The Dogpatch, an old industrial enclave, hums with fresh energy and commercial influx 

The Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco has gone from an industrial area to one in which restaurants and shops are thriving.

click to enlarge BAYCAT founder and CEO Villy Wang, center, and a newly hired employee pause at a bustling corner in the Dogpatch. BAYCAT is an education nonprofit. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE SF EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The SF Examiner
  • BAYCAT founder and CEO Villy Wang, center, and a newly hired employee pause at a bustling corner in the Dogpatch. BAYCAT is an education nonprofit.

When Margherita Stewart Sagan and Sheryl Rogat decided to open a restaurant six years ago in the Dogpatch, none of their friends knew where the neighborhood was.

Now, Piccino Cafe is a neighborhood staple and has grown from just 25 seats to more than 100 in a brand-new building. Sagan said the Dogpatch was the right fit for the business they wanted to establish.

“The people in this neighborhood are real,” Sagan said. “They’re knowledgeable. They know good food and they know good wine. It’s great here.”

Piccino is just one example of the growth happening in the historically industrial are of The City that is east of Potrero Hill and is roughly boarded by Mariposa Street to the north, Cesar Chavez at the south and between Indiana and Illinois streets.

On a recent Thursday, the sidewalks along two blocks of Third Street from 20th to 23rd streets had a steady stream of people going to and from work or visiting one of the many new restaurants.

Bradley J. Vaccaro, vice president of the Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association, said membership has more than doubled in the past eight years since he joined the association. In 2004, it had some 60 merchants. Today, that number is 150, and Vaccaro said most of that growth occurred in the past three or four years. The figure also includes nearby Potrero Hill.

The increased use of ground-level retail space in the former American Can Co. complex that spans two city blocks has been a boon for the neighborhood. Serpentine, Gilberth’s, Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous and Poco Dolce are just a few of the restaurants and gourmet retailers that occupy ground-floor spaces in the industrial buildings.

“It’s a very business-oriented neighborhood,” said Albert Moriguchi, marketing manager at chocolate maker Poco Dolce’s. “When I first came down to work here, I had no idea there was anything here other than manufacturing.”

Poco Dolce has been in the complex since 2004, but it was only a year ago that the specialized door for retail — complete with a glass front and company logo — was created to foster a more inviting space. Previously, the company used a loading-dock door for customers.

“People had to know we were here to come in,” he said. “Now there’s always people walking up and down, looking in.”

Janet Carpinelli, president of the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, said things have changed since she moved to the neighborhood 30 years ago, but recently growth and membership have been steady.

“We are where all the growth is happening,” she said. “It’s exciting.”

Though the slowdown in the economy quieted the Dogpatch’s growth in 2008, things have picked up. Condo developments that were stopped are starting again, and businesses are moving into once-empty locations.

The growth also has brought in more open spaces.

The aptly named Progress Park was completed last month after two years of work. The small strip of green space located underneath Interstate Highway 280 near Indiana and 25th streets has helped to bring together the growing community, said Bill Slatkin, a community organizer.

“It does feel like a neighborhood, a community,” said Slatkin, a Dogpatch resident for nearly nine years. “Originally it felt like an area where there were a lot of strangers or near-strangers living in close proximity. I think the park had a lot to do with turning it into a community.”

More projects to convert small strips of unused land into green space are being planned, Slatkin said.

Rogat and Sagan are looking to thank the community when they host a block party at their new location now that the renovations to the bright-yellow building are complete.

“The neighborhood loves us,” Rogat said. “We want to show them we feel the same”

Business is blooming at ex-factory

Inside two industrial buildings on Third Street, from 20th to 23rd streets, some 300 companies have set up shop to give more than 3,000 people a place to work.

Restaurants, textile makers, biotech and high-tech firms now call the old American Can Co. buildings home in the Dogpatch neighborhood.

Site manager Gregory Markoulis said as times have changed, so too has demand for the space. He and his family were more than willing to accommodate the need. They offer spaces ranging from 200 to 17,000 square feet.

“We never forced changes,” Markoulis said. “We think the market will tell us what it wants.”

In this case, the market went from manufacturing to locally owned shops and businesses that make products on-site.
“The whole of Dogpatch seems to be the place to be in The City,” Markoulis said.

In 1975, his family acquired the 400,000-square-foot industrial space that is now the American Industrial Center when they were looking for a new space to run their manufacturing company, which didn’t need the entire space.

“We only needed 5,000 square feet,” he said. The family decided to rent out the rest.

And rent they have. The complex is very business- and neighborhood-friendly, according to tenant Villy Wang.
In 2003, Wang founded BAYCAT, a nonprofit organization that teaches arts and technology to kids in the Bayview-Hunters Point area. She said the owners opened their arms to the idea of a nonprofit in a light-industrial zone.

Markoulis has noticed a change in the tenants as well as the neighborhood.

In the old days, he noted, tenants such as sewing companies kept a narrow focus on their individual workspaces. Now, “these people, these new companies, they want to go out and walk around.”

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