The New Spot on Polk: A Change Agent in San Francisco’s Restaurant Industry
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Above: The New Spot on Polk Owner Sam Elbandak and his partner, Nazeira
Sam Elbandak was finally about to achieve his dream of owning a restaurant. He was in talks with a local landlord to lease space on Polk Street before a deal was called off at the last minute.
Weeks of negotiations amounted to wasted time and disappointment for Elbandak, but he turned this failure into motivation to keep his vision intact. His hunt for another lease continued, and the rest is history — he orchestrated a deal to rent a space two blocks away from the initial listing.
And then, The New Spot on Polk was born.
Building a Community
Elbandak’s patience paid off. His new agreement was less than half the price of the original, and it offered a more desirable location on Polk Street.
“Now, I’m happy that things never went through,” said Elbandak.
The New Spot’s concept thrives on an intimate ambiance — you won’t find parties of 40 swarming tables for breakfast, lunch, or dinner here. Modern walls and lighting add just enough life to the dining room area without taking focus away from the food.
Denver and South of the Border omelets garner high praise from foodies, and the chicken fried steak flies under the radar as one of the best Southern meals around town. Pork chops and salmon also elevate the establishment’s American casual dining standards to another level.
When The New Spot on Polk opened its doors on Memorial Day Weekend 2017, crowds packed the restaurant and lines extended outside the establishment. Its hype was worthwhile as the business never slowed, and a success story was finally in the making.
Flipping the Covid-19 Script
Since Covid-19 spread to San Francisco, Elbandak’s restaurant dream has been tested more than ever. His sales are down nearly 50 percent, and he laid off over 30 percent of his staff.
Despite the challenges, Elbandak is making incredibly savvy moves to flip the script on the coronavirus’ impact.
At the beginning of March, The New Spot on Polk started its own takeout service to serve more customers during the pandemic. It costs $2.99, less than what many delivery platforms charge customers in fees. The move helps The New Spot improve customer experiences while maintaining its power against third party deliverers.
“An issue, a major issue that everybody faced was the high percentages that were charged by the online third party companies,” said Elbandak.
Heated debates over third-party delivery partnerships run rampant among SF’s restaurant owners. Some argue these services are necessary to improve customer outreach and overall sales for restaurants. Others see them as forces eating away from the profits of local businesses.
The issue becomes even more pressing when restaurants have to rely on these external partnerships during the pandemic, especially because foot traffic at restaurants is down.
Striving for Change
After relying on third parties to optimize his local outreach in the past, Elbandak started a petition asking delivery giants like Uber Eats, Grubhub, DoorDash to reduce their fees to 15 percent. But many third party platforms leveraged their bargaining power, appearing one step ahead of Elbandak. It seemed Elbandak arrived too late to save the day, leaving another industry leader distraught.
“Then we get about 200 signatures that I took to the Golden Gate Association…an executive…and I told her about the frustration, and that same day, she was just on a conference call with UberEats and Postmates…and she gave up. She said that they were not able to deal with them, they’re not willing,” said Elbandak.
Yet The New Spot on Polk owner — being a persistent underdog that never quits after a first failure — amplified his voice more than ever. In the following weeks, he convinced more than 400 others to sign the petition through word-of-mouth. One month after he started the petition, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced a delivery fee cap of 15 percent for third party delivery platforms. The order marked a historic victory for local restaurants struggling to survive in the pandemic and helped minimize their financial burden.
Today, it leaves Elbandak grateful for the collective efforts of his community.
“I think that for restaurant owners, we’re blessed to be in San Francisco. On the city level, we’ve been getting a lot of support…there’s a lot in the works now.”
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