Growing up in San Francisco, Bivett Brackett’s favorite restaurant was Don Ramon. While other kids opted for birthday parties at Farrell’s or Chuck E. Cheese, Brackett still celebrated at Mexican restaurant SoMa, where her five sisters would grill her with pristine piña coladas on plates of chicken enchiladas with a mole sauce.
“Don Ramon’s was a welcoming place in a very anti-black and anti-Latino city below the surface of its melting pot and cultural diversity,” said Brackett, the daughter of Afro-Latino immigrants.
Now a community organizer and event planner in her 40s, Brackett has found herself at the forefront of an effort to save Don Ramon from foreclosure.
With businesses severely affected by COVID-19 pandemic, owners Lee, Nati and Lucy Ramirez – whose immigrant parents founded Don Ramon’s in 1982 – fell behind on a $ 5 million loan they took in 2018. Their lender threatens to repossess the building.
A host of local politicians intervened on behalf of the family, encouraging the lender to give the Ramirez an extension of payments.
“This is an example of a business hammered by the triple threat of the pandemic, the recession and aggressive lenders,” Assembly member David Chiu told Hoodline.
Before the pandemic, Don Ramon’s ground floor was usually packed with locals, as politicians held campaign launches and happy hours in the upstairs banquet hall.
It’s a lively atmosphere that the Ramirez family has cultivated for generations. After emigrating to San Francisco from Jalisco State in Mexico in 1955, Ramon and Guadalupe Ramirez landed jobs at Valencia coffee, owned by Guadalupe’s sister.
Guadalupe’s sister eventually sold the Valencia Cafe to the couple, and in 1967 they decided to open a second location, Jay’s La Perla, in Don Ramon’s current space at 225 11th St.
Named after the Ramirez’s son, Javier, Jay’s La Perla was a Mexican grocery store serving ready-made meals. It became popular enough that in 1982 the family sold the Valencia Cafe and transformed the deli into a full-service restaurant, which they named Ramon.
The next decade was not easy for the sandy western corner of SoMa that Don Ramon calls home. With its public baths and leather bars, 11th Street was considered a dangerous place at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Many customers who were fans of the Valencia Cafe refused to frequent the new location.
“If it weren’t for the gay community, we wouldn’t be here today,” said Lee Ramirez. “Every weekend before a party, gays would come and dine with us. It was the LGBTQ + community that saved Don Ramon’s.”
The restaurant found a more stable base after the dot-com era turned SoMa into a booming city, and elder Ramirezes cooked there until seventy. But the decades-old building eventually needed repairs and upgrades their daughters couldn’t afford.
In 2014, the Ramirez sisters rented the approximately 4,000 square foot commercial space on the third floor of the building to a non-profit organization called De La Mancha. Designed as a simple business deal to help cover the bills, it quickly turned into a financial burden.
One morning in 2017, restaurant staff arrived to find that the men’s restroom was flooded and their ceiling had collapsed. The water came from the De La Mancha unit.
When the sisters gained access to the office, they discovered that it had been illegally turned into a living space. Several mezzanines had been built, and a full kitchen and laundry room had been installed under their noses.
Lee Ramirez still doesn’t know exactly how many people lived upstairs, but “it couldn’t be less than 15,” she said.
“These people felt empowered and thought they could just come in and take over,” Nati Ramirez said. “It was similar to the Situation of the ghost ship. They would have private parties, sometimes until six in the morning. ”
The sisters contacted the police and the SF Department of Health, but no one wanted to get involved. They therefore pursued an eviction case against De La Mancha, whose lease was already due to expire the following year. Once they did, De La Mancha stopped paying the rent.
Between lost rent, legal fees, and flood damage, the sisters needed money. So they took out a $ 5 million loan from IMC Private Capital, a Florida-based private lender specializing in real estate.
Lee Ramirez said the family made constant payments on the loan until the pandemic struck. Like many restaurants in town, Don Ramon turned to take-out, but that couldn’t make up for the loss in income from in-person meals.
When the Ramirez missed their April payment, IMC doubled the interest rate on their loan. Six months later, they are now behind on their payments of over $ 300,000.
IMC could not be reached for comment for this story. that of the lender This site is offline, and his phone number is out of service.
When Lee Ramirez told Brackett that the family was in danger of losing the building, Brackett said she had “taken action.” She launched a Gofundme campaign, and began to hold weekly meetings with stakeholders, ranging from lawyers to the city’s Office of Economic Development and Workforce (OEWD).
Soon the politicians jumped on board. The Mayor of London Breed and supervisors Matt Haney and Aaron Peskin all lent their efforts to the restaurant.
“[The pandemic] means that many members of the small business community are at risk of being exploited, especially our minority-owned businesses, ”Breed said in a statement. “We must oppose these unethical practices, and I have asked our Office of and Workforce Development to identify and exhaust all available options to protect Don Ramon from foreclosure. ”
The mayor also sent a letter to the San Francisco Small Business Office, appointing Don Ramon for the legacy business register.
Chiu says he has received several calls and emails from constituents concerned about Don Ramon. With Peskin’s backing, he was able to negotiate a 90-day extension of IMC’s loan. This gives Don Ramon time to consider other options to avoid foreclosure, including refinancing.
“If these lenders think they’re going to take this property and turn it into a development, they’ve got something else coming up,” Peskin told Hoodline. “If they think they are going to build a skyscraper, they are sorely mistaken, that will never happen.”
When asked for further details on how he would prevent the redevelopment of the site, Peskin said his efforts would be similar to the advocacy work he did to stop the controversial 8 Washington condo development in 2015.
In addition to her story, Chiu said, that of Don Ramon is important because of her status as one of the first. “sanctuary restaurants“, educate undocumented workers on their rights and adhere to guidelines designed to protect them from harassment.
“Don Ramon’s is a beloved San Francisco institution and an important heritage company,” Chiu said. “As a leader of the sanctuary restaurant movement, I have seen their commitment to uplift our diverse communities in San Francisco.”
Brackett said the way forward for Don Ramon won’t be easy, but she remains optimistic.
“The last two months have been difficult because we are discovering new obstacles, but I hope they will not meet the same fate as Sam Jordan’s,” she said.
If you would like to donate to help preserve Don Ramon, visit their GoFundme page.