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Friday, February 25, 2011

Ovens Go Cold at Specialty's as China Basin Cafe Shutters

Posted By on Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 5:14 PM

click to enlarge Known for its hulking cookies, Specialty's says it couldn't negotiate a lease renewal with its China Basin landlord. - INJU/FLICKR
  • inju/Flickr
  • Known for its hulking cookies, Specialty's says it couldn't negotiate a lease renewal with its China Basin landlord.

Something happened today that's just about as rare as snowfall in Dolores Park: A Specialty's Cafe closed.

Just after noon today, workers at the Specialty's at 185 Berry Street in China Basin were wheeling empty baking racks out into the courtyard of the block-long building on Berry Street, next to AT&T Park ― the same building that houses SFoodie's luxurious offices. Craig Saxton, who opened the first Specialty's in 1988 with wife Dawn, tells us he couldn't come to an agreement with the landlord about terms for a renewed lease.

"We'd love to still be there, the store does fantastic, but our rent was going to triple," Saxton says. Specialty's acceded to a rent increase, but not the one the landlord asked for. There are six remaining Specialty's in San Francisco, and the S.F.-based company has expanded to Southern California, Seattle, and Chicago.

A spokesman for the ownership of China Basin disputes Saxton's claims about a tripling of the rent. He says landlord began negotiating with Specialty's in December 2009 about funding upgrades to the space and paying market rent, something that would have resulted in a 25-percent increase.

If you've never worked in the Financial District, here's a Specialty's primer: massive, slablike cookies that emerge from in-store ovens several times daily, irresistible lures for cube rats. SFoodie's never been a fan, exactly ― they're more about size than finesse ― but it's impossible to deny their pull on the id.

Closure of the China Basin cafe doesn't seem to be slowing the company's expansion. Saxton says a new Specialty's is due in San Francisco this year, though he can't disclose where. And the company says it'll continue to do catering business in southern SOMA from its other stores. All of the 20 or so employees are being reassigned to other Specialty's locations.

No word on who'll succeed Specialty's in the space at 185 Berry, though the building spokesman says they've invited food trucks to set up daily, and there'll soon be a temporary cafe to sell pastries, coffee, and lunch items. The new permanent tenant should be in place by late August, early September.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook. Contact me at John.Birdsall@SFWeekly.com

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