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Troubled food hall in San Francisco’s Tenderloin to close

Amy Chau, left, and Eddie Chun Fat, right, look for a table to eat tamales in La Cocina Municipal Marketplace in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood on April 19, 2023. | Morgan Ellis/The Standard

La Cocina’s Municipal Marketplace—a celebrated project established in 2021 that aimed to provide San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood with an affordable food oasis—will be converted this fall into a commercial kitchen space.

A spokesperson for the nonprofit said the operation at 101 Hyde St. is set to shut its doors Sept. 1 and transition to a food preparation space for the nonprofit’s 84 businesses.

During the pandemic, La Cocina helped local businesses in its incubator kitchen program remain afloat, but many of them are still making 30% to 50% less than they were in 2019 due to “loss of events, remote office work, inflation, labor and supply chain issues.”

Only the cocktail bar, La Paloma, will remain open, in addition to a small cafe featuring pop-ups of La Cocina businesses.

The lease on the 101 Hyde St. location—principally funded by the city of San Francisco—allowed La Cocina chefs to operate their food stands there at below-market-rate rents until December 2025. Once the lease expires, the city plans to break ground on an affordable housing project.

The concept for the food hall was born out of La Cocina’s business incubator program and focuses on training, cultivating and connecting restaurant entrepreneurs and chefs who want to grow their businesses but don’t have access to commercial kitchen space.

The La Cocina program began in 2005 and still operates a 2,000-square-foot space for 44 chefs and entrepreneurs on Folsom Street in the Mission District. But the nonprofit says the original space is now “over capacity.”

“This tactical shift will allow us to refocus our limited capital and energy to support more businesses and bolster programmatic impact, lower operating costs, better protect our assets, and maintain our presence in the Tenderloin,” the group stated.

La Cocina managers at the 7,000-square-foot food hall—which features seven vendors selling various international foods from Senegal, El Salvador, Algeria and Mexico—broke the news to the vendors Tuesday during a weekly meeting, said Mounir Bahloul, co-owner of Kayma Algerian Eatery. 

“We are still processing it,” he said.

Bahloul’s family-run business will likely have to lay off staff, he said.

“Financially, we are going to feel it very soon,” Bahloul said. “It may just be my wife and I going forward. I don’t know.”

Bahloul said he believes many factors—including drugs and homelessness in the neighborhood—affected foot traffic on Hyde Street.

“The whole city never got back from the Covid-19 terror, and all businesses are suffering,” he said. “The TL, although it is a vibrant neighborhood–you don’t really see any neighbors around. They just walk straight to their homes.”

The food hall wasn’t without detractors.

Entrepreneurs participating in La Cocina’s incubator and food hall complained about what they saw as a pattern of tokenism and exploitation.

La Cocina’s staff said the organization welcomes and respects all.