The interior at Art's Cafe in the Inner Sunset, which has closed after a multi-decade run.
Art's Cafe, one of San Francisco's beloved old-school diners, has closed after more than 30 years in business. The owners, Sarah and Hae Ryong Youn, closed the Inner Sunset diner at the onset of shelter-in-place in mid-March, posting a sign in the window proclaiming that they'd reopen in early April.
Little did we know that March's hash brown sandwiches would be their last. The couple are retiring, and so is the cafe, according to family members.
Music label manager Ari Simon was the first to break the news on an Instagram post on Thursday. "I'm happy the owners get to retire but I'm sad this part of my childhood is gone and a piece of my city is leaving that I feel is truly irreplaceable," he wrote. "Irving Street will NEVER be the same. Samurai + Swiss w/ rice and a strawberry lemonade. Forever."
Simon is a superfan of the diner, and his story is typical of the San Franciscans whose lives intertwined with the Youns': Over the years, he'd brought countless friends, family and associates to the place, to sit in one of the dozen or so stools at the counter and watch Hae Ryong grill burgers and beef teriyaki omelets ("Samurais") on the flattop. Sarah, who took customers' orders, was like an aunt to him. He grew up there, and he'd hoped to bring his own kids there one day. The diner's counter was decorated with eclectic postcards and notes sent from regulars like Simon.
It's hard to appreciate how exceptional Art's Cafe was in a time when Asian ingredients and techniques are a commonplace sighting at American or Californian-style restaurants. The Youns, who immigrated from Korea in the 1980s and met here, bought the diner, then known as Art's Fine Foods, in the 1990s. They incorporated Korean ingredients into what was otherwise a very straightforward greasy-spoon diner menu. At Art's, you could get a plump omelet with tofu and gochujang tucked inside or a crisp hash brown folded over bacon and fried onions; bibimbap was cooked alongside corned beef hash.
The Youns' take on the diner was an exemplar of Asian Americana, perfectly befitting the diverse Inner Sunset neighborhood.
Simon says that he and his friends offered to start a GoFundMe, hoping to keep Art's Cafe open, but the Youns apparently declined. They've been working six days a week for three decades. They're ready to rest.
Soleil Ho is The San Francisco Chronicle's restaurant critic. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org