Selling chicken and waffles was always going to be a bit of an uphill battle in a San Francisco neighborhood best known for its sporty young residents, their pilates studios and salad spots.
That didn’t stop restaurateur Mohammed Hamdan from setting his sights on a new storefront on Chestnut Street, the Marina neighborhood’s popular shopping strip a few blocks away from the San Francisco Bay.
Mohammed, his wife, and two grown sons spent months getting their restaurant, Cracked and Battered, ready.
On March 15th, they finally opened.
On March 16th, the city issued a shelter-in-place order. Everyone without essential business was required to stay home.
“We just saw the streets go empty,” said Waleed Hamdan, Mohammed’s son. “It was the weirdest feeling. We watched the world shut down.”
The Hamdan family and their staff filled about three or four orders a day that first week. Business was not looking good.
Then Waleed, who works full-time as an oncology nurse, had an idea. Whatever happened to the new restaurant, he knew this was a moment to give back to the community.
He posted on Nextdoor that any healthcare workers ordering takeout would receive a free meal.
“We got into the mentality quickly,” Waleed said. “Right now people need to start taking care of each other. It’s that simple.”
And with that, business picked up. Dozens of neighbors commented on his Nextdoor post.
“My wife is a healthcare worker, but we WANT to buy our dinner and support you guys! See you tonight! What time do you open for dinner?”
“That’s so kind! We’re not healthcare workers, but will come buy dinner in support tonight. Welcome to the neighborhood!”
“Beautiful gesture. I’m going to skip lunch and save up some calories for fried chicken this evening to support you while you support others. Hope many do the same.”
New customers asked to buy gift cards and donate to a fundraising campaign. Many healthcare workers stopped by to get one free meal for themselves – but insisted on paying for others.
“We’re not making money, but we’re not losing money,” Waleed said of his current predicament.
In fact, they are relying on the kindness of their neighbors – and a generous local landlord who has given them a break on rent for the last two months. It is the only thing keeping them afloat, Waleed said, since the new business was not able to qualify for emergency funding from the government.
“The neighborhood continues to surprise me,” Waleed said two months after their grand opening in March. “People are so supportive. It’s unbelievable.”
This is not the family’s first go-round in the restaurant business. Serial entrepreneur Mohammed has opened more than six other businesses across the Bay Area in recent decades. And he has always had a habit of offering free food to loyal customers.
Waleed now spends rare moments of free time learning new ways to market the new restaurant online. He plans to explore options for non-government grants and other funding support. All the while, the Hamdan family remains focused on building a name for their business in the neighborhood.
“The community is the family now,” Waleed said. “It’s not my brother, my dad, my mother. It’s everyone.”
Mohammed has been attached to the Marina neighborhood for years. In 1989, he owned a motel a few blocks from his new restaurant and watched much of the neighborhood – and local tourism dollars – get decimated by the Loma Prieta earthquake. He persisted then, and he persists now.
“There comes a time when you just kind of let go and trust,” Waleed said. “I learned that from nursing a long time ago. Everybody is in the same boat. We’re in it together.”