San Franciscians can no longer dine in a bubble

Diners eating in a bubble in San Francisco, August 8, 2020
Diners eating in a bubble in San Francisco, August 8, 2020
Photo: China News Service (Getty Images)

If you were hoping to cure your cabin fever with a quick jaunt to San Francisco to eat a $200 dinner in a geodesic dome next to a homeless encampment, it looks like you’ve missed your chance. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that after a surprise inspection, the city’s health department has ordered Japanese fine dining spot Hashiri to take down the fine dining domes that have made it internationally famous.

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Indoor dining has been prohibited in San Francisco since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered most of the country back in March. It was scheduled to return with limited seating on July 13. Alas, millions of Americans decided their “freedom” was far more important than the collective good, and coronavirus started spreading across San Francisco like, well, a virus. On July 7, after a week that saw a 25% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, San Francisco mayor London Breed announced that indoor dining would be indefinitely postponed until there’s either a vaccine or the general public realizes that none of this is a joke and they need to stop being selfish jerks.

Hashiri, an extremely fancy Michelin-starred sushi restaurant from Tokyo with a an outpost on Mint Plaza in the SoMa neighborhood, had been trying to stay afloat by offering takeaway bento boxes, but it wasn’t enough to keep the restaurant viable.

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“We were hit harder and harder month by month, and we knew we had to come up with a new idea,” manager Ken Matsuura told SF Gate earlier this month. “We asked ourselves, how can we continue to offer that in these circumstances while keeping everyone safe? We want to be able to stay in the game and operate our business.”

Hashiri opted to erect three plastic garden igloos on the sidewalk and reopened for dinner on August 5. The structures, which cost $1,400 apiece, immediately generated controversy, as the restaurant, which caters to the ultra-rich, happens to be located in an area where people experiencing homelessness congregate.

“Mint Plaza is a phenomenal space, it’s just sometimes the crowd is not too favorable,” Matsuura said to the Chronicle. “There are people who come by and spit, yell, stick their hands in people’s food, discharging fecal matter right by where people are trying to eat. It’s really sad, and it’s really hard for us to operate around that.”

The restaurant began receiving hate mail prior to last Thursday’s surprise inspection, which Matsuura suspects was the result of anonymous complaints to the Department of Public Health. The domes were ordered removed “due to the enclosed nature of the structure, which may not allow for adequate air flow,” per the inspection report.

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Though the domes are no more, Hashiri still reopened for sidewalk dining last Friday. The restaurant’s managers are currently mulling over other ways to allow customers to dine on site.

Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, author of three books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Questions about recipes/need cooking advice? Tweet @Robicellis.

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DISCUSSION

Dr Emilio Lizardo

There are people who come by and spit, yell, stick their hands in people’s food, discharging fecal matter right by where people are trying to eat.

Seems like this would be an issue with or without a viral pandemic.