Charlie’s Cafe on Precita Park Is For Sale

charliescafe2015

It’s sometimes hard to remember how much Precita Park has changed in just the last five years.

Think back, however, and you may recall that the Precita Park of 2010 was lovely, but rather lifeless. The eastern side of the park near the playground was home to two beer-and-chips corner stores, one of which was frequently shut down because of run-ins with the law. On the western side, along Folsom, Cancilla’s Market was yet another corner store offering beer and chips. Cafe Cozzolino was sometimes open and always empty, in no small part because it offered some of San Francisco’s most disappointing Italian food. The Park Bench Cafe coffee shop was also sad and empty, which left Charlie’s Cafe as Precita Park’s only real restaurant and community gathering place.

Fast-forward to today, and the landscape is transformed. The Precita Park Cafe now occupies one of the former corner stores across the street from the playground, and it’s such an institution that it already feels like it’s always been there. Hillside Supper Club moved into Cafe Cozzolino, Harvest Hills Market is a walkable alternative to schlepping to a supermarket, and Neighbor Eliza is building a new pizza shop inside the former Park Bench Cafe.

Now Charlie’s Cafe proprietor Charlie Harb writes Bernalwood to tell us that his cafe has just been listed for sale, and he wants Bernal neighbors to have first dibs:

After over 14 years in the neighborhood, it’s time for me to sell my beloved cafe. Adam, the current manager, is leaving town after running Charlie’s for 2 years, and I now have other interests. If you are interested, or know of someone who is interested in purchasing the cafe, feel free to contact me at charliescafesf AT gmail DOTCOM.

All the particulars are in this Craigslist ad.

A personal footnote: Your Bernalwood editor would like to extend my gratitude to Charlie for running his cafe. When I first landed in Bernal Heights after moving from the alien shores of The Mission, all the way on the other side of Cesar Chavez, Charlie was one of the very first people to welcome me here, and his kitchen fed the construction crews that rebuilt my home during two grayhair-producing years of renovations. In so many ways, he was the first person to teach me about the strength of the Bernal Heights community. Thank you Charlie!

PHOTO: Charlie’s Cafe on August 10, 2015 by Telstar Logistics

52 thoughts on “Charlie’s Cafe on Precita Park Is For Sale

  1. That’s too bad. I really like Charlies, but I also understand why it hasn’t been doing very well. It has a bit of a ‘dive’ feeling, which isn’t as charming in a cafe as it is in a bar. With that said, I’ll miss those meatball subs and those reasonably priced lattes! I wish Charlie and his family the best of luck in their new interests!

  2. Actually Percita Park was here long before Bernalwood and its esteemed editor. You are sounding a tad pompous and more than a tad disrespectful of all of us who have been here and enjoyed the park and Cozzelino’s before you honored us with your presence

    • Not sure where you’re getting pompous & disrespectful, but Cozzelino’s was craptastic. It was the only restaurant in the neighborhood and it still couldn’t get customers. Go to Precita Park Cafe or Hillside on a Saturday and enjoy waiting in line. Clearly the demand was there, so Cozzelino’s demise was entirely based on the quality of its food and management

    • Ha you cannot be serious. What is disrespectful about any of that? Get a grip on reality. That restarant was so substandard and that’s why it was empty. It lasted so long I wondered if it was some kind of front.

  3. Four years ago, Charlie was the first Bernal neighbor I ever met. He set the standards high! I met many good people while waiting for my lattes. Charlie was one of the first people to know when I was pregnant with two of my kids. I’d ask for decaf and he’d just grin at me. It was a fun little ritual. I’m so thankful for Charlie and with him the best of luck. Yahtzee!

  4. I could always count on Charlie, the staff, and the cafe to brighten my day way way beyond a business transaction. Why once, when the corner store didn’t have cinnamon, I asked Charlie for a tablespoon of it and he gave me 3! He saved my last minute “emergency cookies” in addition to always giving out interest and cheer.
    Good luck to you Charlie. I’ll miss you.

  5. I remember the cafe BEFORE it was Charlie’s. A man and woman ran it. They hated to heat the place so they created a drop ceiling in order to hold in the heat with skinny bamboo fence, the kind of junk you get at a garden center. The place hadn’t been painted in decades, the bathroom was terrible, the place smelled. The only food I could tolerate eating there was the hot link sandwich, mainly because it was a pre-cooked link and all they had to do was heat it and slap it in a bun.

    Charlie and Nadim and company did an AWESOME job revamping the cafe. It didn’t hurt that Charlie is an architect, so he knows buildings. He turned the cafe from a slum into a very nice, comfortable shop. Contrary to what someone else said here, there is NOTHING “divey” about Charlie’s.

    It took him several years to begin to make money. I remember him sitting there between customers working on architectural plans so that he could keep cash flow going until the place became profitable.

    Also, given the junk pile he had taken over, it took YEARS for people to take the cafe seriously. They were so used to bad quality that they were very slow to go in and sample the homemade Middle Eastern specialties. And ad my suggestion, Charlie kept the hot link sandwich on the menu just to be nice. I may be the only one who ordered it, but it was good to have it.

    One of the things he had to do that he didn’t especially like doing was the snacks and sodas. He had to carry those because otherwise he’d lose the school kid business. And in fact, during the summer he had to cut back on staff and hours because the kids were the only ones supporting his cafe.

    Now we can all look at Charlies as a success, but it took years of hard work and a can-do attitude. The neighborhood did NOT embrace Charlie’s. He did everything in his power to win over the neighbors, including buying ads in publications that saw no response, sponsoring the Bernal film festival, etc.

    Thankfully, it all finally came together. I applaud Charlie for his long hours of work and ingenuity in building a business from what had been a pile of rubble.

    –David Kaye

    • David – I want to thank you for the back story on Charlie’s. It is nice to hear about the success he’s made for himself. Kudos to him! Charlie was for me, too, one of the first people that I met when I moved to the neighborhood. He knew my name within 2 visits and has never forgotten it. He’s always been kind and gracious whenever I’ve spent time chatting with him at the cafe, or over near his house in the Mission. He will be greatly missed as a neighborhood business owner, but thankfully he’s still a neighbor!

  6. This guy is anti-semitic. His personal Facebook page is a full on assault of misguided, one sided Israel bashing. Good riddance.

    • He’s Palestinian. I’m Jewish. I bumped into Charlie at Costco a few years ago, just before he headed to Palestine for a visit. (I think he was going to Gaza, but don’t remember for sure.) Hostilities with Israel had ended just a few days before, and it was a very lopsided conflict. I don’t have any reason to think Charlie is anti-semitic, but if I put myself in his shoes, I can understand why he might be inclined to bash Israel. That’s true of most all the Palestinians I’m friends with in San Francisco.

      • What one sided? Hamas building a massive tunnel network inside Israel to kill school children? Constantly shooting rockets at civilian communities. Continuing with their single minded pursuit “to destroy Israel?” This is a flat out war that Hamas likes to start up every few years with Israel, at the expense of the Gaza civilian population. Hiding their rockets in school yards and private homes? Doing what they can to involve the civilian population.

        I don’t think someone perched in their comfy Bernal home should be making judgements that effect the lives of people in another country. And if this cafe owner clown wants to run his mouth, he can. But I sure as hell won’t be visiting his shop. He should be focused on getting a destructive group like Hamas out of power in Gaza, so the majority of the normal people who live there can have a voice that represents them.

      • Hahaha, let’s compare the death tolls in each conflict and do the math on how one-sided this conflict is. I think the math will lead you to the conclusion that it’s Israel’s war to annihilate the Palestinians.

        SFrentier – Please go back to commenting on Socketsite, where you fit in. That blog is even more conservative than this one.

      • There is a big difference between being anti-Semitic, and being against Israeli policy. I’m not anti-Semitic but I’m very much against Israel’s intrusion into US Policy and the way they’ve handled Palestine. That said, I’m also very empathetic to the trauma and fear Israelis must feel after being attacked on their own soil. Calling someone anti-Semitic because they disagree with how Israel handles things just shuts down any productive conversation

      • Oh, great, now we get to bring the conflict in the Middle East into Bernalwood. I’m going to sit it out here on the south side of the hill while you northerners work that out, okay?

    • As far as any claim of anti-Semitism, there’s a BIG DIFFERENCE between being anti-Jewish and anti-Israel. In fact, most American Jews denounce what Israel has done to the Palestianians.

      I happened to be in Charlie’s Cafe one day when Israel sent tanks into his hometown neighborhood in Bethlehem and literally bulldozed houses there. He and Nadim were watching this on CNN, astonished at how bold Israel had become. What Israel is doing is genocide, plain and simple.

  7. Danny b- okay, so just because more Palestinians lost lives than Israelis in the last Gaza conflict, that means Israel is morally wrong. Sure, that makes a lot of sense. I also like how you ignore Hamas purposely targeting civilians. The IDF went after rocket and military targets. Ask yourself why Hamas purposely puts those in schools, UN buildings, etc. But no, you’d rather than just hate. And defending Israel is being conservative? Reality check: not all liberals hate Israel by convenient, feel good, default.

    b- when someone consistently mischaarterizes Israel with pure bias, they are stirring up anti semitism as well. Look at what has happened in Paris France to Jews. It’s genuinely scary to be Jewish and live there. I have no problem with critics of Israel, as long as it’s even in the realm of objectivity. And btw, The percent of Jews and Israelis calling for Palestinian destruction pales in comparison to the hate projected on Israel.

    • SFrentier – Please stick to Socketsite, and do not start commenting on this blog the same way you comment on there. Your reputation precedes you.

      In light of your comment, I take back characterizing you as conservative, and instead will characterize you as fascist. That’s what happens when you buy into nationalism propaganda without knowing any facts.

      In 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, over 1,400 Palestinian civilians were killed.

      72 Israelis were killed…. but get this, just 6 of them were civilians.

      So who is targeting civilians in this case?

      Please, just do simple math. There is a reason why the majority of the world disagrees with your point of view. They can do math.

      Please, just read the news. There is a reason why the majority of the world disagrees with your point of view. They can read the news.

      • “Please, just do the simple math.”

        This is a neighborhood blog. Your inernational political polemics don’t belong.

        The only simple math I want to do is for you to tell me which local business YOU own, so I can say “good riddance” and “fuck you” to you when you sell it.

      • You’re a reactionary idiot Danny-boy. Hamas launches rockets from dense civilian areas on purpose. So you expect Israel to just sit back? And the thousand casualty number would have been much worse if the American army attempted that operation.

        Hamas is responsible for purposely putting civilians in harms way. But thanks for blaming those that are forced to defend themselves.

        Oh, and I’ll post where I damn may please. You’re the fascist.
        ——–

        And for the record, my original comment was germane to a local business owner, who chose to politicize his business by posting biased propaganda. I’m not the one who took this to an international realm.

      • Man SFRentier, your rant makes me want to go and bombard Charlie’s with business. I bet he wishes you expressed your vitriolic feelings sooner (although, I get the sense that this isn’t the first time you’ve expressed these feelings)

      • SFrentier –

        Firstly, name-calling is rude. Don’t act like a little kid.

        Secondly, Israel is often not forced to defend itself. Again, do the math. Look at the math around the escalation of these conflicts, especially Hamas’ 40 rockets that triggered a disproportionate response from Israel during Operation Protective Edge. Where did those rockets land and who did they kill?

        Think about the structural differences between Israel and Palestine and their militaries.

        In a country where expanding settlements on occupied territory and expanding population is encouraged, can you be sure that Israel is really lamenting Hamas launching rockets from civilian territory?

        “Defense” is merely a smokescreen for the political ambition of eliminating Palestine. I’m sorry for your astounding lack of an historical and cultural perspective and for your naivety and gullibility; hopefully it’s just a generational thing and need not concern me much.

      • Danny boy-

        1- you’re the one that started with the condescending attitude. I merely responded, so deal with the names.

        2- 40 rockets? What are you smoking?!? Hamas has sent over THOUSANDS of rockets over several months before Israel had to respond.

        Why don’t you be a big boy and admit that Hamas takes no, zero, nada responsibility for putting their weapons in civilian populations.

        And this notion that Israel wants to destroy the Palestinians is a total lie and pathetic joke. There are about 3 million in Gaza and the West Bank. Another 3 mil in Jordan and surrounding countries. This Hamas-Israel war erupts every 2-3 years due to Hamas’ doing. About 1000 Palestinians are killed. So you do the math. But thanks for trying to spread hatful lies about Israel.

        It’s attitudes like yours and that idiot David kaye….oh I don’t hate Jews, I just hate Israel! Oh ok, so Israel is a majority Jewish population. Let me do the math…you hate about 40% of the world Jewish population. That’s fine then, you get a pass. It’s self righteous pricks like you guys who provide cover for the more extremist violence against Jews worldwide. And you can’t even admit that Hamas is a very violent and intolerant organization, that kills Palestinians who disagree with them, but of course that doesn’t make the cover of the Guardian. Nor do you even have the intelligence to know that Israel has tried to make peace with the Palestinians, but it’s not exactly like Hamas was enthusiastic, outside of their “destroy Israel” mantra. Right now the political will isn’t there for peace on either side. But to blame this impasse on Israel is totally bullshit and biased. So if you guys don’t want to be called out as anti Jewish, you better check yourselves.

    • The shop owner is bias in the same way you are. He is Palestinian and he obviously is going to sympathize with the plight of his people. Many of us have family there that are not only in constant danger but they are treated as less than human. That is obviously going to impact our world view.

      I understand where you’re coming from but I think you are wrong to assume he is anti-semitic. Most people, especially here, understand the difference between being Jewish and supporting Israel’s actions.

      • b- talk about being a non thinking reactionary. What “vitriol” exactly did I express? That I was offended by his FB page? Geez, get a grip!

        S- sure. The difference is that I don’t own a cafe, pretending to serve “the people.” Meaning all the people, not just those that prop up my worldview.
        And if you’re upset about the Israeli gov, I hate to ask what you think about Hamas’ rule of Gaza. Even most Palestinians can’t stand them, but of course they can’t say that. It’s not as if this is a one sided story, as most white liberals like to pretend.

      • SFrentier. haha…if you don’t see how you sound I’m not going to try and explain it to you. You just keep on going with your bad self. I can see you’re making real progress in changing the hearts and minds of people on this blog. Keep up the good work

      • b- I’m really sorry if I don’t appeal to your fake American sensibilities.

        Have a nice day 😀

      • @SFRentier if you’ve ever been made to feel unwelcome at the cafe or were refused service then I’d say that’s a separate issue but if you’re going on someone’s personal Facebook page to learn about their personal views then spewing all over the internet you’re the one starting the conflict.

        Also don’t forget, If Israel hadn’t tried to undermine the PLO so much, there would be no Hamas: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB123275572295011847

  8. Best of luck to you Charlie in your next endeavors. You’ve always been lovely to talk with, and I’ve enjoyed your sandwiches and coffee!

  9. I’m surprised that there was NOT A SINGLE response to my post telling the story of the cafe before Charlie took it over, putting thousands of hours of work and lots of money into fixing what had been an unsanitary DUMP. Instead we get a diatribe of hate messages against Charlie instead of the praise he deserves as a good neighbor who did right. I’m ashamed.

    –David Kaye

    • one person said a bunch of bizarro political stuff, and it was weird. everybody else stuck up for Charlie. I appreciated the backstory about Charlie’s Cafe. Thanks for that.

  10. SF Rentier, you’re lost. Going onto Charlie’s Facebook page and mislabeling his personal political opinion on here, in a thread about him selling his business? Then your own political takes. Somehow you’re equating all of Palestine with Hamas, yet you can’t differentiate between anti-semitism and anti-Israeli opinion? It’s all nonsense. Get a grip.

    • A- the guy had Palestinian political related stuff at times in his cafe.

      B- I didn’t mislabel his political opinion. It is what it is.

      C- I didn’t start the Hamas stuff, someone else did.

      D- I don’t buy your anti-Israel is not anti-semitism. What exactly is this “anti-Israel” nonsense? How the fuck do you so easily hate and dismiss an entire nation? What do you want, for the entire population to disappear into the sea and for Palestine to take it over? You guys are sick.

  11. Thank you Todd, I can only guess you were out enjoying life somewhere when this thread went totally off the rails. Appreciate you stepping in here.

    • Charlie will be missed because he was a striver. He clearly invested more than money into his place. Taking interest in customers; making them feel remembered and appreciated–these are the hallmarks of a dedicated community business.

      Best of luck to you and yours, Charlie!

      ——————————-
      A word about how easy it is to make errors of adjectival equivalence: Saying “Jim is Palestinian and Sue is Jewish” is exactly like saying “Frank is Canadian and Joe is Catholic.” The sentence reveals Frank’s citizenship and Joe’s particular mythological belief system.

      By the way, neither category concerns physical constants, such as height or skin color. After a certain age, citizenship and religion are both qualities determined by choice, and therefore issues of philosophy, not science.

      By definition, neither one can be “solved” except by elimination of its category.

  12. I very much appreciate the conversations I’ve had with Charlie over the years. He seems to know everyone in the neighborhood. And he genuinely cares about the community. He hosted so many community meetings at the cafe, even though people didn’t usually buy anything while they were there (I mean he didn’t host to make a profit, he hosted because he cared). It’s sad to see a place like this go.

    When Rite Way burned down, a group of neighbors formed to influence what would end up in that space. We organized and brain stormed and polled the neighborhood (via flyers we hand-delivered and survey monkey) to find out what the community wanted. We wrote letters and made phone calls to the landlords to encourage them to rent to the kind of business the community wanted (i.e. not another liquor store). Those landlords were hesitant to allow a restaurant where a grocery store had been, but it’s what the community wanted (we also wanted a nice organic corner store, but that was already in the works at Cancilla’s which is now Harvest Hills, which we (my husband and I) love so much), so that’s what we got. I wonder if there will be similar community input into what goes into the Charlie’s Cafe space? Or does it have to remain a cafe through the end of the 4+year lease? (is it too soon to be asking these questions? I don’t mean to be rude by doing so.)

  13. I really hate when one ignorant dipstick known around the web for their Trump-like prognostications goes off and splashes their fetid “mud” on a genuine, solid-gold citizen like Charlie. The man is always there to help build community, to offer a helping hand, to host community meetings, to make the best damn hummus in the city, or to just smile and make you laugh. Charlie, I know this has been a long time a-coming – I’m looking forward to what comes next!

  14. Don’t get excited people. At $255,000 asking price this may be on the market for a while. Then again there are many very wealthy SF folks that may drop the money on this spot and spend years trying to get that money back. As long as you love what you do it doesn’t matter, it’s only money. Joy in your job is the most important thing that money can buy. Park bench wanted $70,000 for their spot. Charlie took it and held it hostage for two plus years and lost plenty. Karma is a strange thing. Welcome Red Apron, run the permit gauntlet as fast as you can, we love pizza. For many people Charlie was a great friend for others he was not nice at all. Unfortunately we had a several bad experiences with him. He’ll be missed for different reasons, he worked hard and were nice to the kids – hopefully we’ll get the same out of the new owner. Maybe a wish will come true and the iron roll up will leave and improve the after 3 view in our beloved Bernal…

    • The $225k asking price shows that he has a profitable business and/or a good lease. More power to him! Can someone take it over at that price and boost sales to cover the cost of the loan note? Maybe. The restaurant business is tough; I’ve been in it myself.

    • Oh…I thought he was god of precita park.

      Get ready for your crucifixion, by the republic of bernal, otherwise not know for its tolerance of divergent opinion.

    • I hope whatever goes in has longer hours. I didn’t go to Charlie’s much but only because most of the times I would have popped in, it was already closed so I went somewhere else.

      I’m still hoping for a good deli. Not a “Wise Sons” class deli, but some hybrid of Lucca and Rhea’s deli. That would be swell.

      • Charlie tried nighttime hours and tried tie-ins with the Bernal film festival. For most of his run, though, it was the school kids and faculty who supported him, thus his early closing time and shorter hours when school was off.

  15. I haven’t been to Charlie’s much this summer, but I always seem to end up there when I’m meeting longtime residents of the hill and people who moved away but are back for a visit. Charlie is unfailingly friendly to everyone and I hope he loves hearing their stories of how the building used to look.

  16. I wish Charlie the best and thank him for creating a comfortable space for hanging out, serving reasonably priced quality food, and for being genuinely interested in his customers.

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