YoYo's Ups and Downs
For proof that superior food doesn't guarantee a restaurant's success, you need look no further than YoYo, the successor to Elka in Japantown's Hotel Miyako. Elka Gilmore's "definitive seafood" restaurant ran out of steam in the spring of 1995 despite excellent press and a national reputation. YoYo, which opened a year ago August, retained key staff and its predecessor's passion for fish, but while the food has always been excellent, the restaurant is still trying to find its niche in the marketplace.
"I'm sure a lot of it has to do with location," says George Francisco, the 30-year-old chef. "There's very little walk-by traffic, and our big sign on Geary blew down in December's windstorm. Then the hotel was bought by Radisson, and they put up their own sign. A lot of people just aren't aware of us."
Francisco, who became chef earlier this year, has continued much of the restaurant's "fusion" cooking, which gives Asian twists to French dishes, although he does play up the "California-French" slant of the menu he introduced earlier this month. But he says the staff is now "targeting locally" for customers and "trying to make YoYo into a neighborhood place."
"Three years of having a national profile left us with nothing," he says. "People would come in one or two times, and we'd get great write-ups, but the steady business wasn't there. Now, rather than marketing the restaurant as a fusion/Pacific Rim place, we're trying to be something a little different for this neighborhood, which already has a major Asian influence."
The restaurant's publicist, Maggie Kerrigan, thinks that YoYo is "very successful with people who know it" but concedes that it's difficult to get to. "If you have to get into your car or a cab for lunch," she says, "you don't. It's a mental block."
Most people are going to have to drive to YoYo, but a little-known fact is that a validated-parking garage awaits them. There are two entrances: on westbound Geary between Webster and Laguna, and at Post and Webster, next to the Japanese supermarket. The parking garage gives direct access to the hotel, and from there to the restaurant.
A major reason people go to restaurants is to escape, however briefly, the world of hassles, including parking. Scouring Japantown for a dinnertime parking space on the street (especially with the always-busy Kabuki Theater just down the block) will only sharpen your frustrations, not your appetite. A garage, on the other hand, helps -- a lot. And YoYo's got one after all.