The Flying Pig Bistro Finds Strength in Community

Those familiar with San Francisco’s Mission District might also be privy to the Flying Pig Bistro, one of the eclectic neighborhood’s longstanding pubs. Owned and operated by Ben Sapone, Flying Pig takes a multi-functional approach to service.

Think deli by day, draft house by night.

“There’s definitely a little bit of a crazy element, for better or worse,” Sapone jokes when asked about the Mission District. But, as a resident himself for almost twenty years, he’s come to love the area and what it has to offer. “Lot of good restaurants, lot of cool bars, lot of cool places to hang out. It’s a good place.”

And a great place for Flying Pig Bistro’s chameleon-like identity.

A Mission of Stability

Prior to Sapone’s tenure, Flying Pig was a chameleon for the wrong reasons. It had trouble maintaining ownership and a singular style. It wasn’t appealing to mass crowds, just always changing.

After an exhausting decade-long run as a lawyer, Sapone found himself itching for a return to his service industry roots. Opportunity presented itself and he took over the Flying Pig in 2011. “It was a good opportunity in kind of an up-and-coming neighborhood. There are a lot of changes happening all over San Francisco, but especially in this neighborhood. It seemed like a good fit.”

8.5 years later, it does indeed.

Though it hasn’t always been easy, Sapone recalls those early days of ownership as eye opening. He knew the basic ropes of the restaurant industry from past positions, but being in charge was a different story. Plus, he had the daunting task of transforming Flying Pig Bistro into a staple bar within the community. “You just keep moving forward. Keep being open, keep being consistent. Try to deliver good service and good product, and have a nice environment.” And while Sapone says it took a few years to develop a strong base of regular customers, he’s appreciated the journey. “Giving people a reason to come in,” he emphasizes. “It’s about relationships.”

Today, those relationships are more important than ever.

Strength in Numbers

Like most restaurants, the COVID-19 pandemic has left Flying Pig Bistro hoping for better days to come. Sapone estimates that sales are down to about 10-15% of a regular business day, with the occasional 20-25% on a “good” day. He has been able to retain one full-time employee in the kitchen, with the rest of his staff currently on unemployment.

Despite the struggles, he couldn’t be more appreciative of the community support that Flying Pig Bistro has received.

“We’re really appreciative of all the people that have supported us in the past and continue to support us. We feel really lucky to have regular clientele who are so positive about each other, the community, and our place.”

He’s also been quick to praise the grace of his landlords, who have been flexible and accommodating throughout the pandemic.

Unfortunately, the most inflexible and complicated aspect of Sapone’s pandemic maintenance has been the very thing that promises to help businesses like his: COVID-19 relief loans. “Trying to figure out how to apply for some of these things is really difficult, and then you can’t communicate with anybody, you can’t call anybody. None of the online chat or correspondence apps are working. So it’s frustrating.”

Similar to other restaurants and bars, Flying Pig Bistro qualifies for several different relief funds. But, like many restaurant and bar owners, Sapone continues to be left in the dark regarding his application status and, sometimes, whether or not his application was even received. “You submit documents through a portal and then just wait.” So far, the waiting game has amounted to funds that no longer exist or spontaneous emails asking Sapone to submit even more documents for review. The frustrating process has left him not expecting any governmental aid, though it won’t stop him from doing everything in his power to help his staff and business.   

While the current state of affairs isn’t sustainable for anyone in the service industry, Sapone puts his faith in Flying Pig Bistro’s supportive community. Hopefully, some semblance of normalcy will return soon. When it does, Flying Pig Bistro will be waiting to welcome its customers back with open arms.

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