Ella’s knows how to do a good brunch.
What do you do when you want Indian food but your friend wants American style cuisine?
That’s the very question Operations Director Xavier Bejinez asked when revamping Ella’s American Kitchen.
After more than 23 years, the local comfort food favorite has shifted operations a little over two miles miles down the road from its longstanding 500 Presidio Avenue location due to economic and landlord-related issues amid the pandemic. While the move is disappointing to say the least, Bejinez is using it as an opportunity to reach new customers and expand the brand’s offering.
“Just because we’ve changed addresses doesn’t mean we’ve changed who we are,” Bejinez says.
The all-American restaurant, which offers mouthwatering breakfast-style specialties like buttermilk pancakes, corned beef hash, and fried chicken and waffles has shifted operations to a spacious building at 590 Van Ness Avenue, where the company owned a commercial kitchen. The space is operating as a ghost kitchen, a model in which several concepts can work out of the same kitchen.
“It’s almost like a food court of our brand,” Bejinez explains.
It allows the company to combine cuisines, offer dishes from their sister restaurants and concept brands, and reach new customers, he adds. At 590 Van Ness, customers have choices. Friends can meet up and opt for a brunch-style cobb salad, Burmese cuisine specialties like samosas or curry at Rangoon Ruby, Mexican cuisine from the brand’s concept known as Cantina 590, and more.
“If you’re going to do a one-stop shop. The opportunities are endless,” Bejinez says. “I got creative and said what do we have to lose.”
Although Ella’s marketed itself as an American kitchen, the brand always catered everything from Thai food to taco parties and wing-themed superbowl events. Even before the pandemic, Bejinez tested out themed nights at the restaurant, including a country barbecue evening.
When COVID-19 began, Bejinez worked as a consultant for the brand, and helped develop ways to maintain revenue and workers, while also helping Ella’s stay afloat. When the March 16 lockdown came, the establishment shutdown, and it wasn’t until nearly two months later that they reopened for takeout.
“There were days at 5 o’clock you’d look out on the street, you wouldn’t see cars, you wouldn’t see people,” Bejinez recalls. “It was weird and something I hadn’t seen in my years in the industry.”
Eventually, the restaurant walked away from the Presidio location. Although sales, food traffic and clientele are still nowhere near what they were at the start of the pandemic, Bejinez is optimistic.
And, despite the location change many loyal customers are willing to hustle the extra roughly two miles to eat their pancakes and crispy bacon or their weekly cobb salads.
Bejinez has also gotten creative with marketing tactics to draw people into what he describes as the “big, ugly building that doesn’t look like much.”
On a recent weekend, Bejinez and staff handed out over 300 mini samosas—equipped with menus and coupons—to people on Van Ness Avenue and Golden Gate Avenue. They’re also offering free cups of coffee to customers, slipping desserts into takeout bags, and giving back by donating meals to nearby seniors.
Even before the pandemic, servers would offer free desserts to customers as a thank you or go the extra mile to connect with customers.
“Now, with COVID we have to find a different way of connecting with people,” Bejinez says. “Food still is that vehicle.”
So the next time your friends can’t decide on what they want for dinner or a picnic lunch, head on over to Ella’s at 590 Van Ness –– there’s something there for everyone.