In a city known for its top-notch cuisine, outdoor restaurant seating can be precious real estate. Piazza Pellegrini on Columbus Avenue has the rare luxury of a spacious outdoor patio — a perk that is all the more coveted in the ultra-dense North Beach neighborhood — but owner Dario Hadjian isn’t exactly counting his blessings right now.
That’s because for the next two years, Piazza Pellegrini will abut a major public transit project on Columbus Avenue, an endeavor Hadjian fears will drive away the lunchtime customers who flock to his restaurant.
Muni is planning to use the neighboring site — the abandoned Pagoda Theater, which will be torn down — to extract tunneling equipment for the $1.6 billion Central Subway project.
“There’s going to be dust, there’s going to be loud noises, there’s going to be construction equipment parked outside my restaurant,” said Hadjian, who has 60 outdoor seats at the site. “This will drive my restaurant out of business.”
Hadjian said he estimates that losing the lunch crowd — construction is scheduled for mostly daytime hours — will cost his business $500,000 a year. He said The City should offer him compensation.
“The profit margins of a restaurant are very small,” Hadjian said. “If I lost just 5 to 10 percent of my business, I could lose the restaurant.”
The construction site was chosen as a preferred alternative by the North Beach Business Association after the original plan met with intense opposition from merchants. Muni had proposed bringing up the equipment on Columbus Avenue, but merchants said a major project in the heart of North Beach would destroy their bottom lines.
“We had to take the position that would be the best for the majority of the merchants,” said Kathleen Dooley, president of the business association. “Columbus Avenue would have a severely negative impact on several businesses. The Pagoda site has less of an effect on the neighborhood as a whole.”
Dooley said the business association has concerns about the well-being of Piazza Pellegrini, along with nearby restaurant Bottle Cap. She said if construction turns out to have a negative effect, the business association would hold fundraisers to benefit Piazza Pellegrini and Bottle Cap.
Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, whose district includes North Beach, said he also plans to find ways to help Hadjian. Along with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, Chiu is working on innovative marketing strategies that could entice customers to patronize Piazza Pellegrini and other local stores, said Chiu
spokesman Judson True.
“We completely understand Dario’s concerns, but we believe that we can work with Muni to minimize disruptions to his business,” True said.
Muni spokesman Paul Rose echoed that sentiment, saying the transit agency will help connect Piazza Pellegrini with city services that could help soften construction impacts — such as “marketing services and window and sidewalk cleaning.”
“While we understand their concerns ... San Francisco does not pay businesses for construction work adjacent to the site,” Rose said.
After the Muni construction work is complete, Hadjian will have to deal with a separate development project planned for the abandoned theater site, which will be transformed into condominiums and a Mexican restaurant.
Today, the Board of Supervisors land use committee is expected to vote on creating a special-use district to allow that development plan to move forward.