S.F. cafe owner battles red tape and ‘folks who just hate everything’ in fight to open in the Mission

When Ivor Bradley goes before San Francisco’s most powerful legislative body Tuesday, he won’t be arguing for anything extraordinary. Instead, the Board of Supervisors will spend precious time debating a controversy that could only happen in San Francisco: whether to let Bradley open a coffee shop.

The fight over croissants and cappuccinos promises to be the most San Francisco story of them all — one that covers the city’s tech industry, its small business crisis, its intense NIMBY-ism and its famously dramatic fights over every little change proposed to the city’s landscape.

The latest chapter in the saga that might as well be titled “San Francisco is arguing over what now?” began last summer when Bradley closed his famous cafe, the Creamery, after 12 years in the South of Market.

A drop in revenue because of the pandemic and uncertainty over a planned 960-unit development on the site prompted Bradley to not renew the lease on the cafe that was famous in tech circles for its venture capitalist confabs and the apparent birth of Airbnb.

When Bradley, a genial, twinkly eyed Irishman who peppers his conversation with phrases like “a wee bit,” went searching for a new home for his cafe, he landed on a vacant space at 14th and Mission streets.

And that’s when the intense scrutiny began.

“Who knew that scones could be so controversial?” Bradley, 50, mused as we stood outside the space he’s paid $4,500 a month for since September, but still has no key to open.

The Sunset District resident and father of two thought relocating a popular business to a vacant storefront a mile and a half away that nobody else wants to rent would be a lot easier than this. Especially because his plan fits the zoning rules and many of his employees live in the Mission. Plus, he’s agreed to hire locally for any slots his former staff doesn’t fill.

Between rent, which will rise to $6,000 monthly if and when he can finally open, an architect, equipment storage and other costs, he’s sunk more than $60,000 into the project.

“It definitely makes you stop and think of the process and the hurdles that you have to overcome if you want to make a significant investment in a neighborhood,” Bradley said. “It’s a challenge to move forward knowing the city doesn’t have your back.”

So what happened? San Francisco happened.

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