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‘Best coffee’ shop in downtown San Francisco shutters, owner blames pandemic

A person walks by a closed San Francisco cafe.
Mazarine Coffee is permanently closed after the pandemic slashed its customer base, the owner said. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Mazarine Coffee, a San Francisco cafe that was regularly featured in "best of" articles, has permanently shuttered after the pandemic slashed business Downtown, the owner said.

Owner Hamid Rafati said the pandemic slashed his customer base by 60% as the cafe's rent climbed 3% annually. Rafati said he used to have 500 customers daily, but the number dropped to 100 by the time he decided to close, while the rent was over $10,000 a month.

"Even without rent, I couldn't cover payroll," Rafati said.

Given the financial strain of operating Downtown, Mazarine poured its last coffee on Saturday, Rafati said.

READ MORE: San Francisco Bar Closes, Owner Blames ‘Dead’ Downtown, Pandemic

A cafe door is closed with a sign announcing it's going out of business.
Mazarine Coffee served its last customer on Saturday. The business will vacate the space by the end of January. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

The coffee shop was listed in several publications as among Downtown's "best coffee," including in coverage from the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGATE.

Ali Abdullah has staffed the front desk at 720 Market St. for 20 years, the same building Mazarine is located in. He said he had been a regular at the cafe since it opened in December 2014 and was a fan of their espresso drinks, croissants and turkey sandwiches.

"I loved their lattes, cappuccinos," Abdullah said. "It's really sad."

A man stands in the threshold of a building.
Ali Abdullah was a regular at Mazarine Coffee before it closed on Saturday. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Abdullah said it seemed that business was going well, estimating the cafe got roughly 100 customers a day, and more during conventions.

Mazarine line cook Daniel Becerra said there were many customers in 2018 and 2019, with a 50/50 mix of tourists and locals, particularly office workers.

"There'd be a line out the door," Becerra said as he cleaned up the now-shuttered coffee shop. "This was a really great place to work."

People gather inside a cafe.
Customers sip coffee and chat inside Mazarine Coffee in 2018 during the business's better days. | Source: Hamid Rafati

The renovations and equipment required to open Mazarine, including coffee grinders, the espresso machine, refrigerators, freezers and ovens, cost $700,000, Rafati said.

To close Mazarine, Rafati had to cancel his lease a year early, so he agreed to give the equipment away to the building's landlord along with a lump sum cash payment.

Rafati wouldn't say how much the lump sum was, as he signed a nondisclosure agreement about the terms of exiting his lease, but said the amount was "tens of thousands."

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A man stands on a sidewalk.
Daniel Becerra said customers would be lined up outside Mazarine Coffee's door before the pandemic. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Rafati said he had been trying to negotiate with the landlord to reduce rent since April but that the landlord would not concede. He is unsure what their plans for the space are once he leaves on Jan. 31.

The building's leasing agent, Julie Taylor, said the landlord—which Rafati and state filings say is Geary-Market Investments Company LTD—has been flexible with Rafati's rent, discounting it as much as 75%.

"The idea that the tenant was squeezed is totally wrong," Taylor said.

Taylor declined to provide any written rental agreements or documents showing a reduction in rent. Taylor added that the rent was "market" rate and "never egregiously high" when Rafati began leasing the space.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at