One of our oldest shop-fronts has just gone up for sale, which seemed a good occasion to look into its history. It may have been the first proper restaurant in the neighborhood. John Kaiser, a German immigrant, had it built in 1892, making it one of the earliest buildings on the block. After a life working on the cable cars on Nob Hill, he came to Sunnyside with his wife and grown kids at the age of sixty, to run his own restaurant.
First on the Block
There is a clear record of the contract for construction of the building in the newspaper; the cost was $1,085.
In these early days, there were very few other buildings on the block. The map below is from 13 years later, showing how bare it still was.
There was one single big employer in the neighborhood at the time, the Sunnyside Powerhouse, where the electricity for the streetcar system was generated (more in a future post, or read about it here.) Those workers needed places to eat and drink at midday, even if restaurant trade from local residents cannot have amounted to much, there being so few houses then.
Later on the neighborhood began to fill out. Here is a photo from 1909, when they are laying the streetcar tracks on Sunnyside Avenue. Number 211 is highlighted.
The powerhouse smokestack is just visible to the right, and the ‘witch’s hat’ tower on the front of the plant can be seen in center, still standing though unused by then. Perhaps the man standing beside the building at 211 is Mr Kaiser himself. There is an awning on the front, suggesting it is still a commercial business.
A Few Lunch Joints
In 1893 one of the real estate companies who were dealing in lots in Sunnyside talked up the area in the newspaper, saying there were three restaurants. (That shoe factory didn’t last long–more in a future post.)
Two eating places are likely to have been the saloons at 22 Circular (now 22 Monterey) and 101 Baden (building gone), which, like most saloons of the day, had lunch counters of some sort. I think this establishment at 211 Sunnyside Ave, which was listed in the directory by 1895 under restaurants, was the third lunch-spot.
From Cable Car Man to Restaurateur
Who was the proprietor? John Kaiser came to California from Germany, in 1858 as a young man. The directory record is spotty, but he seems to have worked in the Sierras for a while, then come to San Francisco. He worked as a dummyman and a gripman on the Clay Street railroad, one of the many cable streetcar companies of late-nineteenth-century SF. Opening the restaurant may have been his retirement plan.
But the unexpected happened: the Powerhouse stopped running about 1902, after which there may not have been enough trade to sustain a restaurant business there. There is no listing for the building as a business for a while. However, it was doing service as a neighborhood meeting place for the Sunnyside Improvement Club–at least as of 1909, as seen in this thank-you for one of the real estate companies operating in Sunnyside then.
From Flour and Eggs to Haviland China to Big Hair
The Kaiser family lived there until selling it in the 1920s. Then it did service as a grocery, from about 1924 to 1968. First a Syrian couple, the Kayrallahs, had a go; then an Italian couple, the Martinellis. It was called “Monterey Grocery” for many decades, and owned by another Italian couple, the Segales, who lived on Hearst in lot that adjoins behind.
Then from 1969 to 1979, it became “Antiques Unlimited,” whose owner posted classified ads in the Chronicle to boost business. One sounded like the firm was going under (“Leaving Country”), but as the ads continued through the following years, this seemed to have been merely a ploy.
After antiques the place became a beauty salon called “Super Hair.” How very 1981. I’ll leave the story there.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a destination restaurant in Sunnyside? Parking issues aside, perhaps someone will see the potential, and start something exciting in this spot, one of the neighborhood’s oldest buildings.