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Downtown San Francisco chicken spot closes, owner blames car ban on Market Street

A business stands on a street corner, with neon signs blazing in the front window.
Yeo’s Electric Chicken and Rice appears at its former Market Street location in January 2023. | Source: Courtesy Yeo's Electric Chicken and Rice

A Downtown San Francisco restaurant announced its closure Monday after just 11 months in business, and its owner said a car-free city thoroughfare was a major factor.

Yeo’s Electric Chicken and Rice at 564 Market St. closed Friday. Owner Chris Yeo said the restaurant had struggled to make ends meet largely because the ban on private cars on the stretch of Market Street where Yeo’s was located made it impractical for his restaurant to contract with food delivery services like DoorDash and UberEats to compensate for a lack of foot traffic.

"Food delivery couldn't work, so we were dependent on people walking in," Yeo said. "It's cheaper to close than stay open."

Yeo said part of the business’s failure was simply due to bad timing. He signed a commercial lease in 2019, before the city made the Downtown stretch of Market Street car-free. According to Yeo, his restaurant opened in January and was instantly hit by a perfect storm of bad business conditions.

“If I knew Market [Street] was going to close to cars, I wouldn’t have signed the lease,” he said.

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In early 2020, officials banned private cars on two miles of the city's major Downtown artery from South Van Ness Avenue to Stuart Street. Commercial vehicles, public transit and emergency vehicles were still allowed.

An aerial view of an empty Market Street in San Francisco.
Shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, city officials closed Market Street, hoping to make the public space more walkable. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

Other restaurants in the area have found ways to accommodate deliveries despite car-free Market Street. Amber India, located at 25 Yerba Buena Lane, has delivery drivers park near Market Street, on Fourth and Stevenson streets and on Mission between Third and Fourth streets, said the restaurant’s general manager, Ajay Kahol.

“Then we have people bring the food out to them,” Kahol said. “Many of them are on electric bikes anyway.”

A spokesperson for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency added that delivery drivers can also park on side streets.

“While drivers may not be able to pull up right in front of a business, we recommend drivers stop a few doors down/around the corner from their specific destination,” wrote SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato in an email.

A box of food contains a dish of chicken with rice and several sauces.
Yeo's Electric Chicken and Rice, which closed Friday, specialized in chicken rice, the national dish of Singapore. | Source: Yeo's Electric Chicken and Rice

Yeo also acknowledged that his troubles had been compounded by an ultimatum from his landlord: He was ordered to move out by December or pay four months' back rent totaling around $88,000.

Attempts to contact the landlord Monday were unsuccessful.

The concept behind Yeo’s, which was open only on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., centered around serving Singapore’s national dish, chicken rice. Yeo eventually planned to expand into a chain.

Though he never got that far, Yeo said he envisioned a second life for his restaurant concept, potentially doing delivery orders out of a ghost kitchen while searching for a brick-and-mortar spot elsewhere in the Bay Area. But Yeo said he doesn’t see returning to San Francisco.

“Maybe San Mateo,” he said.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at garrett@sfstandard.com