Tonight! Buy Chicken John’s Book, Help Save His Space for ‘Odd and Unlikely Artworks’

On Cesar Chavez Street near Mission, there’s a prominent mural on a jaunty red building that shouts advice to all passers-by: “Fail…to WIN!”

That slogan is the subtitle of The Book of the IS, a new book written by the building’s owner, Chicken John Rinaldi.

I’ve read it, and I was genuinely inspired by its rallying cry to embrace the “Is” — that which “allows and accepts and laughs and courts” — and reject the “Un,” which “prevents and contains and moderates and disdains.”

The key to pulling off this trick? Don’t be afraid to fail. “The minute we’re as comfortable with failing,” Rinaldi writes, “as we are with winning — the moment we’re in it for the experience and not the victory lap — is the moment we’re free.”

A showman provocateur whose multifarious capers have increased the colorfulness of our city and Bernalwood in particular (anyone remember the Odeon Bar?), Chicken John’s most recent claim to fame is his (failed) mayoral campaign in 2007.

But for the past five years or so, he has quietly put on all manner of interesting artistic and cultural events ­— oracular Q&A salons, trapeze classes, puppet shows, mayoral debates, you name it — at 3359 Cesar Chavez Street, the aforementioned jaunty red building. Quietly as in, you know, lacking all the permits and stuff.

That space is now at a crossroads, and Chicken John needs help. He needs you to buy his awesome book, either online at or, preferably, in person tonight, Sept. 30, 7 p.m.-2 a.m., at a spectacular free event at 111 Minna and the surrounding block (the street will be closed to accommodate over 100 performers and god knows what kind of mayhem).

Did we mention that the book is an objet d’art? And that 550 of the 2,500 copies in existence sport handmade slip covers by renowned street artist Swoon as well as a smattering of local artists? You can even choose (for a slightly higher price) to have your book include a coupon worth one “anything,” redeemable directly from Chicken John. “It’s gonna kill me,” he says, “but I’m serious about it. I will do anything to save the warehouse.”

If he can raise the dough, Chicken John will be able to (a) keep his warehouse and (b) make an honest art space out of it via the nonprofit he created: the San Francisco Institute for Possibility. “We want to champion odd and unlikely artworks,” he says. “There is so much cool stuff that wants to happen there that I have to pass on because we are just not legal enough. Together, we can put the warehouse’s problems away and focus on doing shows, manufacturing culture, and battling the onslaught of mediocrity.”

Hear, hear! Help the man fail at failure.

PHOTO: Neil Berrett

27 thoughts on “Tonight! Buy Chicken John’s Book, Help Save His Space for ‘Odd and Unlikely Artworks’

  1. Wow, promoting Chicken John? Todd, this is a sure-fire way to lose readers of your blog. I despise Chicken John – his methods, his style, his everything. IMO, he is the worst of what San Francisco is about. I boycott anything he touches, including Ritual Coffee. Ugh. I hope this space fails fast and hard.
    What’s next, promoting Steven Elliot? Until they apologize for their behavior during the Dolores Park Blue Bottle travesty, they both are persona non grata to me.

      • Wrong. This is the same jerk off who wanted people to stage a “puke in” at Dolores Park to prevent La Cocina from selling things there. The non-profit La Cocina that teaches immigrant, low-income women how to sell and profit from their native foods. This guy should climb a tall tree somewhere and saw the log he’s standing on. I might head down to 111 Minna later today to puke on his stack of for-profit books. I sincerely hope he fails in all his future endeavors.

    • Thanks Dave. Actually, I agree with you, more or less wholeheartedly.

      That said, my colleague Bronwyn is a Bernalwood contributor, and she feels differently. I strongly believe that her right to publish as she sees fit trumps my own feelings here.

      Bernalwood is guided by the principle of neighborliness, but neighborliness does not mean we will agree with one another. Neighborliness means we treat each other with reasonable courtesy and respect, and debate our points of disagreement accordingly. Indeed, it is precisely because he failed this same test so miserably in the Dolores Park matter that my esteem for of Chicken John fell dramatically. Yet he remains our neighbor, and a resident of the Dominion of Bernalwood, and I believe we should treat him as such.

      So attend the event tonight, if you want. Or don’t. Or discuss the pros and cons here. But please don’t judge Bernalwood just because you don’t like what someone wrote about someone else.

      • The original Dave here, the one who despises Chicken John. (I changed my signature to Dave the Neighbour – as chance would have it, that’s the name most people in my community know me as. No joke.)
        Todd, I agree, you can print whatever you like on your blog. It’s your blog after all. But I can also stop reading. And in the case of Bernalwood, that’ll make me sad. I like your blog. I read it every day. I like your sense of humour, your sense of neighbourliness. But I hate Chicken John, and everything he stands for – he is a bad neighbour. IMO, he has serious character faults. He is unethical. He is blindly mean and vicious. His actions and behaviour fall outside of the realm of “good neighbour” and I don’t want to support him. And I encourage others to not support him.

  2. By the way, as confusing as this is, I want to point out that “Dave” and Dave are two different posters. The comments above by “Dave” are intended in now way to represent the thoughts or feelings of Dave. (Although, I have to say that I too agree with Dave.)

    Small world…

  3. Bronwyn,
    As one of the “smattering of local artists” who contributed to this event, I would like to thank you very much for the write up and the positive press!
    Chez Poulet is a wonderful place. I had my very first gallery show there! Nowhere else would give me the time of day, because I’m a nobody, and people don’t think photography is “real art” or whatever. The “If you haven’t been in Juxtapoz, you aren’t worth my time” attitude that most galleries have is the reason that the local artists community NEEDS a space like Chez Poulet, and why The City NEEDS people like Chicken John. People who will book the unknowns, outsiders, weirdos and host amazing events that otherwise would never happen, despite the fact that it may not be profitable! That’s what we did at the Odeon (I was a bartender there) and Chez Poulet is a continuation in the same spirit.
    It’s a wonderful place, and for the record I think Chicken is good people. As for those who feel differently, I urge them to come tonight and buy a copy of the book anyway just to get a “Good For One Anything” coupon. Then they will have the satisfaction of seeing the man who umm…stole you bike? Ruined your day? Boned your mom? Really, what DID he do to y’all?! I can only imagine it must have been something unimaginably terrible to warrant such public vitriol. Anyway, you can make him move your stuff or wear a dress, or something. Get creative!

    • C’mon Jenner – it seems you are being willfully ignorant: he advocated puking in front of a business started by hardworking people who otherwise would not have had a chance at starting a business but for an organization that exists to do just that. Very similar to what his org is apparently trying to do for artists, which is laudable, given how hard it is for anyone without buttloads of cash to do anything in this town.

      The thing is people remember that kind of shit and vote with their pocketbooks – I find him repulsive (based on very limited info, but what are you gonna do?) – if he really wants to help artists he should probably remove his persona from the mix and work behind the scenes (not likely from a wannabe politician and someone who had himself painted into a mural: egos like that don’t die an easy death).

      Anyway I do hope for the best for you – the Odeon was a blast and this town needs to retain artists one way or another. Hope this wasn’t to “un” for you!

      • Sean, I agree. People vote with their dollars. This is very true in San Francisco in particular. I love to, and do, support local merchants and artists with my energy and money. I will NOT support anyone associated with Chicken John. Death by association.

  4. Does he have the proper permits for that giant eyesore of an add on cesar chavez? That’s a pretty easy way to get some major fines.

  5. I like Chicken John and I support him. I have interacted with him several times and I read his newsletter. The puke-in was a joke!! in order to bring attention to the selling of our parks. I might not have agreed with him, but I don’t have to agree with him 100% for me to see the greater good he was trying to accomplish. Please read more about him and his motivations. He is GOOD for San Francisco. His presence and support of artists continues to make San Francisco the only City that holds my heart. “Minds function best when open.” Thank you.

    • Maureen, the “joke” and the rest of Chicken John and Steven Elliot’s actions resulted in Blue Bottle pulling their trailer at a loss to them, and to a loss of revenue to Rec and Parks. Fine, that stopped the “commercialization” of the park. Chicken John won. But here’s my one main issue with this – Chicken John did this all the while he was (is still?) in a relationship with the owner of Ritual! He was calling Blue Bottle a corporate chain, all the while sleeping with the owner of Ritual! Unethical. Unacceptable.
      So that’s why I won’t support this artists space of his. If he says any of the money he raises is going to go to supporting local artists, etc, I DON”T BELIEVE HIM! He was unethical in his attack of Blue Bottle and I’m worried he will do it again.
      (By the way, the “joke” had James at Blue Bottle worried for the safety of his workers. That’s how vitriolic the “joke” was when delivered.)

    • “Minds function best when open.”
      There is a difference between closed minds and discerning minds, Maureen. We all have to make choices based often on very little information. CJ chose to make his joke at someone else’s expense and I, among others, choose to not support him as a result.

  6. I’ve known the guy since the late ’80’s. He can pull off some interesting stuff on occasion, and he actually has a good point to make every now and again. But he’s also a major dick who will do anything for publicity.

    • That’s a killer blurb for his next book’s back cover: “A major dick who will do anything for publicity.”

  7. Interesting to meet vitriolic people who said they despised chicken at the event last night like a spoiled twenty something hating his parents but taking their rent money. Whiners with no sense of irony or shame

  8. Kudos to Bernalwood for entertaining diverse points of view. I learned lots from Bronwyn’s article and the discussion that followed. I think the experience of reading Bernalwood would have been diminished had the editors censored themselves the way some are urging.

    Dave the Neighbor, I’m calling BS on your threats to stop reading Bernalwood to retaliate for it not marching in lockstep with your opinions. You’ve already admitted that you read it every day and you continue to use it to voice opinions that others here don’t agree with. Are you *really* willing to deprive yourself of something you love for the sole reason of . . . well, it’s not even clear what you think you’d accomplish . The point is, Bernalwood has given you a platform you otherwise didn’t have to tell me things about Chicken John I didn’t know before.

    You’re certainly free to “boycott” Bernalwood, but I suspect your move would hurt you more than anyone else. I hope Todd continues to infuse the blog with the respect, tolerance and multiple points of view I’ve grown accustomed to.

  9. I’m also a non-supporter of Chicken John. Can’t stand him. But I won’t stop reading Bernalwood. There are several bloggers and they all have their own likes/dislikes, etc. I admit I was turned off to see the support, but to each his own. I won’t be buying his book! But I will support this blog since it’s about the great hood, not Frickin John.

  10. Please feel free to hate my guts. However, I never threatened to puke on anyone. I implied it, as a joke in an education campaign about the wholesale selling of our parks. I will do anything for publicity, and use the media as a tool and a loudspeaker.

    But who cares. You have made up your mind that I eat babies and push old ladies down and steal their SS checks. I admit I find it amuzing.

    I would like to say one thing here, though. I am your neighbor. Not someone who lives in Bernal. Neighbor. I fix the kids bikes on my block. I beat a man with a 2×4 who was cracked out and trying to molest a 4 year old in the parking lot next to my house ten years ago. I let the day laborers use my toilet for a decade until they opened that little storefront across Army street for them. I am a tool lending library. I fought for the bike lane and other improvements on Army. I’ve stood up to the gangs that used to be on Folsom. I’ve lived in Bernal for 20 years. Powhatten, Wool street and now Army. I’ve run 5 business’ from Bernal, 2 retail. I’m the mayor of my block. A car accident happened on Army, people came knocking on my door BEFORE they called the cops. I have no idea why. I’m not just someone who lives near you. I’m your neighbor. We are on the same team.

    You don’t like my billboard? Really? You don’t trust me with money but don’t know me? Why don’t I rent out that billboard space to Coca Cola? Or Metro PCS? They’ve all asked. What about the Bernal Heights artist that I paid $2K to paint it? When I owned the Odeon, I would try to hire local bartenders. Local as in Bernal local. I have a good neighbor policy with ALL my neighbors and evryone who lives around me loves all of us. There is zero drama and zero ill will. We are all good neighbors. We all get it.

    It’s quite possible that I’m not trying hard enough to allow you to get to know me. Please, give me your address and I will send you a copy of my book. For free. To be a good neighbor. And if that’s not enough, please put a date on my calendar and I’ll make dinner for you. You can come to the warehouse and meet the people who call it a home and meet me and maybe you could change your mind, if you’d like. It is impossible that you can hate someone as much as you hate me without ever having spoken to me. So call me: 415-215-1632

    As for who “won” at Dolores Park, that is up to you to decide. There is currently a plan for 20 food trucks. “Food Court” is the term that is being thrown around. Just like I said. This may make you very happy. There are 2 sides to this debate. I just wanted to educate people, because the people who were ‘for’ food carts (really food trucks) were ‘for’ privatization. But then when asked if they were for privatization, they all said that they were against privatization but wanted food carts. So I pushed an agenda to manipulate the media and build a contraversy. You weren’t really supposed to beleive that there was to be any actual human vomit. On the fatefull day, I showed up with $700 of fake vomit. It was amuzing. But taking me for my word is just going to make you angry.

    The next move is yours, neighbor


  11. David Kaye here. Ten years ago I was wary about Chicken opening a bar given that I lived in the alley behind it, and the previous owners had allowed brawls and stabbings to occur. After the license transferred I went in one night to hear a comic (Chris Karney) bait some Marina-ite testosterone-laden jocks with homophobic comments. That pissed me off, given the history of the bar and the fact that I didn’t know where Chris was coming from. At the time I was involved in the Northwest Bernal Alliance neighborhood group, the group that cleaned up the neighborhood by getting rid of gang violence problems, graffiti, and nightclub problems. So, I took my experience back tothe NWBA and opposed giving Chicken an entertainment license.

    Mark, the owner of a cafe on 26th, knew us both and brokered a meeting (I had not yet met Chicken). Chicken suggested I spend more time at the bar and get to know people before making such a harsh decision.

    One night I went there and he had put together a “make a funny hat” night, truly an innovation and something that could not be classified as entertainment, and thus wouldn’t violate the law. I was charmed by Tracy, and came to meet others there, and gradually softened my stand. I suggested that Chicken and company make a presentation to the NWBA to bring everything out into the open. It was an amazing night because he won us over easily.

    In the 5 years Chicken operated the Odeon, he presented entertainment and art that NOBODY else would have presented, largely because he seems to value earnestness and sincerity over whether something matches his taste or not.

    The Odeon was responsible for a boatload of people being exposed to a rich cultural environment that nobody before or since has done. And believe me, as someone who has put on hundreds of live music shows in the Bay Area, I know that Chicken has presented unique things nobody else would touch.

    As to the puke-in idea, lame as it was, it highlighted something Chicken warned us against: the wholesale selling of Dolores Park to food vendors. Right now Wreck/Park has decided to take out grass and put in cement pads to accommodate MORE food cards. The floodgates have opened. Yeah, La Cochina today, Starbuck’s tomorrow. BET ON IT.

    I don’t have a lot of money these days, but I do have time to contribute whatever I can to help out people I believe in, and I believe in Chicken and what he wants to do with his warehouse.

    Those of you who bitch and moan about Chicken’s actions should go out and take some actions of your own, and DO something to help this city culturally. Remember, if it wasn’t for innovative art and performace, SF would become another Dallas. We already have an Apple store, remember.

  12. And by the way, this article that Todd has linked to: above is classic non-journalism. The reporter never spoke to me. It’s a food blog written by someone in the food scene, it’s no surprise they support the company who throws the SF Street Food Festival; La Couchina. If you are going to read that and base an opinion on it, I think this is an error. Please also read this: and then maybe you will understand what actually happened. I mean, in the grubstreet article, they are still referring to it as a push cart. It’s a taco truck. The list of inconsistencies goes on…

    If you do a web search for “Chicken John, Dolores Park”, you will find well over 200 articles about this issue. To date, 1 and only 1 reporter from a media outlet has ever actually talked to me about it: Ken Garcia. All the other stories are written on nothing more then gossip. Gossip that was all pretty much started by me.

    But there is one fact that seems to be relevant that I will include here: it is a simple fact that RPD was trying to bypass the public process. They admitted this publicly. By making the stink we did, we brought the issue to light. We took a low, low road. But if anyone would like to intelligently debate what other options were available to us, I’m all ears. No matter which side of the issue you stand on, there is no one who is against public process. We were being steamrolled. We fought back. At no time that we are aware of was anyone actually threatened by our outrageous and absurd actions. Except some people on the internet screaming for my blood, even La Couchina supported us. Hell, I’ve got a signed letter of support from them:

    In the end, it’s still working. We are still talking about what privatization is. How it works. Why some people think it’s bad. It’s no coincidence that the agreement to move to the curb is on Oct. 29th, a week before our mayoral election. This is an opportunity, one that I plan on using to the full extent of my reach.

    But never have I insulted Caleb or La Couchina. I’ve leaned on them, but they are my neighbors. They have a storefront 3 blocks from my humble home. They park their trailer at Army Street mini storage, where I have space and I rent trucks a few times a month. Hell, they sell tacos in my park. Good tacos. Don’t confuse manipulating the media for anything else.

    chicken john

  13. Chicken John, that doesn’t look like a letter of support from La Cocina. Just a letter saying they’re happy they can finally park somewhere/anywhere near their anticipated customers in Dolores Park.
    I don’t know why La Cocina is being brought up anyway. Your original attacks on the “privatization of Dolores Park” were on Blue Bottle. The petition where you reference a “national chain” and your public comments at the Recs and Parks Commission (recorded in the minutes) show this. The bottom line for me is that you were protesting Blue Bottle’s cart/table/truck/rig/semi while you were in a relationship with the owner of Ritual. That’s not acceptable in my books. Unethical and wrong. At the very least you should have disclosed this publicly, but you didn’t.
    Chicken John, your rhetoric and actions were not anywhere near what could be considered a reasonable and neighbourly discourse. Some examples, all quotes from you from your site:
    “We are having a puke in. Pukin’. We are going to collectively lose our lunch on a trailer this weekend. I’ve hired a photographer to document it. To show other potential stores in the park what happens when you sell the park out.”
    “So we told them that we would protest. Picket. We would sue. We would pour gasoline over our heads to make us martyrs for the cause.”
    “We have to fight dirty, get mean and we have to puke on a trailer this weekend. We have to fill Dolores Park with vomit, and watch the trailer float away gone forever… “
    It was angry and vitriolic and caused the owners of Blue Bottle to back out for fear of danger to their workers. And now you put out an olive branch with these grandiose invitations to give me a book and to meet you and to call you? No thanks. I don’t want to meet you or have anything to do with you – you scare me.
    By the way, it’s “Cocina” not “Couchina”. Cocina means kitchen in Spanish.

  14. ‘A’ trailer. I never said whose trailer. I always said ‘a’ trailer. You didn’t come to the puke in. I had a little trailer, made of cardboard. You could throw fake puke on it. It’s not an olive branch, I’ve done nothing wrong. Politics is dirty business. When you subvert public process and bully people, people bully back. People bullied their way into the park. I bullied back. Who is more wrong?

    Your not afraid of me. You’re a liar. You are not in the least bit scared of me. Shame on you for painting me to be someone who scares people. No one here is afraid of me. That’s total bullshit.

    My door is open if you ever decide to grow up and meet someone face to face and have an intelligent debate about something very dear to both of us. This quipping and snipping on blogs is a ton of energy and just makes us both look like idiots.

    maybe we are….


  15. Hey Chicken why don`t you talk about way back, 1987 when you were in Letch Patrol and that guy that worked in a bank lent us the money to record, gave it to you and you used it to got to Florida with that girl and blew it all on coke? Yeah… you`re a really great, honest guy… You`re one of the good guys…

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