San Francisco is one of the world’s great towns for food. You can experience every food on the planet without leaving the City. Thousands of restaurants serve delicacies from around the globe to sophisticated foodies and tourists every day.
Still, the restaurant game is a tough one. Here are 5 formerly red-hot restaurants that flamed out and went out of business in the City.
Donatelli’s Pasta Dream
Donatelli’s Pasta Dream was situated on a quiet street in North Beach. There was no parking at all, so many people arrived by cab or simply walked over from the neighborhood.
Donatelli’s was famous for their Gabagool and Provolone sandwiches served with a side of vinegar peppers. A favorite of West Coast mob boss Carmine “Kneecaps” Sermionetta, it was his final meal. In 1957, he was gunned down as he was getting in his car outside the restaurant. Business slowly dropped over the years, and in 1965 Donatelli’s closed for good.
Sunrise in the Sunset
Well known for their whole wheat flapjacks and giant omelets, Sunrise on the Sunset was a local favorite for many years in the Sunset District. Jasper “Sunny Jack” Coleman was the man responsible for the popularity of their robust breakfast menu.
It all came to a close in 1970 during the Egg Riots. Militant foodies marched through the neighborhood, chanting “Sunny Jack, Take It Back!” referring to their goal of stopping the mistreatment of chickens. To make their point, they threw raw eggs at the restaurant, patrons leaving the building and surrounding cars. Fed up, Sunny Jack packed up his spatula and retired to Costa Rica.
Located in the Russian Hill neighborhood, one of San Francisco’s original “Seven Hills,” this restaurant was situated at the bottom of Lombard Street. It was one of the world’s first drive-thru restaurants. Tourists entered their orders at the top of Lombard Street by speaking into a makeshift speaker system. By the time they got to the bottom, their order was ready.
Lombard Louie’s was the first of many similar restaurants around town. Louie opened Golden Gate Louie’s where you could order your food in Marin and it would be ready at the first stop light in the City. He also tried Cow Hollow Harry’s, a similar concept for yuppies. They ordered food at one end of Cow Hollow, and then pushed their kids in over-priced European strollers to the other end. By the time they got there, the kids and parents alike were screaming and ready to eat.
All of Louie’s restaurants went under during a family political battle in the 1980s.
Barca, located in the Embarcadero, catered to business and corporate types in the Financial District. Established during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, Barca was known for lavish deserts costing thousands of dollars.
Their best-selling desert was called the Silicon Volcano. It was a volcano made of chocolate cake that was lit at the top. Sparklers began to shoot sparks in the air as the waiter led the surrounding tables in the countdown. “3-2-1!” The volcano erupted and a shower of $100 bills rained down on the table, followed by Apple stock options floating down on little parachutes.
Five Winds Cafe
Five Winds was the hottest restaurant in Chinatown for several decades after World War II. Located in a back alley off Clay street, Five Winds featured their famous mooncakes and Shaobing, a type of pastry.
However, Five Winds was also known for “custom” fortunes inside Fortune Cookies. Waiters would listen closely to diner conversations and relay the information to a special team working in the back. They would create custom fortunes and insert them in the cookies.
For example, a customer might say, “The interview went well, I hope they offer me the job.” The restaurant staff would create a fortune that said, “You will be successful in your new job at Wells Fargo Financial Services.” Diners were amazed and returned to the restaurant many times for new fortunes. Five Winds got rich.
The ruse worked for years until police got word of the system. They burst into the back of Five Winds near closing time on a busy Sunday in 1973, busting the covert fortune cookie operation. Police confiscated recording equipment, a mimeograph machine and 256 boxes of fortune cookie paper. The restaurant was shut down during an investigation, and never opened again.