Les Natali holding public meeting for Castro Hamburger Mary’s joint

Original Hamburger Mary's near Folsom and 12th (photo: Joseph Ferretti, 1985 from SF Public Library Photo Archive)
Original Hamburger Mary's near Folsom and 12th (photo: Joseph Ferretti, 1985 from SF Public Library Photo Archive)

One of our readers sent us a letter that has been circulated by Patio Cafe (531 Castro Street) owner, Les Natali, inviting neighbors within a mile of the Patio Cafe (which has been closed, but not vacant, for years) to come by and voice their concerns on his plans to open a Hamburger Mary’s at the location.

We reported two weeks ago that Les Natali  requested a letter of determination from the SF Planning Department to find out what he would need to do to get a Hamburger Mary’s in the Patio Cafe space. The response from the Planning Department mentioned that since Hamburger Mary’s operates 11 other restaurants in the United States (defining the threshold of a formula retail establishment), Natali’s plans for a 12th Hamburger Mary’s location is required to obtain a Conditional Use Authorization from the Planning Department.

In accordance with the Planning Department’s pre-application procedures Natali will be holding the meeting (officially a ‘Pre-Application Meeting’) at the Patio Cafe next Tuesday, February 25th, at 6PM.

Natali is hopeful that the conditional use authorization will be granted, mentioning in his letter,

The new San Francisco Hamburger Mary’s will be unique. It will be a locally-owned and operated restaurant, and very similar to the original Hamburger Mary’s on Folsom Street. Many San Francisco residents will remember the original, “iconic” Hamburger Mary’s. It was one of the first gay-friendly restaurants in the United States. The original Hamburger Mary’s operated from 1972 to 2001. It was known for its reasonably priced food, drinks, and its friendly atmosphere. It was made hugely popular by individuals and families from the City, the Bay Area, and visitors from around the world.

Natali has enlisted the help of Berg Davis Public affairs, the same group that was tapped for the failed Chipotle bid at Church and Market.

via Biscuit tipster Kevin K

Roy McKenzie

Roy has been a Castro resident since 2010 and is passionate about drag queens, bicycling, and food. Follow his babbling on Twitter.

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38 Responses

  1. AJ says:

    I hope this does get approved. The Castro is becoming a ghost town with pharmacy and coffee shop sized tumble weeds..

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 5

  2. Virginia Ham says:

    Who care what one may think of Les Natali, it’s time to bring Hamburger Mary’s back home to San Francisco, and the old Patio is a great location, right in the heart of the Castro.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 5

  3. chuck says:

    Natali is likely stalling further until he finds a sucker that will run a food service while he controls the bar business, let the space collect dust. Who cares at this point. It’s been so long since the Patio was operating. Have you noticed the declining Badlands?? Tick Tock……

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 4

  4. sjg says:

    Based on my experiences at the Patio Cafe, I am not too hopeful about a fantastic Hamburger Mary’s experience, but you never know..

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  5. Joe says:

    Another F-you to the neighborhood that has made him rich. The Hamburger Mary’s I’ve seen are tired, dirty, straight tourist traps, “Look how edgy we are, we’re being served by drag queens”
    Les promised us he would re-open The Patio Cafe, once he got thru planning. But that was just another LIE in his string of lies.

    Hamburger Mary’s was great 25 years ago, now it’s just as tired and old as Lester.

    Seeing how well he controls his bar patrons, refusing to even put up signs reminding them, this is a neighborhood. when leaving the bar, please keep the noise level down. I can only imagine what a mess (think LIME) this will be.

    Once again: Biscuit reader, plenty of places to drink in the Castro. Boycott Badlands, Toad Hall and let planning know what you think of Les’s newest poorly planned addition to the Castro.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 10

    • Baxter says:

      Would you prefer another Soup Freaks? At least we know what we’re getting with a Hamburger Mary’s, and it pays tribute to the neighborhood instead of sterilizing it further.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 4

      • Joe says:

        I don’t want another Soup Freaks, but I would like a CLEAN, casual, quality place we can be proud of. The Hamburger Mary’s of today, are NOTHING like the one we remember going to in between drinks at the original STUD. Very corporate feel. Folsom Mary’s was organic. HM of today, just can’t produce that feel.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 4

  6. Woody says:

    Apparently the faux Toad Hall must be a success, now we may have a faux Hamburger Mary’s. The new Castro, ersatz gay neighborhood.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  7. Kristo Valle says:

    I’m in for a good Hamburger place .Get something in their unique to San Francisco’s Castro street before another bank or nail salon or corporate coffee shop gets its grimey hands on the Castro

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  8. KevinSF says:

    All else aside get that location open and operating again, period. It will be much harder to just let the place sit idle once its been open for business again. How old is Les Natlai anyway 75 or so? The odds of him keeping the Patio under his thumb another 10 years are minimal.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  9. Elsewhere says:

    Read Mr. Natali’s letter here: http://www.sf-planning.org/ftp/files/LOD/2014/531_Castro_Street.pdf

    The only thing change he’s proposing to make in the current configuration of the building in the Hamburger Mary’s logo out on the street. The name will also appear inside the restaurant, but not in the HM logo or service marked version.

    Soooo…. for better or for worse, it seems about the only thing that would be Hamburger Mary’s is the name over the front door. The rest of the place can be pure Les Natali.

    Still, I’m not worried about it. He’s kept the place vacant for 20 years taking the tax break, he can keep it vacant for another 20…. wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

    • Kevin_BGFH says:

      It hasn’t been 20 years. Just over 10. It closed for remodeling in 2002. Also, what specific tax breaks does he get for keeping it closed? People keep mentioning that, but what exactly would he be getting a tax break from? And it seems surprising that the tax break would be more than what he would make in revenue for renting it out or opening his own establishment.

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

      • Joe says:

        My understanding is, he is able to write off from his large income what he would be getting in rent from the restaurant. About $30K a month. This is viewed as a loss. The benefit, no tenants to deal with, no wear and tear on the building. Please correct me if I am wrong, but this is my understanding.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

        • DerekSF says:

          You can only deduct necessary expenses to maintain the property as well as depreciation while a unit is vacant. You’re not allowed to deduct any loss in Income. The property also has to be actively listed and available for rent.

          Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

      • Elsewhere says:

        Really? The Patio has been closed as a restaurant since I moved into the neighborhood in 1993; there were various businesses in the storefront portion of the property (a really wonderful story with hand-made Japanese paper) but the restaurant hasn’t been open for around two decades. And the responder below is correct; rent not collected from a vacant property is deductible as a business loss in the amount that the most recent tenanct’s rent. A very profitable deal for the landlord, provided they can keep the property vacant.

        Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

        • Elsewhere says:

          Hmm, the Biscuit here says it closed in May of ’99, so it’s just going on 15 years if that’s correct; but I’ve a feeling it’s been a bit longer than that.

          Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

          • Kevin_BGFH says:

            My source for 2002 was The Bay Area Reporter. Also, a friend of mine worked at The Patio at the time they closed and he didn’t move to SF until 2000. Larry of The Mix was his manager but Les participated in his hiring. And when The Patio closed, Les personally announced it to them and offered them jobs at Badlands (which he bought in 1999, closed it for remodeling, and reopened in May of 2000).

            Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

      • Elsewhere says:

        Thank you for the correction, Kevin, I appreciate it. Closer to ten years it is!

        Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • Joe says:

      The Hamburger Mary’s I’ve seen also have a LARGE fiberglass Mary “Waitress” in front. Kind of like a Bob’s Big Boy, if you remember that. Classy!

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  10. loic says:

    At least Mr Natali must enjoy it! If the neighborhood dares to ask for better then Hamburger Mary’s then he could keep The Patio closed, and tell that he did try to open something…
    I think when the sidewalk widening will be done, the heart of the Castro will become hot again, and we should not have trouble to fill the empty spaces (if owners are reasonable). Business on Valencia grew crazy after the widening, same in a lesser proportion with Divisadero (between Geary and Waller). With our public transportation hub and our current foot traffic (higher than Valencia, with up to 23,000+/day) the Castro should get better…

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

    • sjg says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

      Poorly-rated. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

    • sjg says:

      Valencia didn’t grow because of street improvements. It grew because of the influx of young wealthy techies who have settled into that neighborhood. Wealthy clientele = upscale shopping/reastaurant. Other neighborhoods like Lower Haight also have benefitted from the influx of hipsters and techies.

      Castro Street may have higher foot traffic, however, it is an entirely different demographic. The foot traffic is heavier mainly due to it’s positioning as a transfer hub for Muni.This foot traffic is not at the same income level as Mission residents. The tourist traffic can be heavy, however it typically does not generate sales in establishments other than restaurants.. I have advised my last four clients against pursuing locations in the Castro ( I am in Store Planning and Development for a retail corporation and I do consulting with local small business when they are seeking to expand their business)

      There is a heavy concentration of restaurants and no variety of other businesses other than realtors, nail salons, pharmacies, banks and of course coffee shops. . This diminishes the ability of other types of businesses to generate business. The closure of Diesel, Body Shop, L’Occitane, De La Sole and the struggling West Coast Leather are good examples.

      Widening the street may certainly improve appearances and create space for pedestrians. However, without a good mix of shops there is no good indication there will be an improvement in reatil assortment anytime soon. Landlords. are not going to lower rents, they are business people not philanthopists

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

      • Elsewhere says:

        I wish what you said didn’t make so much sense, as it makes me feel a little gloomy about the future of retail in the Castro. Still, I can’t deny the logic of your argument and find myself agreeing with you.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

      • loic says:

        Don’t you think that once this improvement is done, it would be more appealing for new businesses to settle in the Castro ?
        The good mix of shops might have more chance to happen once the construction is done. Maybe the people in the neighborhood are not as wealthy as the hipsters/techies from the Mission, but it is pretty close, and getting closer every day. Some luxury buildings and higher rents should bring the wealthy clientele that we are missing.
        With the foot traffic and gentrification happening I don’t see why not more businesses could choose to settle in the Castro. Owners should eventually get even higher rent than they get today.

        Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

      • KevinSF says:

        One of the businesses you didn’t mention that the Castro has an overabundance of is bars. The city has a nightlife commission devoted just to their success. As the bars have become more dominate in the Castro other businesses suffer especially better quality restaurants. Drunks generally want cheap fast food so that is what proliferates in the Castro. The 9 hour long “happy hours” that many bars have really tend to bring heavy and binge drinkers into the neighborhood. Having to dodge drunks and gangs of smokers on the sidewalks is not very appealing to shoppers and the non-intoxicated.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

      • Jim Hopkins says:

        When is L’Occitane closing? This is the first I’ve heard of that.

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Mitch Mansfield says:

    I had a burger at the Hamburger Mary’s down in Palm Springs. One of the worst meals I’ve had in a long time. Be careful for what you wish for…..

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  12. Josh says:

    I still think the location where Home was would make a better Hamburger Mary’s. It’s the entrance to the neighborhood and right on the MUNI line, but having one in the Castro period is a win. It was born here and spread across the country, and now even into Europe I believe. It’s time for Mary to come home.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  13. loic says:

    I was at the meeting. It was kinda bizarre. From what I remember, the arguments for Hamburger Mary’s were:
    - Hamburger Mary’s is not really a formula retail in Mr Natali’s eyes
    - He will not use the franchise sign, fiber glass doll, menu, uniform
    - Bring back Hamburger Mary’s in the City where it originated
    - The space will be open after being closed too long
    - Hamburger Mary’s is gay

    Arguments against it were:
    - Hamburger Mary’s is a formula retail (more than 11 locations in US, even one in Germany and try to expand)
    - Can we trust Mr Natali to open anything at the The Patio anyway, after so many disappointments
    - Noise concerns (there is a nice retractable roof in the back) lots of echo (big room with tile), lots of Hamburger Mary’s have drag shows, cabaret…

    The great question not really answered though, was: Why did he choose Hamburger Mary’s, a formula retail ? He could open today (or yesterday) a burger place without having to fight the City Hall and everybody would live happily ever after ?

    His answer was basically that he wanted the help of Hamburger Mary’s staff to open the restaurant (they would get a percentage, as an incentive). I found hard to believe that he could not find anybody to help opening a burger joint, without signing with a formula retail… The space is fantastic, ready to go, everything is ready, all the permits are done, all the equipments are there, just bring the buns and the pickles! Lots of people went through much more troubles to open a restaurant in the City, and succeed. Even the $4 toast place on Divisadero is packed, they are building an expensive parklet to hold even more. The Patio is an absolutely gorgeous place. Mr Natali did an excellent job there. This thing will be successful even with mediocre food.

    Then someone argued that a simple burger joint would not be enough, we need to bring something GAY, because the neighborhood is getting more straight (and apparently straights get drunk and loud… because you know, gays are never drunk or loud). Well if Mr Natali opens his own burger joint, it will be as gay as a Hamburger Mary’s. He does not need a franchise to make it gay. He could even call it “Hamburger Fairies” to address that particular concern if needed.

    So overall it was not very convincing to me. It actually feels a bit sad and tired. Mr Natali has been a successful business man, with an entourage and lots businesses (Zapata, Badlands, Toad Hall, The Mix, Dancing Pig, etc.) that have been mostly successful. I like most of those businesses, but at the same time I am wondering if the neighborhood would rather need someone from outside, who does not take it for granted, someone who brings some fresh competition. Because as much as I like those businesses, they won’t obviously compete with each other, some even stay close rather than compete (The Patio, the open space close to Toad Hall). It feels that this pseudo sad and tired monopoly is actually causing this depressing feeling in the Castro that people complain about. And I really don’t know if a Hamburger Mary’s (if approved) will help at all…

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. Jim Hopkins says:

    The Castro needs a marketing plan and a new brand. Right now, it’s a tired memorial to its gay past.

    Next time you walk through the neighborhood — especially along Castro, Market and 18th streets — pretend you’re visiting it for the first time after hearing about it for years and years. Now, how does it compare to what you expected?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

    • Sanchez Resident says:

      Jim – The new marketing plan sounds like a great idea. Are you volunteering or do you have a person or committee in mind? If you are volunteering, you might consider getting the EVNA and DTNA to back your ideas and plans. I would point out that the new plan might be in for an uphill battle (pun intended).

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    • Mitch Mansfield says:

      EVNA, MUMC and DTNA have had marketing plans for years. Look what that got us.

      Having a marketing plan implies that someone is in control. The free market is hard to control. Attempts at fiddling with the neighborhood only make some folks feel like they are doing something.

      Let’s face it. The neighborhood can support bars and coffee shops and questionable food and that is it. Even national retail chains can’t make it here anymore. But I wonder how Trader Joe”s would have faired? Pretty well I imagine, and the neighborhood would have an anchor that helps increase the quality of life. But all of that is past us now, and what is left is big condo buildings with vacant retail on the street level.

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. Chris says:

    Hamburger Mary’s are franchises and some are really bad others good. It depends on the operator. It is a tired concept. But probably better than nothing. Someone with some imagination and creativity could do much better but he probably cannot.

    And if I see one more f’ng rainbow i’m going to barf.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  16. Ryan says:

    here is a thought, stop supporting this idiot, stop spending money at anything he owns. He will go away, I do realize, it would take a while, for someone who has sucked so much money out of people in the Castro to go away.
    Les Natali, is just more and more like Donald Sterling, rich rich and just does not care, he does not invest in the Community, other than to buy a new vacuum for all the cash he sucks in.
    He should be forced to sell the building, for pennies on the dollar and let the Community have their space back and let the Community open up, something that would help the Community thrive. This idiot does NOT need to any more money, he does not need the profit, he just needs to go away.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  1. February 26, 2014

    […] were not able to make the meeting yesterday for the proposed Hamburger Mary’s at the Patio Cafe space, but one of our commenters who goes by the handle “loic” was […]

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