Before Ice Cream Shop Can Open, City's Slow Churn
The Ice Cream Bar opened Jan. 21 in the Cole Valley neighborhood -- an homage to the classic parlors of the 1930s, complete with vintage soda fountain and lunch counter seating. It has become an immediate sensation, packed with both families and the foodie crowd, savoring upscale house-made ice creams and exotic sodas (flavorings include pink peppercorn and tobacco). The shop also employs 14 full- and part-time workers.
But getting it opened wasn't easy.
Ms. Pries said it took two years to open the restaurant, due largely to the city's morass of permits, procedures and approvals required to start a small business. While waiting for permission to operate, she still had to pay rent and other costs, going deeper into debt each passing month without knowing for sure if she would ever be allowed to open.
Ms. Pries said she had to endure months of runaround and pay a lawyer to determine whether her location (a former grocery, vacant for years) was eligible to become a restaurant. There were permit fees of $20,000; a demand that she create a detailed map of all existing area businesses (the city didn't have one); and an $11,000 charge just to turn on the water.
The ice cream shop's travails are at odds with the frequent promises made by the mayor and many supervisors that small businesses and job creation are top priorities.
"Someone of lesser fortitude would have left three months into it," Ted Loewenberg, president of the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, said of Ms. Pries. "Through these hard times we've heard all the rhetoric about streamlining the process, about one-stop shopping. It hasn't happened."
Even the planning department itself is calling for reform. "Hello City Planner," an animated cartoon produced by the department and posted on its Web site, depicts a litany of farcical city hassles faced by a woman applying to sell ice cream.
Cases like Ms. Pries's inspired the video, although some believe her runaround was exceptionally absurd. Even after she acceded to all the city's demands, her paperwork sat unprocessed for months. Ms. Pries would not say exactly how much it all cost, including construction, but smiled and nodded when asked if it was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And let's not forget:
I started the process of trying to cut a door in the wall between my restaurant and nightclub in February 2011. It is now February 2012, and we still don't have the necessary permits and have not yet begun construction. If we have a door in that wall -- and are allowed to let people walk through it -- before 2013, we will consider ourselves lucky.