Mission Bay Businesses Begin to Blossom

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Emile Kfouri, owner of Row House. Photo: Bettina Cohen

For a timeless moment, the retail economy along Fourth Street from Channel Street to Mission Bay Boulevard North limped along. Early arrivals to Mission Bay kept waiting for a “critical mass” of residential and commercial complexes to be built to trigger a deluge of neighborhood-serving merchants.

If the grand openings taking place along the corridor during the spring and fall are any indication, critical mass has arrived. San Francisco Custom Chiropractic, at 1365 Fourth Street, launched in October.  Row House, a boutique fitness studio which shares the same vestibule at 1375 Fourth Street, opens this month, offering clients four days of free classes.  So too does Mission Bay Wine and Cheese, just off the corridor at 114 Channel Street. La Belle Cuisine Bakery anticipates moving into the Fourth Street side of the One Mission Bay complex by year’s end. 

These shops will supplement the offerings sold at Gus’s Community Market, a neighborhood mainstay since it opened at its prominent 1101 Fourth Street location last year. Produce bins flank the store’s entrance, customers eat at sidewalk tables, and the colorful corner conveys an energetic vibe to pedestrians crossing the Fourth Street Bridge and perambulating south of Mission Creek. 

Mission Bay’s burgeoning population now has a diverse set of storefront windows in which to peer. “This is an exciting place,” said Emile Kfouri, owner of Row House. With two professional sports teams and concert venues drawing crowds to the neighborhood, an income-diverse residential and commuter population, and Gus’s as an anchor, he added, “It’s the perfect urban location.” Kfouri scouted out Mission Bay for his franchise a year ago. “It wasn’t very crowded then. You could tell it was going to be exciting, but it wasn’t exciting yet. In one year, it’s grown a lot. There are many more people now.”

Healthy Spot co-owners Andrew Kim and Mark Boonnark chose Mission Bay to open their first store outside Southern California by contemplating, “Where’s a community that’s underserved, growing, has a love for pets, and that we’d be able to participate in? When we put in that criteria, Mission Bay jumped to the top of the list,” Kim said. “This is a great opportunity to be part of a young, growing community.”

“It’s probably one of the most involved communities that I’ve been involved with, and I like that,” said Dr. Adam Jacobs, founder and owner of SF Custom Chiropractic. Jacobs wanted to expand his offices to Mission Bay since a buddy of his, who worked for Clark Construction while the University of California, San Francisco was being built, told him it was a place to watch. 

“We’ve been involved in projects in Mission Bay over the past three or four years. We have been out there telling the story of what we believe to be the opportunity for tenants in Mission Bay,” said Laura Sagues Barr, senior vice president for CBRE, a commercial real estate firm responsible for leasing retail spaces in One Mission Bay, a condominium building with fully leased retail spaces, and 588 Mission Bay Boulevard North, an apartment building with retail entrances in the 1300 block of Fourth Street, where two final deals are nearing completion. 

“It was more storytelling with data before,” Sagues Barr said. “Now with the volume of people living here, and the shift toward offices in the area, the medical center and the Chase Center, it’s established. They can see what’s there. It’s a nice position for our investors to be in.”

Dogs stand attentively as handlers trim their coats with electric clippers at Healthy Spot, which opened last spring at 1200 Fourth Street.  The company brought groomers from its Southern California locations to train local staff as part of an apprenticeship-type program. 

“Not all dogs love the grooming process. Our team is trained to handle that. Half the skill of grooming is the behavior process, where you keep the dog calm and work with the dog and keep the stress down. Our groomers make it look easy,” Kim said. “We’re thorough and extensive in our investment on grooming, bathing and hair cutting. You don’t have to be an experienced groomer, but as long as you have passion and are able to work with our team, we’ll train you.”

The store sells premium pet foods, toys, and care items. Small dog daycare is offered weekdays.  “We provide the opportunity to take care of the whole relationship outside of veterinary needs and meet all other needs in a single place,” Kim said.

Healthy Spot hosts “pawties” for pet owners. “We create an atmosphere where people who love their pets can get together,” Kim said. The company is working on fitness-related events for 2020, including Doga – yoga with your dog – Yappy Hours and Play Dates, and has hosted events with SPARK Social – an outdoor food truck park – local meet-up groups and apartment complexes.

SF Custom Chiropractic plans to partner with gyms and fitness clubs, Jacobs said. Being the neighborhood’s only chiropractic office, “I expect to have a lot of new patients in the area; residents, employees of nearby biotech firms. I already treat some of the doctors at UCSF, and now will be closer to their location. Most people when they come to our office either live or work nearby and pop over.” 

Jacobs described the method he and his team of four practice as “a combination of chiropractic and physical therapy. A lot of soft tissue work. Very popular with athletes, but everyone can benefit from it. We have knowledge to treat extremity injuries such as shoulders, knees.” He expects each chiropractor will see 20 to 30 patients a day. Front desk staff are health care students. “They care a ton about people’s health and well-being,” Jacobs said. 

As the name suggests, Row House’s program uses equipment that simulates rowing, with classes pulling together, like a boat crew. While music plays in the softly lit studio, students build aerobic endurance and muscular strength. 

Kfouri said nearness to other fitness studios was one reason Mission Bay appealed to him. CorePower Yoga and PowerPlay, across from one another on the 1200 block of Fourth Street, and Lagree Fit 415, at 112 Channel Street, offer different exercise regimens. He believes proximity will favor all, defining Mission Bay as a destination for workout enthusiasts.

“Concentrating is a good thing. On Main Street, you’ll see three or four banks close to each other,” Kfouri said. “We’ve found people who have memberships at multiple locations. They like the complementary forms of exercise and socializing. I’m absolutely not competing with other fitness places here.”

Row House will offer six types of classes. Choices include 90 percent of class time on the rowing machine with a 10-minute break in the middle; time split equally on the machine and floor exercises; and a full body workout that’s low impact with more stretching than rowing, which Kfouri described as, “A lot of fun. A 45-minute class goes by in no time.” Instructors will help with rowing technique to achieve an efficient workout. Row House also sells high-end athletic wear. 

 “I’ve been a competitive athlete since elementary school. It’s a community I understand and have respect and admiration for,” Kfouri said. Rowing appealed to him because, “It’s not meant to be competitive, but for everyone to pull together. We’re trying to build a community of diverse people.” Row House offers a 10 percent discount to first responders based in the Public Safety Building on Third Street, and residents of the area’s affordable housing. 

Kfouri, Jacobs, Kim and Boonnark, presented their business concepts to the Mission Bay Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) to secure approval from the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure (OCII), the City agency overseeing completion of the Mission Bay South Redevelopment Plan. They noted that meeting attendees had a strong sense of community and acknowledged that Mission Bay is more welcoming to franchises and formula retail than other San Francisco neighborhoods, where formula retail must apply to the City’s Planning Department for approval. 

Land uses in Mission Bay are permitted as either principal or secondary. Principal uses are permitted without OCII approval and include restaurants, most retail, and art activities. Secondary uses include aerobic studios, doctor offices, and animal care. These are allowed, provided they generally conform with redevelopment objectives, planning and design controls, and OCII determines they’ll make a positive contribution to the area. CAC support is a step toward OCII approval. 

 A new Mattress Firm showroom opened in May, bringing home furnishings and a big business feel to the southwest corner of Fourth and Long Bridge streets.

“Allowing formula retail has been helpful as it pertains to Mission Bay,” Sagues Barr said.

Jennifer Dolin, Mercy Housing’s vice president of operations, praised Nancy Conover, a commercial leasing agent who passed away in June, for having filled all but one of the ground floor retail spaces at 1180 Fourth Street, an affordable housing complex. Under Conover’s management, Mercy Housing recruited neighborhood-serving, smaller businesses. “Nance really created the market there,” Dolin said. 

Café Réveille opened in 2016, serving breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch, with indoor and outdoor seating, on the northwest corner of Fourth and Long Bridge streets. As roasting headquarters for Réveille Coffee Company, patrons can see coffee cooked on a German-made Probat. 

Back to the Picture, a framing and art shop with sister stores in the Mission District and South-of-Market, also opened in 2016, at 1160 Fourth Street. Casey’s Pizza has served thin crust pies, salads, craft beer, wine and dessert next door since 2017. 

Family-owned House of Tadu Ethiopan Kitchen, at 1130 Fourth Street, expanded from its Tenderloin space to introduce foreign cuisine to the neighborhood in 2017 The artsy décor is Back to the Picture’s touch. 

Mizu Spa provides personal pampering and beauty maintenance — manicures, pedicures, facials, waxing, and massage — in a tranquil setting that features soft music mingling with the white noise of trickling water. Fresh flowers bought at Gus’s brighten the reception area.

“We’re an urban spa, and we try to make it as peaceful and relaxing as possible,” said Nancy Lo, who owns the small business with a partner. Mizu Spa moved to 1150 Fourth Street in 2017, after 10 years on King Street, to avoid a steep rent increase.  “We really wanted to stay within this area and keep our existing client base. This was the first area we looked at, and it ended up being the last. We saw there was a lot of growth, so we didn’t need to look any further,” Lo said. Most of Mizu Spa’s clients followed them to their new location, along with Lo’s employees; some have worked for her since she originally opened. 

“I love this neighborhood. It feels more like a neighborhood here, compared to King Street,” Lo said. She and her staff shop at Gus’s, grab coffee at Café Réveille or from Joe & the Juice, which opened at 1155 Fourth Street in 2018. SPARK Social, Stagecoach Greens and the Mission Bay Kids Park in the triangular parcel where Long Bridge meets China Basin Street “are giving Mission Bay a diverse feeling as a neighborhood for families,” she said.

Stagecoach Greens opened in 2018, in the Parklab Gardens bordered by Mission Bay Boulevard North and South, Third and Fourth streets. The whimsical boom and bust, Gold Rush-themed mini golf course has food trucks and a bar. Cabanas and bungalows can be rented for parties. 

“We’ve been very pleased with the great reception that the course has received,” said Rachel Rapaport, senior consultant for Stagecoach Greens. “In our first year we welcomed upwards of 100,000 people to the course. On a busy day, 500 or more people golf. Golfers are young and old, from San Francisco and from surrounding areas. During the week we often have large groups of professionals come for teambuilding. During the summer and on weekend mornings family groups come and golf. Weekends are the busiest, but weekdays can see surges, and warm weather makes a difference. Come Sunday through Tuesday evenings when we are quieter and more local. Also, weekday mornings when school is in session.” 

Opened last spring, Woodland Creature Outfitters, at 1310 Fourth Street, sells toys, trinkets, T-shirts, costumes, curios, and books written by 826 Valencia afterschool writing program participants. Sale proceeds go to 826 Valencia, a nonprofit that provides services to under-resourced children and youth, ages eight to 18. Weekday afternoons youngsters crafting stories and essays under the tutelage of volunteers can be glimpsed in the enchanted forest at Fourth and China Basin’s southwest corner, across from the pups at Healthy Spot. 

Last month, signs announcing that Happy Lemon, a Taiwanese bubble tea shop, will be coming soon to 1320 Fourth Street, appeared in the storefront. A Bank of America is gearing up at 1335. 

Not all went smoothly on the way to critical mass. Bimma Loft, a high-end furniture store and Mission Bay’s first retailer, moved to 50 De Haro Street last summer after six years at 1245 Fourth Street, driven out, in part, by sidewalk reconstruction to fix subsidence. Two other tenants of the block, PowerPlay and the UPS Store, weathered the path closure and remain open. 

Locals awaited a Market Hall food mart for more than two years after it was announced in 2014. It closed a year later. Gus’s is thriving there now. 

The spot opposite Gus’s, at Fourth and Channel, remains conspicuously vacant. “We’ve had five or six restaurants interested in the space,” Dolin said. As a nonprofit, Mercy Housing doesn’t offer upfront revenue for space buildout, something a commercial developer can provide. Tenants need an investor or a loan to cover renovation expenses. “We’re affordable housing. Our investments are in housing, not retail,” Dolin explained. Competition from food delivery services and high business costs have contributed to more restaurants closing than opening in San Francisco over the past year, ABC7 News reported in September.

Nevertheless, Dolin said, prospective tenants continue to inquire about the corner location. “They’re looking at this and thinking, ‘there’s a lot of potential there now. We see people on the sidewalks, people using the park system. The new arena is going to bring crowds.’  There’s more and more interest in that space, day by day.”