San Francisco native Jason Yu spent $200,000 trying to open an ice cream shop, but the city's bureaucracy beat him

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Here is what to do if you want to get a lift from a Vogon: forget it. They are one of the most unpleasant races in the Galaxy. Not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn’t even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders – signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters. The best way to get a drink out of a Vogon is to stick your finger down his throat, and the best way to irritate him is to feed his grandmother to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. On no account should you allow a Vogon to read poetry at you.


What a shame. I’ve heard these stories before, enough so that despite being a good and creative cook (with enough people telling me to open a restaurant and a culinary degree) that I never tried.

A friend of mine who has opened several restaurants knew a fellow restauranteur in LA who ended up committing suicide because he spent basically a cool million + and two years on his 4 star dream restaurant only to never have it never open.

Entrepreneurship is basically dead in so many ways.


Not if your an already rich, white tech dudebro with a sense of entitlement and a really dumb idea…


San Francisco"s municipal governance style is a weird mashup of wealthy NextDoor busybodies and pettifogging campus Marxist Society rules committee members. The result is petty turf wars, desperate incumbents and NIMBYs holding onto their privilege like grim death, and nothing getting done unless you know the right people and have a minimum seven-figure bank balance and can recite the correct arcane incantations.

This is why nothing short of a second Great Earthquake (a pandemic won’t do) will ever create affordable and safe multi-family housing in SF.


I personally bribed permit/heath dept. officials in San Francisco on many occasions to get a cafe/restaurant/bar to open on time, oh not clandestine either, just a direct “What The Hell Do You Want”. The $200k is a drop in the bucket of failed to launch businesses in SF. The Byzantine ridiculous arcane system they have is there on purpose, and cash grease is the only way to move the wheels. More than a decade of the City fighting me & the company I was working for left me with an enormous jaundice eye cast in the direction of City Hall. I really hate what happened to the City, it was a paradise to me in the 70’s.


So what do people do? Just buy existing businesses? Because at some point, even if you have the money to spend, putting out that kind of cash just to get through the red tape leaves you in a big enough hole before you even get started that you’ll not be able to make enough money to stay open, for many types of businesses.

If you tracked the number of small shops in SF over time, I wonder if you’d find they have simply declined in recent decades. I have heard people complaining about how the things they loved about SF (e.g. their favorite independent shops) have disappeared in recent years.


That is not nearly enough to open a food business anywhere. None the less San Francisco. It might be particularly obtuse and closed out there. But that is not a lot of runway.

Fuck that’s not even going to cover rent for too long in many places, particularly large cities. None the less equipment, insurance etc.

This is why food trucks and home delivery setups are such popular starting points. The minute I saw that number I figured the guy just ran out of runway before the bullshit cleared.


Not so much. Jamie Zawinski (one of the first tech dudebros in SF, with entitlement up the wazoo) has run himself into effectively bankruptcy while trying to run a bar and pizza shop in SF. He blogs about it. Trying to get anything done in SF is a shitshow.


That’s not unique to SF.

Restaurants have a huge failure rate all over. They’re an excellent way to go broke. And it’s really common for moneyed people to step into the space thinking it’ll be a money maker, or fun, or as a social marker only to lose a shit ton of money.

A restaurant does not make money.

Restaurants make money.

As in multiples, restaurant groups. Vertical integration, different models offsetting each other, and unified buying.

San Francisco does have one of the highest failure rates and shortest life spans in the US. Along with NYC, and I think it’s LA. Shit show urban planning probably doesn’t help. The common cause across these places is high commercial rents, higher operating costs, and hell of a lot of competition.

The sensible response to “I want to open a restaurant” is always “don’t”.


My mom used to talk up this idea that we would open a food-based business after her retirement from teaching… I would explain how that was really a bad idea-I didn’t want to out in 100 weeks, we couldn’t get enough money to make it feasible, etc. it took a discussion from her financial advisor to get her to see sense. She though it would be fun for her to sit at the register for, oh, 20 hours a week. I have never really wanted to open my own place, I know too much.

Because apparently everybody in San Francisco has way too much time on their hands.

I’m still confused as to how all these high-falutin goobers have so much time to spend on Clubhouse.

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There’s a reason very few people in the restaurant business try to open their own place (or even stick around long term).

A lot of people don’t realize how much work it is either. You’re looking at 16 hour days 360 days a year to make it work. Or having enough money to pay some one to do that for you.

It’s absolutely not a fun or easy thing to do with your retirement.

I still have trouble convincing my grandmother that it would be A) impossible B) a really bad idea for me to open a restaurant. And that’s after more than a decade of watching me try to get out of that business.

My mother recently tried to convince me to become a butcher. That it would be a pay cut over my current job, or the schooling is crazy expensive didn’t really sink in. Neither did the fact that I do not want to be a butcher. Until I told her I’d basically need her to bank roll a shop to avoid working in a supermarket.

“Do you have $20k a month for rent and a quarter million dollars for fridges?” Tends to bring people up short.


Seattle’s “wealthy NextDoor busybodies and pettifogging campus Marxist Society rules committee members” feel seen…and it’s got plenty of earthquke risk as well.

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Because a lot of them are rentiers — patent licensors, landlords, retired VCs or founders or early hires…


I am friends with people who own 5 restaurants in SF - well, 4 - one closed permanently due to COVID. Can confirm that bribery appears to be the only way to get the city machinery to work.


Agreed. Half of restaurants that open go out of business in their first year. It is a difficult business to run even though the people who come in are planning on buying something.

Here on Duke St, the rich scion of a car dealership family decided he wanted to open the old-timey family pizza parlor that he remembered from his childhood. He had no restaurant experience other that watching his dad yell at waiters. He never did anything other than golf and glad-hand at his Dad’s dealership. So, he bought a perfectly good mid-sized pizza shop and the building next to it and razed them. Then, he spent 2 million building a new pizza place. Halfway thru construction he decided that what it really needed was a rooftop bar for drinking and live rock or cw concerts. The city zoning folks didn’t want a rooftop bar overlooking a residential area so the court battles began. 2 years later, the building was complete. Instead of opening a pizza place, he began to look for a buyer for his $4 million boondoggle. To date, no takers. Hard to make a profit on pizza and beers when you have to pay off $4 million.


Pizza is a particularly low margin business too. Typical NY pizza has something like 3-6 bucks profit on it, and it feeds 2-4. You need REALLY high volumes and low overhead to work it. Inside of that they’re remarkably stable.

Part of why wood fired pizzas have proliferated. The margin isn’t neccisarily better. They can cost more, but cost more to make. But the portion is 1 pie per 1-2 people. So for a given number of asses in seats you pull in more.

The only thing I’m aware of with tighter margins is ice cream. Typical ice cream cone has something like 10 cents profit.

You need to push a lot of product to make money this way.


Oh, but those created similar red tape and regulatory nightmares for owners in a lot of cities. In the Philly area, news stories were like a mashup of the harassment reserved for sidewalk food carts combined with drivers who repeatedly run afoul of parking authority regulations. On the home delivery front, there are also high insurance costs (because of the limited number of companies that offer policies enabling owners/drivers to operate within the law).

In that case, you’re suddenly a “disruptor.” Unlike the businesses who were already offering the same service for less, for you the regulations and laws get reviewed (TPTB even let you get away with breaking the law until then, and the only penalty is “slap on the wrist” fines - or fines that don’t need to be paid for years), and you’ll have investors willing to spend billions on your business.


Yep. I know a friend who successfully opened an ice cream shop in NY, then a few years later a second franchise in LA. But he started with a truck first and built rep and repeat customers before expanding.

Edot: note that you can rent food trucks in some places and get your business off the ground much cheaper.