When San Franciscans think of the Castro District, places like Jane Warner Plaza and Dolores Park often come to mind. The landmarks and street corners boast a rich history, and so do the amazing restaurants.
Much like the iconic neighborhood it proudly calls home, The Sausage Factory relishes its own unique story that goes way back.
“My parents came over from Italy in the ‘60s, as well as my uncle,” said Owner Mario Azzolino. “My uncle started working here in ’72. By ‘75, he was managing the restaurant.”
Four years after Azzolino’s uncle started managing The Sausage Factory, he purchased the establishment, serving as its owner for 23 years. During his tenure, the Italian-American restaurant created an intersection for two different cultures that made countless customers feel right at home.
But once he sold the business to another manager in 2002, an illustrious era abruptly ended. The Sausage Factory lost its allure and turned into a dull afterthought in an incredibly luminous neighborhood. Sales and morale declined, and ownership nearly shut down the business.
Then a familiar face came to the rescue.
“Back in 2018 is when I purchased it, and I’m doing my best to revive it,” said Azzolino. “It kind of made perfect sense, after all the change that has come to San Francisco to do my part and keep something San Francisco.”
With unparalleled local pride, Azzolino has sparked an unforeseen renaissance for his underdog establishment, bringing out the best in the past and present. Azzolino started implementing family recipes from the ’70s that still taste delicious today. Within the past two years, customers fell back in love with the restaurant’s historic appeal. And he ensured these changes simultaneously took place with the inclusion of modern technologies like online ordering.
However, COVID-19 has flipped the script to The Sausage Factory’s comeback story.
“Up until this point, things definitely got turned around,” said Azzolino. “We’re doing our best to do any type of business whatsoever, so we’ve been open for takeout and delivery.”
Like other restaurants as of late, The Sausage Factory is struggling to draw customers in-store. The community-like atmosphere Azzolino worked hard to rebuild is compromised because of city orders. Emergency funding is competitive to attain as well: Nonprofit funding from organizations like the SF New Deal has long lines and waitlists. And PPP loan forgiveness is not guaranteed.
Yet in challenging times, the restaurant’s staff exceeds Azzolino’s expectations.
“They’re the ones being the most effective right now, especially the back of house staff, and it’s them having to accept there’s only so much we can do,” said Azzolino.
Despite drastic changes to operations, The Sausage Factory’s staff still celebrates menu items like Chicken Picatta and Carbonara without taking shortcuts in the kitchen. Generations of family ways remain strong enough to survive this pandemic because they’ve also seen their fair share of chaos.
“Every decade, there was something different,” said Azzolino.
“There was the ‘89 Earthquake, which definitely hit the business pretty hard. There was the dotcom crash of ‘98. The AIDS epidemic back in the ’70s, 80’s. There’s the Harvey Milk riots. This restaurant has faced a lot…you just keep on working and keep on going, and the purpose of us being here is to be a part of the community, and we just serve the community through our food.”
In San Francisco, good restaurants may rely on their newness or embrace recent trends just to survive. Sometimes the gimmicks are fun, temporary, and easily replaceable.
The restaurants who become staples of their communities prove themselves built to last, not because of sponsored Instagram posts, but because of their unwavering commitment to their neighborhood and city.
That’s The Sausage Factory: a San Francisco mainstay with experience tackling adversity. Surviving the pandemic is just another challenge for it to overcome.