The first Black owned bar in San Francisco opened in 1959, Sam Jordan’s Bar and Grill. Sam Jordan was a community activist and light-heavyweight boxing champion, who won the San Francisco Golden Gloves diamond belt in 1948. Sam was the man. After opening the bar in 1959, he became the first Black person to run for mayor of the city in 1963. After 60 years, Sam Jordan’s Bar and Grill has closed and unfortunately, it’s not alone.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Sam Jordan’s Bar and Grill was named a historic landmark. The street that runs by it (on the immediate block) was named Sam Jordan’s Way. In the end it simply wasn’t enough and this is the new normal, in San Francisco. As Justin Phillips has reported, over the past few years Black owned restaurants in the city have closed at an alarming pace. Much of the problem has to do with demographics — San Francisco’s Black population hovers around a mere 5 percent.
On the other side of the Bay Black restaurants are doing much better. Oakland’s Black population, incidentally, is still well over 20 percent. On the surface it would seem that the issue is purely one of demographics — there are not enough Black people to support Black owned restaurants. If that is so, the issue of gentrification is very much relevant, as San Francisco’s Black population in the 1970’s was more than twice what it is today, by percentages. But the analysis can’t simply stop there. From Atlanta to Chicago, Memphis to New York, most of us can name a Black owned restaurant or two that has shut its doors. The question that must be asked is, “why?”
What is happening in San Francisco could happen on your block tomorrow. While Black customers form lines around the corner to purchase Popeye’s Chicken sandwich, Black owned restaurants are closing and the two aren’t necessarily unrelated. Black people may not necessarily be able to control every regional force that shapes the local economy. What Black people can do, however, is control where Black dollars are spent. Black restaurants close when Black customers don’t show up. Period. Whether it’s San Francisco or your neighborhood, the fate of Black restaurants depends on the same x-factor and that is you.