16th Street Knits Neighborhoods

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The stretch of 16th Street along Potrero Hill’s northern edge is being transformed from a desolate thoroughfare into a revitalized intertidal pool of three growing neighborhoods: South-of-Market to the north, the Hill to the south, and Mission Bay to the east. 

Change was sparked by the 2015 opening of Potrero1010, a two-building, mixed-use complex at 900 and 1010 16th Street, located on the site of a former paint factory. With 453 rental units, nearly all ground floor retail spaces are occupied.  A few offered partial service during shelter-in-place. Two started serving customers at outdoor tables as soon as the City allowed this dining style to resume last month.

Owner Sonya Kim plans to add outdoor seating at Whole Cakes. Photo: Bettina Cohen

Whole Cakes, at 1000 16th Street, retains the light industrial area’s tradition of onsite production. Artisanal bread, muffins, cookies, and cakes are baked daily on premises. Although many betrothed couples delayed their nuptials due to the public health emergency, Whole Cakes specializes in carefully crafted wedding cakes, as well as teddy-bear shaped birthday cakes for kids that require up to six hours to finish. Offered only in large sizes due to special cutout needs, the teddy bear cake catches people’s attention. Ingredients are organic. Fruit comes from local growers; local millers deliver directly to the bakery. 

“I actually set the tables and chairs for two days in March, and then the lockdown started,” Sonya Kim, the owner, said. 

Kim opened her first bakery six years ago at 100 First Street, which is presently closed during shelter-in-place. That venue, surrounded by corporate office towers, was a third the size of the Hill shop, which measures about 900 square feet. 

“I wouldn’t think what we have there will reflect what we’ll have here. They’re completely different neighborhoods. Over there is more corporate catering. We were making 50 cakes every single day in the Financial District. Here, we’re located in a residential building. We’re positioning ourselves more as a neighborhood bakery, where customers come, hang out, have coffee, tea, brunch,” Kim said. “We’re still learning the neighborhood. Things we see are interesting. A lot of young couples. A lot of kids. A lot of pets. People either have a baby or a pet. It’s very family oriented. That might be slightly different when we start serving people going to work in the morning.”  

When workers go back to those offices, such as nearby Adobe, Whole Cakes will start opening as early as 6:30 or 7 a.m. 

“We definitely see a diversity here. Families, tech industry workers, executives,” Angel Arrezola, community manager at Potrero1010, said of the complex’s residents. 

Managed by Equity Residential, Potrero1010’s apartments have all been rented at least once. The development includes 90 below-market-rate units, and a gamut of amenities. 

“We try to do a monthly residential event, a Thirsty Thursday, Wind Down Wednesday, a Yappy Hour,” Arrezola said. “We involve local vendors for our events, purchasing food and catering from them. Some residents are new to the City and maybe haven’t had a chance to get to those local restaurants. This is a way we help introduce our residents to what’s nearby. We’ll partner up with Street Taco once the whole shelter-in-place is lifted and reach out to all the retail in the buildings. Boba Guys is here as well. We plan to have an event with all of our on-site businesses, something fun, to let everybody participate in the grand reopening of life.”

Street Taco, at 980 16th Street, has an inviting patio bordering parklike Daggett Plaza along a walking path to Seventh Street, where diners — at tables distanced six feet apart — can watch commuter trains rumble by on the adjacent Caltrain tracks. A green Volkswagen Beetle taxicab serves as signage.

“That’s the Vocho, the Mexico City taxi,” said Victor Juarez, who heads the family-run venture. 

Vocho is Spanish for bug. From 1967 until 2019, Volkswagen manufactured the Beetle in Puebla, Mexico. Green Volkswagen taxis were as iconic in Mexico City as yellow cabs in New York City.

Juarez launched the first Street Taco in the Haight six years ago, a second location in South-of-Market, before partnering with brothers Eduardo and Carlos to open the third outlet at the foot of the Hill in 2019. The three brothers — or tres hermanos as they like to say — are often on premises, taking orders and serving customers. 

All food is prepared fresh onsite; handmade tortillas, meats, fish, and vegetables grilled to order, and fresh fruit juices. Nopales, cactus paddles, and al pastor, marinated pork, are house specialties. Beer, wine, sangria, and agave margaritas are menu items. Spacious indoor seating, when normal dine-in resumes, is available. Catering is offered, as is delivery service. Mere steps from California College of the Arts, Street Taco offers a 10 percent discount to CCA students. 

Truly Mediterranean occupies the 16th and Seventh streets corner storefront at the opposite end of the complex from Street Taco, directly across from the Caltrain tracks. It’s another local business expansion to a second location. Truly Mediterranean was closed in June, as was Rock Salt Pilates, at 1004 16th Street, part of a Bay Area chain. Arrezola plans to schedule a Pilates class for Potrero1010 residents when the studio reopens. 

Potrero Hill Dental, at 930 16th Street, is co-owned by Jane Choi, DDS, and Nancy Ly, DDS. Five women dentists provide routine, preventative and emergency care, among other services. Expansion to a second office on Fourth Street, to be called Mission Bay Dental, is planned for later this year. 

A 2,855 square foot storefront remains vacant at 1050 16th Street. 

“We definitely look at the market to see what type of clientele we’re going to have in the community. If the neighborhood has more of a local vibe, we’ll bring a locally known smaller business in, if that’s what the space requires,” Arrezola said. “We do a lot of due diligence before we approve retail, and make sure it benefits the community as well as the surrounding neighborhood. We have a development team that does a lot of research to see what type of business will work in the neighborhood, what impacts correctly, versus what would just fill up a space. The team really takes into consideration what’s going to be a great match for that space.”

Potrero1010’s indoor and rooftop lounges can accommodate private events, though such gatherings are currently subject to public health restrictions. 

“If they need a location, we can rent out a lounge for small meetings or conferences,” Arrezola said. 

The area will get a fresh influx of residents a couple of blocks to the west, when Alta Potrero, a luxury apartment building rising seven stories between Carolina and Wisconsin streets, opens for occupancy this month. Rents at the 172-unit development start at $2,995 for 450 square foot studios; three-bedroom, two-bathroom units measuring 1,244 square feet top out at $7,625 monthly. Wood Partnersmanages the property.

Catty-corner from Alta Potrero, at 1220 16th Street, is Wolfe’s Lunch, a one-story diner, established in 1948, that’s changed ownership several times. Wolfe’s stayed open for pickup during shelter-in-place, offering American and Korean fare such as hamburgers and bibimbap. 

Belmont Hardware, at 115 Wisconsin, which sells decorative finish hardware, has been open by appointment only for years.  

“We do that so each customer can get one-on-one customer service without interruptions,” said Richard Campbell, operations manager for the Bay Area chain.  “We are requiring masks now. We can order plumbing but don’t have any displays” 

Concentra Urgent Care, at 2 Connecticut Street, specializes in workers compensation injury treatment, physical therapy, occupational health services, and other medical services. It doesn’t offer COVID-19 testing.

Esposto’s Delicatezza, at the corner of 16th and Owens streets, had just reopened after remodeling when shelter-in-place was ordered. Photo: Bettina Cohen

Across the tracks, at 1700 Owens, Esposto’s Delicatezza vends sandwiches, salads, and Italian-styled hot entrees in a corner venue. Esposto’s closed last year to remodel and rebrand but was serving lunchtime workers again before the public health restrictions took effect. 

“We stayed open during lockdown. It was not an easy decision, but felt we needed to be there for our customers who are primarily hospital staff. We wanted to provide some sort of normalcy,” said Luc Torres, operations manager. “We opened in 2011, long before anyone was on that side of the tracks. I still miss the golf range that was in the area.” 

The remodel added a front patio for outdoor seating, enabling Esposto’s dine-in to reopen promptly in June with tables spaced six feet apart, customers bussing their own tables per municipal requirements. The restaurant is scheduled to fully open this month, though that could change if there’s a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“Seventy-five percent of our business comes from our two amazing hospitals; the rest is 1700 Owens,” Torres said. “Very few residents swing by, though we did see a trend forming right before we closed. We really want to become part of this neighborhood.”