whether the restaurant could be cited for violation of Section 790.90(3) of the health code. It states, "Noise and odors shall be contained within the premises so as not to be a nuisance to nearby residents or neighbors."

"If you eat at Hahn's, you want to smell it, but we live here and we can't make that decision," said Kulig.

"I don't think Mr. Bass knows how serious this is with the community. People want to enjoy the privacy of their home, and now they can't do it."