Owners Moon and Yoon Choi say they were forced to close the restaurant, which had operated in the Westlake Shopping Center for decades, when landlord Kimco Realty Corp. hit them with a $10,000-per-month rent increase.
In response, longtime customers rallied to the cafe’s cause, packing a City Council meeting and imploring the town’s elected officials to intervene. Although city leaders were unable to prevent the closure, they did help the Chois find a new location in the mixed-use Pacific Plaza development, adjacent to the Century 20 movie theater on Junipero Serra Boulevard.
During a May 2013 interview with The San Francisco Examiner, Moon Choi said that when he took ownership of the restaurant more than 30 years ago, attitudes toward Korean immigrants made it challenging for him to earn the community’s trust. However, the large turnout at a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony for the restaurant’s new location left little doubt that the Chois and their eatery have made a lot of friends in town.
The Chois’ daughter, Christina, credited current and former mayors David Canepa and Ray Buenaventura with going beyond the call of duty to help her parents’ business survive the upheaval and find a new home. Canepa praised City Manager Pat Martel for finding an appropriate space for the longtime local restaurant.
Martel noted that although Pacific Plaza has seen a lot of turnover, with businesses such as Starbucks and Jamba Juice coming and going, she felt Westlake Coffee Shop was a perfect fit, and likely to thrive there. Employees of Pacific Plaza tenants such as Kaiser Permanente and DeVry University had been clamoring for a cafe to patronize, she added.
The younger Choi said the entire restaurant’s staff has returned, with the exception of two employees who are unable to work due to health problems. There may be some new additions to the menu, but the old customer favorites — such as pancakes, waffles, burgers, milkshakes and Reuben sandwiches — remain. The prices have gone up by about 10 percent, but Choi noted that this is the restaurant’s first price increase in more than seven years.
Another change is in the hours of operation. The cafe will be open until 7:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, but in an effort to attract the nighttime weekend crowds, Westlake Coffee Shop will keep doors open until 9:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays on a trial basis.
Although staff and cuisine are largely unchanged, Christina Choi said her husband, architect Ethen Wood, designed a new interior that is clean and modern, yet pays tribute to traditional American diners.
Pacific Plaza’s property manager has been supportive and accommodating of the new tenants, she said.
“It’s the exact opposite of what we experienced with Kimco,” Christina Choi said.
During the ribbon-cutting celebration, Canepa asked Moon Choi how it felt to be back after being closed for 10 months.
“Ten months?” Moon Choi replied. “It felt like 10 years!”
IF YOU GO:
Westlake Coffee Shop
1901 Junipero Serra Blvd., Suite D, Daly City