Noe Valley Voice March 2001

Rumors Behind the News

By Mazook

BIG NEWS in the neighborhood is the imminent closing of Speckmann's German Deli, Bierstube, and Restaurant, which has been a very popular eatery on the corner of Church and Duncan streets for four decades, since 1962.

The last supper will be served by owners Ebby and Peter Ullmann on April 27, 2001. The next day, the Ullmanns have vowed they will retire.

But neighborhood patrons are still in a schnitzel about their plans to call it quits. Peter and Ebby started telling their regular customers last October. "We told them that we were just plain tired and getting too old to work 12 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week," says Ebby, who will be turning 68.

She notes that they originally planned to close Dec. 31, 2000, and had put the building and business up for sale with a price tag of $1.5 million.

"Our customers got mad and told us that we couldn't close," Ebby says. "Some said, 'How can you do that to us?' Others were so sad. One family told me that they had come here for 30 years, and another customer even started crying in the deli when I told her the news. 'Where am I going to get my bread?' she cried. And so I started to feel sorry and guilty."

The pressure from customers, coupled with a weakening real estate market, was strong enough to convince Ebby and Peter to postpone their retirement for a few months. They also closed the restaurant on Mondays and Tuesdays.

But alas, "no more," Ebby pleads, "or I'll end up crawling around the restaurant in my old age.... I need a rest."

She says a lot of prospective buyers have looked at the place, including "people who wanted to put in Chinese food, Greek food, Mrs. Field's Cookies, and even Starbucks."

But still no sale. Ebby says she's dropped the price down to $1.2 million and although she is considering some offers, the place is still on the market.

Many neighbors are hoping that a German restaurateur will take over the business and keep the tradition alive. Ebby and Peter say they will happily stay on for a while and teach the buyers the business and provide the recipes that have kept 'em coming back for more.

For you history buffs, Hans Speckmann came to Noe Valley from Germany circa 1961. A year later, he opened a German specialty store at its present location.

Back then, the blocks around Speckmann's were filled with German and Irish families. (Oh, how the demographics have changed.) Soon Hans was serving Kalte Platten dishes (cold cuts) in the back room of the shop. In 1965, Hans built a kitchen and started serving hot food.

According to Ebby, "Hans Speckmann sold the place to Mr. and Mrs. Weaber in 1969, and we took over in 1974."

I know that hope springs eternal, and many of you can't believe Speckmann's will really close, but you better bet that the last loaf of Bavarian bread will be sold soon after 10 a.m. at the deli and the final wiener schnitzel (the most popular dish) will be served in the restaurant shortly before 10 p.m. on April 27, so make your reservations to essen soon.

Ebby wants all the deli regulars to know that Drewes Market is going to start carrying the Saag Company sausages, and she is sure that one or more of the local markets will carry loaves from the Bavarian Bread Company. Also, many German specialty items might still be found across the street at Lehr's. Maybe Mr. Lehr can put a cooler in the back and open up a counter out front, and start doing what Hans Speckmann did back in '62.

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HAIR TODAY... After many moons on the market, the building at the corner of Church and 25th streets, where J&S Barber Shop is now, has been sold (at a price of $576,000, reportedly). Naturally, the longtime tenants, some of whom are elderly, are concerned about what's in store for them. The barbershop has been on the corner for about the same 40 years as Speckmann's, for the last 12 years as J&S.

Rumors are running rampant that the new buyers want to open a Chinese restaurant on the premises. How can this be possible? The minuscule barbershop space would be appropriate for dim sum platters maybe, or carry-out only.

Anyway, haircutter Stephanie Holstein, the "S" in J&S, says the barbers have no plans to leave, and what's more, they have a few years left on their lease.

Her dad, Mike Skoufas, who also has a barber chair at J&S and has been trimming the locks of Noe Valley since 1953, is taking things in stride. "We'll just have to see what happens," says Mike calmly.

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STAY...JUST A LITTLE BIT LONGER: Paper Plus, which sells discounted cards, wrapping paper, ribbons, and party doodads on Castro Street (next to Walgreen's), will remain open for a while yet, on a month-to-month basis.

Apparently, enough folks threw the "you can't go" tantrums to persuade Paper Plus to delay its planned Feb. 28 closing. But according to Paper Plus manager Penny Brill, this is just a postponement of the inevitable. "We will be staying here for a while, but eventually we will be moving back to our Berkeley store." Penny thinks that there is a possibility that someone might come along and operate the store and sell the same merchandise. Good luck with that idea.

It looks as if Star Bakery will be around to celebrate their 112th, and probably last, Saint Patrick's Day.

There were reports late last year that Star's building was sold and the new owners planned to restore it to its 1888 charm. That left Star on a month-to-month basis.

The bakery, on the corner of Church and 29th since 1889, is famous for its Irish soda bread. Loaves will be available on St. Pat's again this year, although now they are baked elsewhere and trucked in.

But pretty reliable sources say that by summertime, the livin' won't be easy, the fish won't be jumpin', and the bismarks and crullers will be gone. Star will probably close in June.

That will leave only two stores on the block dating from 1888­89, Drewes Meat Market (now called the Drewes Brothers) and Stellings Market. Or maybe I should say one and a half stores. Stellings used to be on the corner, but it moved into Drewes' space several years ago, and the corner store became a Thai restaurant (and a good one, at that).

And in further Church Street ch-ch-changes, after 27 years Larry Johnson will close down his little store on Church near Day called Antiques and Things, which specialized in antique toys.

"Most of our business is in New York and Los Angeles, and we receive no support locally." Larry says he will continue the business by selling at antique and collectibles shows around the country.

The space has already been leased--as an office.

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HE FINALLY DUNIT: This blood-curdling news just in via e-mail from Bruce Taylor, owner of the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, at 24th and Diamond: "I have sold the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore. After 25 years, it is time -- to paraphrase JFK--to pass the torch to a new generation. The new owner is a woman named Diane Kudisch.... The store will remain the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, and while its focus may shift slightly to reflect Diane's tastes and preferences, no big changes are forthcoming. It will still be the best place to find mysteries--both in and out of print--on the planet."

Bruce went on to announce that his last day would be April 1 (oh sure, Sherlock--April Fool's Day) and that he would be hosting a party at the store from noon to 5 p.m., featuring free food and drink. "I am also going to do something I have steadfastly avoided for 25 years," he added mysteriously. "We are going to have a sale. All secondhand books in the store will be 1/2 the marked price for one day only. Hope to see you there. It has been a wonderful ride and a wonderful run, and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything--but I'm off to Italy to test out this retirement thing. If it doesn't work out..." Wait a minute, I think I remember reading that one....

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CASTRO/NOE VALLEY NATIVE Noe Venable has been nominated by the California Music Awards (formerly the Bay Area Music Awards, aka the Bammies) for this year's "Outstanding Female Vocalist." The awards will be given out April 28 at Oakland's Henry Kaiser Center (tickets: 925-934-3700).

Venable, now 24, grew up on Diamond Street, in "Diamond Depths," as her family calls it. Around the time of her birth, Noe's parents thought they'd be forced to leave California soon. They decided to name their daughter after the neighborhood they loved, so she'd always have a strong connection to her birthplace. It turned out they never left. And Noe is reminded of her roots every day.

Her acoustic group, the Noe Venable Trio, played an incredible concert in last year's Noe Valley Music Series. In the trio, Noe plays guitar and sings all-original songs, some with very arresting lyrics. Her other two-thirds are violinist Alan Lin and bass player Todd Sickafoose, well-known musicians in their own right. Noe also performs with her "louder [rock] band," the Ruiners.

She responded to the Voice e-congratulations and the question How does it feel to be nominated for a Bammie? with the e-reply: "Like a guppy. Like a very small guppy who got plunked into a pond of shimmering rainbow trout. I feel honored."

Noe continued, "I always want to be classified as 'human' before 'woman,' so when I first heard about the nomination, I harbored a secret little hope that it wouldn't be in a woman-specific category. But when I saw the list of the other nominees...I felt honored. Victoria Williams, Tracy Chapman, Aimee Mann, and Noelle Hampton are four women who I consider to have immense depth and integrity, and it's an honor to be mentioned in the same breath."

Her latest album with the trio is Down Easy. It's e-vailable at, if not at your local record store (Streetlight).

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THE NOE VALLEY MUSIC SERIES was one of the venues for last month's San Francisco Bluegrass & Old-Time Festival. The concerts were a total smash and sell-out, with people perching wherever they could to see headliners Peter Rowan, the Kathy Kallick Band, and a reunion of the Any Old Time String Band.

For those of you who didn't attend (I couldn't get a dagblammed ticket), eyewitness reports were that there were tons of young people as well as many of us old hippies in head-bobbing rapture. Looks like another folk revival to me.

It is also noteworthy that this month marks the Noe Valley Music Series' 20th anniversary of bringing great music to our valley. Director Larry Kassin should get some kind of award for putting this series together, year in and year out.

There will be a special anniversary celebration on March 10, with the Manring/ Kassin/Darter trio performing their brand of avant-classical jazz. Another hot ticket is the March 24 gig of rock and roll hall-of-famer Ray Manzarek, with Beat poet Michael McClure. If you're not an old hippie, you might not know that keyboardist Manzarek started the Doors along with Jim Morrison. Better get tickets for both those concerts right now.

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LIKE THE NOE VALLEY MUSIC Series, Mazook is celebrating his 20th year of writing Rumors. It was March of 1981 that I started this rumor-mongering thing. Back then, I was reporting that Herb's Fine Foods had inaugurated a suggestion box, the "Sounds of Noe Valley" were being featured on Radio Station KYUU, Cameo Coffee (where Savor is now) had extended its hours, and the James Company was making stuffed animals on Church Street. I also revealed that the Acme Cafe had just reopened after a remodel and the price of hamburgers had gone up 65 cents, from $1.85 to $2.50.

I guess nothing changes except the prices...and everything else. The Noe Valley Voice, however, is still free. So that's all, you all. And, by the way, what are the sounds of Noe Valley?