Sai's Vietnamese restaurant finds new home with assistance from Transamerica landlord

The saga of a family-run Vietnamese restaurant next to the Transamerica Pyramid is headed toward an amiable ending.

Sai’s Vietnamese restaurant, which faced closure last year when new Transamerica owner Shvo ordered it to vacate its longtime home at 505 Washington St., will take over the Bask restaurant space at 42 Columbus Ave. in nearby North Beach.

Charles Vong, the owner of Sai’s, is buying the business from Bask and starting a new lease with the building owner there. Shvo has agreed to help cover cost of a new buildout, he said.

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin stepped in last year after Shvo issued a notice for Sai’s to vacate 505 Washington, where it had operated since 1983, causing a public uproar. Shvo later said it would help Sai’s search for a new spot.

“All the credit goes to Supervisor Peskin, and our customers, the public,” Vong said this week. “Peskin spearheaded this and that’s when we were heard.”

A Shvo spokesperson declined to comment. The New York-based developer, headed by Michael Shvo, bought the Transamerica Pyramid along with the property that houses Sai’s, 545 Sansome St., and another adjacent building on the block for $650 million in 2020. The company has launched a multimillion renovation and expansion of the three buildings.

Vong said he is “very grateful” for the contributions that Shvo has made throughout the effort to find a new home, including forgiving a little over a year’s worth of rent at the current 505 Washington St. location. Vong said Shvo has expressed willingness to pay up to $350,000 in tenant improvements at 42 Columbus Ave. — out of an estimated $500,000 in anticipated work — in the form of a forgivable loan if Sai’s moves out of its current home before Oct. 1.

While the timeline for construction — estimated at about four months — makes for a tight fit, Vong said he’s hopeful that things will work out.

“We’re doing our best right now to make sure this happens on time,” Vong said.

Representatives of Bask, which has served French and Spanish tapas and other cuisine at the location since 2012, did not respond to a request for comment. For nearly a half century before that, the site was home to funky burger joint Clown Alley.

Vong said the key to the new space is a bigger kitchen that will go over well with a staff that’s learned how to be efficient in the smaller confines on Washington Street. The new spot, located at the corner of Columbus and Jackson, will also allow for Sai’s Vietnamese to expand its service offerings to draft beer and a large wine selection, becoming “Sai’s Vietnamese Restaurant & Bar.” It also plans to grow its catering business.

“What’s really cool about this place, and what we’re extremely excited about, is that the new space actually has a bar,” Vong said.

Peskin said the family surveyed many different spaces for the new location and that the search was “a nail biter at times.”

“The entire thing brings tears to my eyes,” Peskin said. “An immigrant family-owned restaurant that had to survive the pandemic is going to not only survive, but I think maybe even be better off because they’re moving closer to the heart of North Beach, but not far enough away that they’ll lose their historic crowd. They can grow it, and it will bring life to the famous Clown Alley.”

Peskin added that Shvo “has been honorable” through the process and “very interested not only in the future of the Transamerica Pyramid but its neighbors in the surrounding community.”

“It just reminds me that this is still a city that takes care of folks who need taken care of and that when we all worked together, great things happen and I’ve just been honored to play a little part in,” Peskin said.


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