HRD Coffee Shop, which began as a humble spot serving government employees in postwar San Francisco and grew into a fusion eatery regularly featured on the Food Network, has announced that it will close this Friday.
Sydney Saidyan, who owns the restaurant through his company, Saidyan Group, told The Standard on Wednesday that despite successes with catering to the San Francisco Giants as well as multiple Fortune 1000 companies like Salesforce, the business just didn’t pencil out.
"The landlord did not play the right game with us during the pandemic. We had a major problem; we could not even put outdoor dining; we lost nearly $20,000 every month," Saidyan said. "At the end, we just couldn't keep the doors open because of the lack of support from the city and the landlord. Unfortunately, the city does not see us as a partner." A call to the landlord for comment Wednesday afternoon was not immediately returned.
Early in May, Saidyan said he and his advisers decided to close this Friday, but the restaurant’s last day of service was last Friday. Workers have been clearing out the kitchen at 521A Third St., which housed the U.S. Social Security Administration's human resources department during World War II.
After the war, when the space opened up for lease, Chinese immigrant Ben Chan decided to open it as a breakfast place in the city's China Basin neighborhood, serving nearby sweatshop workers at the time.
"He goes to the City Hall, and he wants to open a business, but his English is not good," Saidyan said. "So, the man asked him, 'What would you call your new business?' On it [the building], it says 'HRD.'” referring to the former human-resource department office. “And the man says 'HRD, it is!'"
Chan ran the business from July 1, 1953, until 2009, when his nephew David Yeung and Yeung’s partner Joanna Banks took over with Saidyan's help. After it began adding a mixture of Chinese and Mexican food items to its menu, HRD began catching on with the neighborhood. Saidyan said business was booming thanks to a 2013 remodel, events catering and distribution deals for its bottled sauces, as well as its popular burritos, wraps, bowls and platters.
But even with positive Yelp reviews, the business still saw struggles with the state over taxes, disputes with Recology over dumping, issues with the homeless encampment near its doors and what Saidyan described as onerous city parking enforcement. Saidyan said that in spite of mounting financial losses, HRD staff often fed people who weren’t able to pay.
The reaction from longtime customers has been appreciation for the memories and the good times: “Every customer that's come there, they have given me hugs. They have said thank you. They have said, 'You did more than enough for us.'"
Saidyan spoke with pride of the restaurant's features on ABC, HBO, Vice and its three dozen Food Network appearances, pointing to an Instagram post last summer when filming for an A&E Network show that has yet to air.
In the future, he said he was possibly open to relocating to Marin County, or East Bay or South Bay locations, but that it would take new leadership and support from the city and the right investment portfolio to reopen. "I would love to remain in San Francisco as a business. But the question is, would any sane person?"
But Saidyan said he remains unbowed by circumstance: "I'm a custodian of that man's dream in 1953. I am proud to say I'm leaving it with my head high."
George Kelly can be reached at email@example.com