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Planned beer garden in San Francisco’s Bayview lacks permits, lease

Binta Ayofemi stands for a portrait in front of a yucca tree in San Francisco on Monday. | Jeremy Chen/The Standard

Editor’s Note: Information that emerged after this story’s initial publication revealed that Binta Ayofemi’s plans for a Bayview beer garden, supposedly set to open in August, had not progressed beyond the conceptual stage. The article has been corrected and updated to reflect key facts, including: Ayofemi did buy Sam Jordan’s Bar in 2021, but she no longer owns the property; Ayofemi neither owns nor leases the space where she claimed she would open the beer garden; and she lacks the requisite active alcohol and food permits to legally open such a business.

It all started with a yucca tree. Artist, landscaper and chef Binta Ayofemi encountered the colossal knot of trunk, limbs and sword-shaped leaves in a vacant lot in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood in 2021. Around the tree, a dense 10-foot forest of fennel had overtaken the yard, subsuming it back into the wild.

The property had fallen into disrepair in the two years since the adjoining building had gone dark. Sam Jordan’s Bar, the city’s oldest Black-owned public house, had closed in 2019, rendering a legendary corner of the Bayview deserted.

Ayofemi had grand plans to transform the empty site—directly adjacent to Sam Jordan’s but owned by a different landlord—into a barbecue restaurant and “Black Beer Garden.” She claimed the launch would come as part of a larger artwork she calls Yard. She said she had plans to unveil the project at a block party in August, but people Ayofemi has tried to partner with, including community stakeholders, have cast doubt on those plans.

During its 60 years in business, Sam Jordan’s was an important gathering place for the Bayview’s Black community. Ayofemi bought the property in 2021. But two years later, she herself lost ownership of the property, and it has been sold to new owners.

Last July, a joyous block party honored the late Sam Jordan, a boxing champion and San Francisco’s first Black candidate for mayor. Ayofemi told The Standard she plans to host a block party on Galvez Avenue—a portion of which has been renamed Sam Jordan’s Way—every year.

Despite losing the bar, Ayofemi said she has been seeking to move forward with the Black Beer Garden, which she wanted to operate out of repurposed cargo containers sourced from the shipyards of San Francisco and West Oakland. Though she is a chef herself—trained at the culinary incubator La Cocina—Ayofemi said she planned to collaborate with a to-be-announced tenant who would helm the barbecue.

But both the owner of the property where Ayofemi said her beer garden would go, and the nonprofit he recently leased it to, deny that any such plans are in the works. Furthermore, there are no active city permits that would indicate that Ayofemi’s business is coming to the site anytime soon.

Sam Jordan’s Bar & Grill is pictured in San Francisco on June 26, 2023. | Jeremy Chen/The Standard

According to San Francisco’s assessor-recorder, Frank’s Trading Company Inc. owns the property adjacent to Sam Jordan’s that Ayofemi said she planned to use for the beer garden and barbecue project. The space belonged to a popular neighborhood restaurant called Crown Burgers until 2015. 

Ayofemi claimed to be in negotiations with the current property owners. But when The Standard spoke to Hin Tsang, the owner of Frank’s Trading Company, he said that despite sporadic communication over the past few years, Ayofemi had never provided him with any credit information and that no agreement was in place. He claimed that Ayofemi was using media pressure in an attempt to get a lease from him. 

Tsang said that as of June 1, the property was leased to Economic Development on Third, a nonprofit that focuses on revitalizing the Bayview’s Third Street cultural corridor. He said he did not know what the nonprofit’s plans for the property were.

Ayofemi said that over the past year, she attempted to collaborate with Economic Development on Third. Screenshots of their communications, provided by Ayofemi and reviewed by The Standard, indicate that the nonprofit rebuffed her attempts at collaboration. When contacted for comment, the executive director of Economic Development on Third, Earl Shaddix, expressed anger at what he said were serious inaccuracies regarding plans for the site and declined to comment further.

Ruth Jordan, the daughter of Sam Jordan, declined to comment for this story when reached by phone, referring The Standard to a post on the bar’s Facebook page, which also took aim at Ayofemi’s representation of the site’s future.

“#FakeNews,” the post begins. “The vacant lot next to the now-closed legendary Sam’s WILL NOT be transformed into a barbecue restaurant and Black Beer Garden this summer. […] SAM’S is NOT going into business with anyone on the property.”

There are no active liquor license applications nor active building permits at the former Crown Burgers address. When asked how her project could be in the works without this paperwork, Ayofemi said she had just applied for the relevant permits. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said the agency received an application on June 13 from Ayofemi to reinstate a liquor license that was attached to an Oakland address. The department also confirmed that Ayofemi applied for a caterer’s permit on June 29, which would allow her to operate in a different location, but that the caterer’s permit cannot be processed until the liquor license becomes active. The department said the application timeline for permits typically takes a few months.

Gardner Kent of the Gardner Kent Lyle Trust, which loaned money to Ayofemi to purchase the Sam Jordan’s property, told The Standard he felt “a bit deceived” about her plans. “Audacious is the word that comes to mind,” Kent said.

Despite these seemingly insurmountable barriers, Ayofemi insisted Friday that the project is still slated to launch in August. 

When pressed further on how an imminent launch would be possible given these obstacles, Ayofemi outlined a plan more along the lines of a recurring block party. She said she had a Shared Spaces permit through the San Francisco Planning Department that allows her to host events on Galvez Avenue.  

However, a spokesperson for the Shared Spaces program said that Ayofemi does not have a Shared Spaces permit. 

Friday evening, the San Francisco Chronicle published a piece detailing claims from several Bay Area landlords that Aofemi owed them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Though Ayofemi has been lauded for her artistic achievements—most recently as a featured artist in a 2022-2023 exhibition at SFMOMA—a path forward for her project in the Bayview remains unclear.