Joanie Bang knew Fisherman’s Wharf was one of the most coveted tourist destinations in San Francisco. Long-standing establishments and souvenir shops reign king in the neighborhood, but she felt like it lacked a restaurant that met the sky-high expectations of visitors.
Bang also believed tourists craved casual, comfortable breakfasts. After spending years running another nearby brunch spot, she gambled on the concept. Alongside her sister and brother-in-law, Bang founded Eight AM in 2015, a cozy, modern cafe serving breakfast and lunch classics.
“We started out with Joanie’s Happy Day Diner. We were making up for our community: tourists. And, you know, we were pretty good at that. It was good. So we decided to open [Eight] AM with a different concept. And it worked out really well because we think we are really good at cooking,” said Bang. “It’s just very simple.”
Eight AM’s hands-on approach differs from many American breakfast eateries. Bang spends every morning handpicking all ingredients appearing on the menu, refusing to cut corners by refrigerating items overnight.
Sourcing essentials on the same-day helps the restaurant master the fundamentals of brunch, putting an authentic spin on traditional late morning items. Breakfast classics — like chicken and waffles and sausage and eggs — casually appear on the menu while curry toast and banana nut waffles delightfully surprise customers with something more unique.
Same, but different. New, yet familiar. Eight AM walks the line of perfection.
The eatery instantly became a success, winning the hearts of SF’s tourists. But when COVID-19 spread to the U.S., the brunch spot was left devastated. Bang laid-off multiple employees as the pandemic pushed visitors away from the city, and many locals that were loyal to Eight AM disappeared.
Even being TripAdvisor’s second-highest rated restaurant in San Francisco wasn’t enough for Eight AM to avoid COVID-related effects. Like other restaurant owners, Bang feels pressure to help the business survive. Eight AM’s same-day sourcing efforts are expensive to maintain, causing her excessive stress just to keep the restaurant alive.
While the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has funded other businesses, Eight AM’s owner remains critical of its impact on restaurants.
“I know that some people wanted that loan, but they have to understand the PPP loan doesn’t help the restaurant industry that much,” said Bang.
Bang’s financial hardships are not unique — restaurant owners are going through the same thing nationwide. The PPP loan primarily exists to help struggling small and medium-sized businesses afford payroll costs, employee salaries, healthcare, and rents.
Recently, the National Restaurant Association discovered restaurants have lost more than $25 billion since March. Yet less than 16 percent of small businesses that applied for the loan received one, according to the COVID Loan Tracker website.
Despite these challenges, Bang wasn’t entirely disappointed with the local government’s response to COVID-19. She commended the positive impact the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH) is having on restaurants.
“I get a lot of emails from the Health department just to ensure we do it right,” said Bang. “I think they’re taking this very seriously.”
In the past, the DPH was considered a hands-off organization unless it needed to conduct a regular restaurant inspection. Because nationwide pandemic concerns escalated, the department frequently sends staff to restaurants like Eight AM to ensure public health standards are met during the pandemic.
While finances and public health protocols are two things that have changed Eight AM’s day-to-day operations and Joanie Bang’s life, her outlook has extended beyond that of a restaurant owner. Lately, she has been reminded of what matters most to her — and it’s not brunch.
“I don’t think about my business anymore. I think about the world.”