Oh No! Caffe Roma Co-Opts a Parklet on Columbus Avenue: Formerly Public Space is Now For Paying Customers Only

[UPDATE - "SanFrustration" explicates, regarding some information in the Comments section about there being, in fact, a sign on the parklet concerned saying how it is for the public: "I wish I would have seen that sign when the old white haired guy came out and rudely told me I had to leave. When I questioned him on it, he was adamant that it was their chairs and tables, and made a big deal of waiting for me to pack up my food. Bear in mind, there was only one other person at the 6 or 7 tables there. All the others were empty. This guy came with attitude from the get go that was both uncalled for and misplaced, and had another older guy standing next to him that was supposed to serve as his backup or something? For what its worth, I overheard them talking about cramming more tables and chairs into the space in preparation for an upcoming parade.

O.K. then. Be sure to check SanFrustration's story in the Comments section. He blames an "older Italian man" for the trouble. Somebody in management, not a waiter. Who could that be?]

[UPDATE II - Now, it's not my job to file a complaint with "Tony Roma," the "owner" of the parklet in question, or anybody else. (Mmmm... it's fun to make up names for ourselves, in'nt? Instead of "Tony Roma" (heh), what about Vitale Venezia, Santino Serrano, or Matteo Milano? You know, something catchy.]

What gives Caffe Roma the right to kick The Public out of the public parklet* at 526 Columbus Avenue?

Absolutely nothing.

I’ll say it again: Absolutely nothing.

And yet, employees of this joint are kicking Il Pubblico out.

Can you imagine?

Let’s read about what happens when a non-customer (let’s use il nome “SanFrustration”) has the temerity to use a public parklet as a public parklet:

“I am writing to express concerns with the way Cafe Roma is handling the public parklet in front of their establishment on Columbus Avenue. As I sat down to enjoy a lunch purchased elsewhere, I was told by Cafe Roma management that I needed to purchase something from them or I’d have to leave. When I explained that I was under the impression this was public space, they said it wasn’t and indicated I was using their table and chair, and thus couldn’t sit there.

When I looked for the public bench in the parklet, I observed that their tables were crowded into this space, making it impossible for anybody to actually use the benches. It was my impression that these parklets were not intended for private enterprise, and I’m very alarmed that they are claiming this area as part of their establishment and not allowing any public usage.”

Testify!

Does it have to say “PUBLIC PARKLET – ALL SEATING IS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC” in order for these areas to be public? Non so.

This photo shows a different parklet, but I think the rules are the same all over the City. See the words in there, camera left? 

Via Streetsblog – photo: Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography - click to expand

I cry foul. Accuso! Accuso!

Hey Caffe Roma, should you accommodate the public at the public park in front of your business?

Perche no?

I know you’ve paid fees and whatnot, but you didn’t buy the land in fee simple absolute, right?

*Or walklet, as some call them

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19 Responses to “Oh No! Caffe Roma Co-Opts a Parklet on Columbus Avenue: Formerly Public Space is Now For Paying Customers Only”

  1. SFLocal says:

    This is North Beach. Deal with it sweetie.

  2. Ted says:

    “This is North Beach. Deal with it sweetie.”

    Wrong answer. It is a public space. You can deal with that fact inside their establishment, sweetie.

  3. mikesonn says:

    Where did you get the letter? Who sent it? Who received it? Did I miss a link to a yelp post or something?

  4. sfcitizen says:

    Via email
    San Frustrated – il nome means “the name”
    I did, plus some SFGov-types plus other members of the lesser Bay Area “media”
    No Yelp post – you know, sometimes those Yelp people can be unreliable, a little flaky

    Now, if I were running Caffe Roma, I’d come at things a bit different than your approach. I’d be all, “Oh yeah, my asst. manager got carried away. We’ve fixed this issue. Sorry about that. All are welcome.” And then I’d get that message to Carolyn A. at the Eater SF and/or Jay B. at Grubstreet.

    That’s what I would do.

  5. salsa says:

    FOUL!

    The rules are clear: “all seating is free and open to the public.”
    from:
    http://sfpavementtoparks.sfplanning.org/columbus_parklet.html

    I wonder– have you contacted Caffe Roma for a statement?
    415-296-7942
    Or, is it actually Caffe Greco? 415-397-6261

  6. sfcitizen says:

    Check. It appears that, at least on one day, Caffe Roma didn’t live up to these ideals.

    Yeah, this is the second parklet on Columbus – it’s confusing as some people have conflated the two. Streetsblog has some photos of the Roma parklet. Google Maps Street View has images of the Grecco one, currently. GrubStreet has the original photo I put up yesterday by mistake.

    Oh no, it’s not my role to contact places. It’s my role to raise the issue, IMO.

  7. Bc says:

    After reading this, I made a point of going by Caffe Roma today and spending close to an hour at the parklet there, eating food I brought from home. No one told me to leave, even the employee who came out once or twice to straighten up the unused tables.

    Perhaps your experience there was a fluke? Or a new employee who didn’t understand the parklet rules? The Roma parklet does have the legally required sign that says “All Seating Open to the Public” but it’s tucked away on the side, where it’s hard to see.

  8. sfcitizen says:

    Were you sitting on their chairs or those bench/planter things?

    It might be that they’ve gotten the word to straighten up and fly right?

    Wasn’t my experience, it was that of (code-name) San Frustrated.

    Thanks for reporting your encounter with the parklet today, Obviously, there should never be a sitch where chairs are blocking the benches, so this was an issue with more than one employee…

  9. Darcy says:

    I am conflicted here. Sure, the idea is that these parklets are for the public. However, living in neighborhoods such as North Beach, we all know there are many people who will park there ALL DAY, buying nothing from anywhere. I hate that. Go sit on a bench on the street or park if you have no interested in contributing to the economy. However, someone should be able to sit and eat their lunch and read their book, etc. for an hour or so. Maybe restaurants should have the option to pay more to have the spaces for their patrons only. Otherwise, yes, it’s public space. But then again, if hobos start taking over the parklets with their shopping carts I will FREAK OUT. I think this is what many are afraid of, it’s a fine line. BTW, I sat at Cafe Roma this wknd eating a sandwich from Little Vine and had no problems, no one asked me to leave, but I did end up ordering a coffee after sitting there for about 30 mins.

  10. sfcitizen says:

    All right, fair enough.

    I think parklets are on a first-com first-served stay-as-long-as-you’d-like kind of deal.

    The primary issue is restaurant owners thinking that they own these spaces because they paid some fees and jumped through a few bureaucratic hoops…

    The case at issue was the placement of chairs or whathaveyou blocking the benches.

  11. SanFrustration says:

    Thanks BC, I wish I would have seen that sign when the old white haired guy came out and rudely told me I had to leave. When I questioned him on it, he was adamant that it was their chairs and tables, and made a big deal of waiting for me to pack up my food. Bear in mind, there was only one other person at the 6 or 7 tables there. All the others were empty. This guy came with attitude from the get go that was both uncalled for and misplaced, and had another older guy standing next to him that was supposed to serve as his backup or something? For what its worth, I overheard them talking about cramming more tables and chairs into the space in preparation for an upcoming parade.

  12. Guy says:

    “Sure, the idea is that these parklets are for the public. However, living in neighborhoods such as North Beach, we all know there are many people who will park there ALL DAY, buying nothing from anywhere.”

    That is what people do in PARKS. That’s what parks are for.

    “But then again, if hobos start taking over the parklets with their shopping carts I will FREAK OUT.”

    You need to join a private club with their own private grounds, and you may need to live in that club too because the “public” is all kinds of people.

  13. mikesonn says:

    I didn’t know SanFrustration emailed you directly, that was what I was confused about.

    Interesting as I haven’t had trouble at either location, Greco or Roma, and I’ve enjoyed both parklets. It is a shame if this is indeed true. Parklets are public space and need to be treated as such. And these “workers” aren’t doing themselves any favors as there are many in this neighborhood who would love to see the parklets ripped out. Full disclosure, I believe they provide a much greater good than the parking spaces they replaced.

    San Frustrated needs to contact David Chiu, the parks dept, and the owner of Cafe Roma.

  14. sfcitizen says:

    Waiters want to make money. If you don’t give money, they might hassle you. Waiters don’t have an incentive to think about the long-term, generally speaking.

    If parklets are so great, why aren’t they paid for out of the general fund? Restaurant owners act this way because of all the fees that they pay.

    SanFrustrated already knows that he can contact Caffe Roma, but he did things in a different, and I’d say, more effective way. I’m up to speed on this issue now, as are thousands of others…

  15. SanFrustration says:

    The guy that forced me to leave with little to no tact was not a waiter, but was representing himself as management of Caffe Roma. He was an older Italian gentleman that was surveying the PUBLIC parklet space with two others to see how many more tables they could fit in anticipation of an upcoming parade.

    I’m not naive, and have lived in the same apartment in North Beach for almost 10 years now, with many mochas happily purchased from Caffe Roma. I was not only disrespected (perhaps I was confused for a tourist from Fisherman’s Wharf?), but I was blatantly lied to and forced to leave even after inquiring about the public nature of the space.

    The bottom line is that the PUBLIC should be able to enjoy a part, if not ALL of the public space they enabled (regardless of any permit fees paid by a private establishment), without somebody erroneously telling them otherwise. I’m glad to hear that others haven’t had a similar experience to date at this parklet, and hope it was simply a misunderstanding from an overeager old-timer who was behind on his current events.

  16. Bc says:

    To reply to SF Citizen’s question, I sat at the metal tables and chairs.

    These, like the benches attached to the parklet itself, are fully public, and it’s illegal for cafe owners or employees to try to force people out under any circumstances.

    The point of the parklet program is to take a few small bits of public street space that had been just for cars and let non-drivers use them–not to allow cafes to annex (or purchase) parts of the public realm. When parklets work right, I think they’re a great thing for everyone involved.

  17. sfcitizen says:

    All right, fine, when parklets work, they work.

    My understanding now is that a management-type kicked out the aggrieved party here.

    I don’t know how illegal it is for a restaurant operator to discourage freeloaders, I’m not up to speed on that.

    I don’t know why this post is being viewed as some grand attack on parklets. If I were a parklet booster, I’d call up that faked-named person at Caffe Roma myself and say, yo, what’s the deal, dawg. I’m not so I won’t.

    If every parklet “owner” / custodian acted like Caffe Roma, then I think we shouldn’t have parklets or we should finance them with tax money instead of fee money….

  18. Alai says:

    I don’t see a problem with the current system, so much. The rules are clear going in, so if the cafes (or whoever) pay, they know what they’re getting. Obviously they have some expectation of profit, but that doesn’t mean they can break the rules. They will benefit anyway– their customers will also use the space, and they benefit just from the visibility the parklets give them. Whether it’s worth it for them is their decision to make.

    Now, if no one wanted to build them, we could talk about whether we want to use public money, but as it is…

  19. AlfieJr says:

    Just Do It.

    if some jerk comes out of the Roma and tells you to move, don’t.

    call his bluff. tell him to call the cops. he won’t.

    or just threaten to sue his ass.

    file a DPH complaint about unsanitary conditions inside later. they’re confidential.

    make him regret being a jerk.