New S.F. Restaurants Take Root

Despite the destruction wrought by COVID-19, fresh eateries are sprouting all over S.F.

After a devastating year for the local restaurant industry, new projects are coming to life throughout San Francisco, from a neighborhood deli in the Richmond to a mobile coffee caravan parked at Ocean Beach and a sushi chef making beautiful boxes of takeout sashimi.

Read on for more about each new business.

Ham and Cheese Deli

When Grant Schley heard that Japonica, a beloved, eclectic cafe in his neighborhood, was closing, he stepped in to save the space. 

The longtime chef and San Francisco native was out of work himself after the coronavirus shutdown put his latest project at the Salesforce Transit Center on pause indefinitely. As he watched a wave of small business closures sweep the city, he felt like every neighborhood was losing a Japonica. 

“It was a place to come and run into people in your neighborhood and have a cup of coffee. It was one of those quirky places that was really indicative of a lot of places in 2020,” says Schley, who has more than two decades of culinary experience — including stints at Betelnut, Beach Chalet, Park Chow, and the University of San Francisco. “Dang, Japonica is gone. Dang, a lot of things are gone. Dang, everyone’s depressed.”

Fortunately, Schley was able to do something about it. Last month, he opened Ham and Cheese Deli in the former Japonica space at 5501 California St. Now he is serving a casual — but thoughtful — menu of sandwiches, along with pastries from Firebrand Bakery in Oakland and Sightglass Coffee.

The new deli serves his take on seven sandwiches, like the “Joe Formaggio,” a spin on classic Italian cold cuts with salami, mortadella, ham, garlic artichoke tapenade, tomato puree, lettuce, pepperoncinis, and provolone, pressed on slab bread. The “California Street” comes with smoked turkey, shaved pastrami, avocado, housemade pickled onions, and a “zingy” lemon pepper mayo. It’s Schley’s tribute to a sandwich from M&L Market that he’d treat himself to as a struggling line cook years ago. He’d order the turkey pastrami and indulge in the addition of avocado. 

The ‘California St.’ Photo courtesy of Ham and Cheese Deli

There’s also the namesake jambon et fromage (ham, smoked pork loin, hot mustard, pickled onion, gruyere, and olive spread on a hoagie roll) and a breakfast sandwich with egg, ham, cheese, and hot sauce on a sourdough English muffin. There are three vegetarian sandwiches as well as vegan nachos topped with plant-based queso from Loca.

Schley is subletting half of the space to Little Trees, a plant store opening March 25, in memory of Japonica, which also sold flowers and plants. 

Ham and Cheese is only open for takeout right now, but Schley hopes the deli will continue the tradition of a neighborhood gathering place.

“What better way to come out of a crazy year [than] for us chefs and hospitality people to have a project with heart?” he said.

Ham and Cheese Deli
5501 California St.
Wed-Fri, 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. | Sat-Sun, 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m
415-592-9782 |

California Kahve

On weekends, you can find Molly Welton making espresso drinks inside a tiny vintage caravan overlooking Ocean Beach.

She’s the owner of California Khave, a new mobile coffee business she started out of a love for coffee, hospitality, and the outdoors.

Welton was born and raised on the Peninsula but has deep family roots in San Francisco. She’s worked in the food and beverage industry for almost 20 years and spends much of her free time exploring California’s redwood groves (the counter of her coffee truck is made from redwood trees). A trip to her husband’s native New Zealand, where they frequented mobile coffee trailers, planted the seed for California Kahve. 

“I thought, how can I be as close to the ocean or an open space or a beautiful venue while doing what I love?” she explains. “Hospitality and the service industry have been good to me and I wanted to give back in a way.” 

California Kahve brightens up a gloomy beach day with fresh coffee. Photo by Elena Kadvany

California Kahve serves espresso, lattes, drip coffee, cold brew, matcha and teas. The coffee comes from Tiny Footprint Coffee in Minnesota, which claims to be the world’s first carbon negative coffee company. For every pound of coffee sold, the company donates a portion of the proceeds to fund reforestation in Ecuador’s Mindo cloud forest. The funds also go toward planting native tree species in heavily deforested areas in the region.

Instead of drip coffee that becomes bitter after sitting on a hot burner for hours, Welton brews a small amount of drip several times an hour and keeps it hot in a highly insulated thermos.

For non-caffeinated drinks, there’s hot chocolate from melted TCHO chocolate, a butterfly pea flower latte with honey and lavender, and a mushroom-and-cocoa nib latte.

And for the ideal coffee pairing, California Kahve always has a selection of fresh Dynamo Donuts.

California Kahve
Ocean Beach parking lot closest to Lincoln Way | Sat-Sun, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunset Mercantile, 1994 37th Ave. | Thu, 3 p.m.-8 p.m.
Instagram @california.kahve


Last spring, Ken Ngai decided to leave Kusakabe in San Francisco to open his own sushi restaurant. A week later, the coronavirus shut down Bay Area restaurants.

But he is pressing on. His eponymous Lower Haight restaurant, located at the former Ijji Sushi space, is now open for takeout. It’s a one-man operation — Ngai hasn’t been able to hire any staff yet — so he offers a limited amount of takeout orders Wednesday through Sunday. 

The menu includes boxes of shimmering sashimi, artfully displayed chirashi, saba (Kyoto-style mackerel sushi with shiitake mushrooms, chives, yuzu and sesame) and futomaki. A recent omakase option included two kinds of bluefin tuna, hamachi, ocean trout, Hokkaido scallops, and uni. Well aware of the challenges facing to-go sushi, Ngai has been honing his rice recipe to help ensure the quality doesn’t suffer in transit.

Ngai, a native of Hong Kong, started working in fast food restaurants when he was a teenager. For years he was a server, but when he applied for a job at Sushi Ran in Sausalito, they put him on the sushi bar instead. He ended up staying there for a decade, learning the art of sushi from chef Mitsunori Kusakabe. When Kusakabe left to start his own omakase restaurant, Ngai followed.

KEN is a small space, with room for less than 20 diners inside and no space for outdoor seating. With so few seats, it doesn’t make sense for him to open indoors at the current mandated 25 percent capacity, so he’s sticking with takeout until he can serve people fully inside. 

252 Divisadero St.
Instagram @chef_ken.sf

Elena Kadvany is contributing writer. Twitter @ekadvany

Related Stories