Mission District cafe serves chicken with a side of makeup

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ByJonathan Bloom KGO logo
Thursday, March 15, 2018
Mission District cafe serves chicken with a side of makeup
San Francisco is known for tight quarters and high rent -- not just for housing, but for businesses too.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco is known for tight quarters and high rent -- not just for housing, but for businesses, too.

Now, one restaurant in the city's Mission District launched an effort to do what apartment dwellers have done for years: split the rent with a roommate.

Rhea's Cafe is a family-owned lunchtime staple for those who work in the neighborhood. But long before lunch on Wednesday, an unusually long line formed outside, even in the pouring rain.

"I've actually never been to this cafe before," said one customer, a young woman.

"On Instagram is how I found out," said another young woman, in line next to the first.

While some indeed came to Rhea's for its locally famous fried chicken, the others showed up for something totally different:

"Skincare and makeup," said a third young woman in line.

Along with a new pink paint job on the outside, the diner counter inside Rhea's Cafe has been converted into a mirrored makeup counter -- where cooks batter and fry the chicken on one side, and customers try out new shades of eyeliner on the other.

If you think it sounds crazy, you're not alone: so did the cafe's owner, James Choi.

"One of my staff actually said, 'Hey there's a makeup company on the phone,'" he recalled. "And I said, 'Hey, I don't have time for that.' I had no idea what was in store."

That company turned out to be Glossier -- pronounced like "dossier" -- and the person on the phone was its head of retail, Melanie Masarin.

"It's a direct-to-consumer beauty company," Masarin explained.

Glossier sells mostly online, but the company is starting to dip its toes into the world of brick-and-mortar sales. Like many online brands, Glossier's first step is to open "pop-up" retail stores in big cities.

"We don't really know yet what our retail strategy is going to look like," Masarin said. "What we know is that people are really excited to come and meet us as humans, in a space."

And for now, that space is Rhea's Cafe, where the French fries and the lip balm are sold side by side.

"And if girls can be comfortable and come with their friends and have fun, just like they would at a restaurant, I think that's really great," Masarin said.

The idea of businesses as roommates isn't entirely new in San Francisco. Perhaps the most well-known example is the nightclub called Rouge -- better known during the daytime as Nick's Crispy Tacos.

There's also Harmonic Brewing, which serves its freshly brewed beer in the same space that furniture company Shop Floor uses as a showroom. The innovative business concepts come out of a simple truth: San Francisco is expensive.

"With the current minimum wage increase, and also the rent," Choi said, "It is very tough to do food in San Francisco. And that's why you see a lot of other long term businesses closing down."

Choi said his own business was surviving, but that Glossier might just bring the influx of new customers he needs to get ahead of the rising bills.

Masarin, who spent weeks unsuccessfully looking for a place to open the Glossier pop-up before meeting Choi, is happy they seem to have found a perfect pairing.

"Put some marketing behind it and help him really rejuvenate his business, because his fried chicken really speaks for itself," she said.