Dish

Tough Nut to Crack
The Acorn, that cozy Folsom Street restaurant with the lush garden and fine California cooking, is no more. Owner Christopher Stellman closed the place at the beginning of the month. It will reopen later this year, according to Stellman, as a Cajun eatery. (Cajun sounds very 1980s, like raspberry vinaigrette, but maybe it's time for a revival -- or simply good spicy food.)

Stellman took over the Acorn about a year ago, and his business through the spring was decent. But the restaurant had a "terrible summer," he says, mostly because of the neighborhood.

"There are two SOMAs evolving," Stellman says. "The SOMA that people envisioned runs from about Fourth Street down to South Park and the waterfront. That's where the galleries and museums are." Not to mention their patrons, the sort of people who would find the Acorn an appealing place to eat. But while "the avant-garde have gravitated toward the bay side of the neighborhood," Stellman says, the western half of SOMA (from Fifth to Division streets) is another world.

"I had three new homeless shelters and three detox centers within a few blocks of me on Eighth Street," he says. "There are very few cops around, and street people will get right in your face. Whether you think they're scary or just a nuisance, being accosted by one of them shatters the mood of a nice meal."

Stellman says he has "sold" the restaurant, though he doesn't own the building, and the new owner won't be assuming the name. The transaction involves the furniture, fixtures, pots and pans, the licenses -- and all the effort of putting those things together in the first place.

"Basically you're selling a shell and the paperwork," Stellman says. "And the lease."

The owners of the building, at 1256 Folsom, used to operate a coffee shop called Augustus at the location. But, says Stellman, they discovered it was easier simply to rent out the space to another operator.

Stellman flirted with the idea of transplanting the Acorn to Noe Valley, at the 24th Street location now occupied by Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers. But that deal was not struck, and Stellman's plans are uncertain.

The Acorn, meanwhile, is not the only victim of a shift in neighborhood character. The Ace Cafe, just a few blocks west on Folsom, closed last fall; under new ownership it's now called the Dubliner. And Appam, the upscale Indian restaurant across the street from the Acorn, is also struggling, according to Stellman. Restaurants are a powerful engine of neighborhood -- and human -- cohesion; it's sad to see them gasping for life, especially in an area that needs them.

By Paul Reidinger

 
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