Co-owner Issac Yosef at Frena shortly after it opened in 2017. (Photo/Cathleen Maclearie)
Co-owner Issac Yosef at Frena shortly after it opened in 2017. (Photo/Cathleen Maclearie)

Sixth Street ‘kosher hub’ loses both of its restaurants as downtown S.F. struggles

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Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

After nearly seven years in business, Isaac Yosef served the last pizzas on July 16 from his kosher restaurant on San Francisco’s Sixth Street.

“It’s very sad, not only because it’s my business, but for the community,” the co-owner of Pizza Pagaia told J. “But one thing I can say is that we didn’t give up and we did our best. Maybe we even over-pushed it.”

Pizza Pagaia was part of a rebranding about a year and a half ago of a business that began as an Israeli-style, kosher bakery called Taboon in December 2016, then became Frena a month later.

The business was in an area known more for its SRO hotels than its food scene. But the Bay Area hadn’t been home to a bakery quite like it before, and J. wrote a cover story to reflect that. Frena’s baker came from a line of Iraqi bakers in Jerusalem and used a clay oven to produce fluffy pitas, borekas and flatbreads with za’atar.

Yosef and co-owner Avi Edry took a gamble by opening on Sixth Street, four blocks south of Market Street. As I wrote in 2017, “Yosef and his team couldn’t afford the higher rent in more established areas, so they took advantage of city grants offered to enterprises willing to take a chance on neighborhoods in transition.”

They were also drawn to the location by the dreams of Rabbi Yosef Langer, head of Chabad of S.F., who longed to create a “Jewish thoroughfare” with his Chabad center, which opened across the street in 2016. (J. reached out to Langer for comment, but did not get a timely response.)

Langer has a long beard and a black hat. The ads feature drawings of a cow with a third eye wearing a bowler hat.
Rabbi Yosef Langer of Chabad of San Francisco on patrol in SoMa in 2017. (Photo/Max A. Cherney)

Yosef said the kosher community came out in droves at first, with at least 70 percent of sales coming from foot traffic and corporate catering. Large tech companies were among Frena’s regular clients, buying baked goods for their employees.

“Of course, when there was a Jewish holiday, we’d see more Jews buying from us. But without the corporate catering, we couldn’t have survived,” Yosef said.

From the beginning, Yosef understood the risks of opening in a transitional area.

“We opened with a vision, and we were promised things would get better there, which they did for a time,” he said.

Obviously, no one foresaw a pandemic.

At first, Frena pivoted by parking its van outside of synagogues and Jewish institutions around the Bay Area. Then in November 2021, they transformed Frena into a three-in-one kosher hub with Soupchik, Pizza Pagaia and Hummus Bodega. The bodega also opened in San Francisco’s Richmond District and remains open there.

Eventually, the Sixth Street eatery became just Pizza Pagaia. Yosef hoped to reach locals who lived in the area. But business never quite picked up.

“We rebranded two times. We thought maybe we’d get an evening crowd of locals, but  downtown is still really bad,” he said. “They weren’t coming.”

Another kosher restaurant that opened two blocks away from Yosef’s enterprise has also closed.

Limonnana, a kosher shwarma and falafel place, opened in summer 2020. It had been in the works long before the pandemic started. It closed in February of this year.

Ariel Sharabi, co-owner of Limonnana, told J. that crime in the area forced his hand.

“People who keep kosher would come straight from the airport,” he said. “They would stop with their families to eat here, and all of a sudden, [criminals] break into their car and steal all their luggage, even their tefillin,” he said.

Sharabi’s tefillin was stolen once too, he said.

Limonnana co-owners Ariel Sharabi (left) and Raz Herman. (Photo/Alix Wall)
Limonnana co-owners Ariel Sharabi (left) and Raz Herman in 2020. (Photo/Alix Wall)

“Toward the end, people were scared to come down here,” he said. “When someone says, ‘It’s a scary place,’ word gets around very quickly.”

Yosef remains involved with Hummus Bodega and said he wants to encourage other people to open kosher businesses. The kosher crowd is guaranteed upon opening, he said, and if the food is good, non-kosher customers will catch on. He is looking for a buyer for the Sixth Street location.

He is proud of what he and his partners created, whether it was feeding the homeless, hiring people who were formerly incarcerated or catering events.

“It was such a great experience,” he said. “I want to thank everybody who supported us. We met so many people through it and felt part of the community and felt the love. It was a very special time for me.”

Asked whether he would open another eatery, Yosef said, “It’s too soon to say. Of course, it could work elsewhere, but it’s so much work. I don’t know if I have the energy to do it all over again.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."