Worry began when locals noticed that daily drink and food service at Flore (the name was changed when new owners took over in 2017) had been quietly suspended in December following a slow but drastic reduction in menu options. That troubling development was followed by signs being posted on the building’s exterior at the end of the year explaining that the cafe would be transitioning into an events space. General manager Luke Bruner then confirmed to Hoodline that the restaurant component of the business was indeed ending but declined to provide any further information.
Now co-owner Terrance Alan, who purchased Café Flore with Aaron Silverman in 2017, has provided some clarity on the situation, noting in an email to SF Weekly that he’s been “very moved [by] the outpouring of support from all corners” in the wake of news surrounding the bistro’s closure.
The bottom-line: Flore is transforming. While the cafe as residents know it has closed, the space will now operate as a seasonal outdoor cafe and year-round GreenHouse Event Space, set to open this spring according to its website.
Known for being an active participant in the local cannabis scene as well as a founding member of the San Francisco Entertainment Commission, Alan, 64, has long been a vocal proponent for evolved pot policy and saw the purchase of Café Flore as an opportunity to put his cannabis acumen and small business experience into practice.
Now, as is often the case when it comes to making a living in the pot trade, he’s eyeing a pivot in strategy to keep his operation afloat.
“I remember when sitting on the patio in the winter was a badge of honor,” Alan explained in a press release provided to SF Weekly. “Being on the Cafe Flore patio said ‘I belong to the hearty band of LGBTQ crusaders out to change the world’s attitude towards queers!’, and that was worth the discomfort of a wet butt and cold feet. But today we don’t need to huddle in the cold to be ‘out’ because we have finally made it ‘in.’”
In addition, Alan says his new neighboring dispensary known as the Flore Store will look to raise funds through a “Keep It Local” Flore Store Construction Club that is seeking to bypass normal construction funding loans by instead turning to San Franciscans interested in making a local investment.
Located at 258 Noe St., the dispensary will be but the latest chapter in a rich history linking cannabis and the cafe. More generally, it’s long been beloved as a cultural touchstone of the Castro community. Famously, Café Flore is where cannabis activists Dennis Peron and “Brownie” Mary Rathbun once met and conceived of the framework for Proposition 215. More generally, the space is revered as a vital spoke of the Castro’s social scene, thanks to its long tradition of being an inclusive, happening place for members of the LGBTQ community to gather in the time before smartphones.
Alan is not the first owner of Flore to attempt to incorporate cannabis into the menu.
In 2013, former owner J.D. Petras took some heat when Café Flore began serving CBD-infused cocktails — a violation of state laws requiring that alcohol and cannabis never be served under the same roof. There was also the matter of an unpermitted prep kitchen located where the Flore Store will soon open (which was, at the time, a nail salon). In that case, former Supervisor (now State Senator) Scott Weiner intervened to ensure a zoning exception could be made.
Eventually Alan and Silverman arrived with similar plans on their mind. A 2017 San Francisco Chronicle feature describes Alan’s plans to create a place where patrons can “eat marijuana salads and drink cannabis-infused beer” while sitting on the patio. While that vision was not meant to be, last October, Flore received unanimous approval from the San Francisco Planning Commission to open a dispensary across the street.
Alan says he is now looking to entice investors.
Those eager to invest right away are also poised to reap a very cannabis-centric reward. Per Alan’s press release, the first 10 folks to join with the “Keep It Local” club will be gifted an eighth of pot a month — a new way for the Flore name and the spirit of pot to ensure they remain somehow intertwined.
Some, however, are not satisfied with these plans. Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro’s District 8, expressed concern in a statement provided to SF Weekly.
“Café Flore has been an anchor institution for The Castro for nearly a half century. Like many of my constituents, I have been concerned by what initially seemed like a reduction in service and hours and now has been presented as a temporary closure,” the statement reads. “It’s not ok for The Castro to lose Café Flore. My office has been in touch with the owners and potential community partners to find a way to reopen Flore year-round in a successful and sustainable way.”
Thus, it appears that while the story of Café Flore is not yet fully written, the next chapters for the bistro remain in flux. What is certain is that no one wants to see San Francisco lose yet another institution.