Col­lat­eral dam­age of a tu­mul­tuous sea­son

Restau­rants near Or­a­cle Park im­pacted by Gi­ants’ strug­gles

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Justin Phillips

The groan and smat­ter­ing of po­lite ap­plause fol­low­ing a fifth-in­ning At­lanta Braves home run Thurs­day af­ter­noon was audi­ble at Momo’s restau­rant across the street from Or­a­cle Park. De­spite idyl­lic, pre-sum­mer San Fran­cisco weather, food and drink spots along King Street, the nor­mally bustling strip in front of the sta­dium, were quiet.

“God, I hope this doesn’t go ex­tra in­nings,” said a cus­tomer, one of only a few seated on Momo’s pa­tio.

Eight in­nings later, the Gi­ants lost 5-4, mark­ing the team’s third de­feat in four games. Peo­ple had al­ready left the sta­dium in droves be­tween the fourth and sev­enth in­nings, few stop­ping to dine at Momo’s or other nearby es­tab­lish­ments.

For restau­rants and bars

“Nat­u­rally you want the (Gi­ants) to do well, but when they don’t, you can feel it al­most im­me­di­ately as a busi­ness owner.” Deanna Si­son, owner of two restau­rants within a half-mile of Or­a­cle Park

around Or­a­cle Park, as much as some of the op­er­a­tors want to view the Gi­ants (21-28) as the lov­able lo­cal out­fit strug­gling to re­dis­cover its win­ning ways, the truth is the team has be­come a hin­drance to busi­ness. Mul­ti­ple los­ing sea­sons have sent ticket sales plum­met­ing, mean­ing fewer peo­ple are com­ing to the neigh­bor­hood to eat and drink.

“If I’m be­ing hon­est, when the Gi­ants are los­ing like they are now, busi­ness for me goes down by about 30 per­cent,” said Deanna Si­son, owner of two restau­rants within a halfmile of Or­a­cle Park — Lit­tle Skil­let and Mes­tiza. “Nat­u­rally you want the team to do well, but when they don’t, you can feel it al­most im­me­di­ately as a busi­ness owner.”

De­spite win­ning three World Se­ries be­tween 2010 and 2014, the Gi­ants’ dy­nas­tic run seems like a dis­tant mem­ory for lo­cal fans. Dur­ing a 10-game stretch to start the cur­rent sea­son, the Gi­ants av­er­aged 32,165 paid fans, which was around 20% be­low the av­er­age for the 2018 sea­son. The change of for­tune for the fran­chise is more ap­par­ent when con­sid­er­ing how be­tween 2010 to 2017, the team sold out 530 con­sec­u­tive games. As a byprod­uct, restau­rants were thriv­ing.

Pub­lic House and Mi­jita, a spa­cious gas­tropub and a Mex­i­can restau­rant, opened next to Or­a­cle Park in 2010, the same year the Gi­ants won a World Se­ries. Pub­lic House re­mains open, while Mi­jita re­lo­cated in 2015. Also in 2010, an am­bi­tious restau­rant and bistro called Iron­side opened on Sec­ond Street.

Things seemed to take a turn dur­ing the team’s down years — 2011, 2013 and every year after 2014. Iron­side closed in 2015 when the Gi­ants won barely more than half their games. Meri­gan Sub Shop opened on Sec­ond Street in 2013 and closed in 2016, just one sea­son be­fore the fran­chise took an even more dra­matic down­ward turn and won only 40% of its games.

One of the more no­table restau­rant spa­ces near the ball­park once be­longed to Paragon, a spa­cious restau­rant and bar that orig­i­nally opened in 2000. The busi­ness’s 20year run in the neigh­bor­hood ended in 2017 dur­ing an­other dis­ap­point­ing Gi­ants sea­son.

Though the clo­sures co­in­cided with tough years for the Gi­ants, the only re­cent busi­ness to pub­licly at­tribute its shut­down to the team’s lack of suc­cess was a Ma­rina sports bar called the Brick Yard. It opened in 2010 on Union Street and closed ear­lier this month.

Peter Os­borne, owner of three busi­nesses — Momo’s, Pete’s Tav­ern and Pe­dro’s Cantina — near Or­a­cle park, said the de­crease in rev­enue dur­ing the team’s down years is to be ex­pected. He said his own ven­tures have taken a hit like oth­ers in the area, but he isn’t sure of the ex­act num­bers.

“I hate to over­sim­plify it, but it sort of is what it is,” he said. “You can ad­just by mak­ing sure you have good man­age­ment. Hon­estly, the only thing you con­trol is the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence.”

While the Gi­ants’ loss to the Braves was un­fold­ing on Thurs­day, 66-year-old South San Fran­cisco na­tive Dave Jef­fers de­cided to leave the ball­park early. He said he tries to come to at least seven or eight games each year, but after a while, this game just didn’t seem wor­thy of his time. He was even skip­ping out on what he said was an old tra­di­tion: eat­ing be­fore or after the game at nearby Amici's East Coast Pizze­ria.

“I re­mem­ber a long time ago think­ing that I would die be­fore I ever saw them with a World Se­ries,” Jef­fers said, adding that the cel­e­bra­tory at­mos­phere used to make peo­ple want to be in the neigh­bor­hood dur­ing win­ning sea­sons. “It’s dif­fer­ent these days.”

Jef­fers wasn’t alone in his be­hav­ior. On the walk up Sec­ond Street, some flee­ing the sta­dium passed Lord Ge­orge, a fa­mil­iar wa­ter­ing hole for Gi­ants fans over the years.

Ezra Ber­man is one of the bar’s op­er­a­tors. He said the crowds are smaller on game days this sea­son but it “hasn’t had too much of an im­pact yet, luck­ily” on his busi­ness.

“When the Gi­ants are good, peo­ple want to spend all nine in­nings at the park,” he said. “Then they leave and eat and drink around the neigh­bor­hood. It’s not re­ally hap­pen­ing when the team is play­ing like it is now.”

An­other con­tribut­ing fac­tor to the drop in busi­ness for restau­rants and bars near the ball­park may be Or­a­cle Park’s pro­gres­sive din­ing op­tions.

In 2014, the team opened an edi­ble gar­den through a part­ner­ship with Bon Ap­petit Man­age­ment Co., the park's food ser­vice com­pany, which was one of the first of its kind in base­ball. Din­ing of­fer­ings at the park re­main trendy with new ad­di­tions each sea­son, like this year with burg­ers from Im­pos­si­ble Foods and an out­post of the chicken sand­wich shop Or­ganic Coup.

Since neigh­bor­ing busi­nesses can no longer rely solely on base­ball crowds, some own­ers are shift­ing their fo­cus to peo­ple who live in the area. A clear ex­am­ple of this could be found at the Brixton, a new bar and restau­rant in the for­mer Paragon restau­rant space, on Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

At one point dur­ing the early in­nings of the game, the din­ing room and bar area was filled with around 200 cus­tomers, ac­cord­ing to staff mem­bers. Only a hand­ful of peo­ple in the crowd at the time were wear­ing Gi­ants gear.

“Look, the city is just in flux. One minute you know ev­ery­one in the neigh­bor­hood, and the next, they moved out to the out­ly­ing cities be­cause San Fran­cisco is too ex­pen­sive,” said Hugo Gam­boa, a co-founder of the Brixton. “There’s a lot of peo­ple who just moved into this area less than a year ago from New York or some­where else. They care about base­ball but they also just want a great place to go eat. So in the lean years, who is im­por­tant? The res­i­dents.”

Ul­ti­mately, all busi­nesses can do is con­tinue rid­ing the team’s waves of suc­cess when­ever they may come, while also navigating the down years, said Lord Ge­orge’s Ber­man. Out­side of his bar there’s a man­nequin wear­ing a Gi­ants jersey.

“At the end of the day, peo­ple drink when they’re happy and peo­ple drink when they’re sad,” he said. “It’s still fun to go to the games. I was at one the other day. And it’s still thou­sands of peo­ple who come to watch them play.”

Pho­tos by Jana Asen­bren­nerova / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

The Brixton is one of sev­eral restau­rants near Or­a­cle Park shift­ing its fo­cus from base­ball fans to lo­cal res­i­dents.

Char­lotte naps while her mother, Jayne Carini, eats with fam­ily at the Brixton be­fore head­ing to a Gi­ants game.

Pho­tos by Jana Asen­bren­nerova / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Above: Mar­i­anne Carini (left) and Jayne Carini grab lunch at the Brixton restau­rant with fam­ily mem­bers be­fore at­tend­ing a Gi­ants game. Left: Banks White works with his team at the Brixton.

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