by Rachel Gordon
With a newly sanded and stained dock, a fresh fleet of boats and a revamped menu featuring vegetarian spring rolls and Salvadoran pastries, the new vendor who took over the food and boat rental concession at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park is set to open Wednesday.
Ortega Family Enterprises took control of the well-worn, city-owned property Sept. 16 and has been busy making fixes since. But there’s still a lot of work to do. For now, said project manager Frank Klein, the basics are in place so patrons can grab a quick snack and rent a boat to ride around the tranquil lake surrounding Strawberry Hill.
The opening comes after the city and the former vendor, whose family operated the concession for 68 years, engaged in a prolonged legal, public relations and political battle. Ortega beat out the former concessionaire, Bruce McLellan’s Stow Lake Corp., in a competitive bidding process. As part of the winning bid, the new vendor committed to invest $233,000 in the renovation project, replace the old boats, pay the Recreation and Park Department a minimum of $160,000 in annual rent, and set aside an equivalent of 2 percent of annual revenue for maintenance.
McLellan has one outstanding legal Hail Mary to get the Ortega bid disqualified. The case has yet to go to trial.
The fight over the Stow Lake operation has been one of the most bitter since park officials began a concerted effort a couple years ago to expand concessions in the city’s parks and plazas, and to upgrade existing ones.
Eventually, the existing commercial kitchen in the old boathouse will be outfitted with new equipment and the adjacent space that last housed the boat maintenance shop will be transformed into a sit-down cafe. In the meantime, food will continue to be served out of the old-fashioned snack stand.
The planned renovation project will take another 90 to 150 days to complete, if permits flow smoothly, Klein said.
The pending work is extensive. The plumbing and wiring systems must be replaced and the building made wheelchair-accessible. There’s a lot of dry rot that needs to be removed. Crews will rebuild the ornamental exterior woodwork and the wooden shutters, replace the windows and, if feasible, repair and refinish the old plank flooring. Painters will mimic the red, white, brown and green color scheme on the exterior.
Plans to have the north face of the building painted by opening day were scuttled by the recent rains.
“We don’t live in the world of Harry Potter where you can just get things done magically. It’s going to take time,” said Klein, a seasoned Bay Area restaurant consultant brought in by Ortega.
But a new fleet of 42 row, paddle and electric boats, and a new menu, are ready for visitors. The boats were delivered last week, and on Monday, staff members were performing safety checks. City health inspectors signed off on the food permit Tuesday.
Initially, all the food will be prepared off-premises by La Cocina, the nonprofit food business incubator, American Box and Let’s Be Frank.
The “renovation time menu” offers all-natural hot dogs, piroshki, vegetarian spring rolls, a seasonal vegan soup, a turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich, Salvadoran pastries and organic fair-trade coffee. The most expensive item is a tuna salad, at $6.95.
Also available will be pink candy popcorn, the nostalgic crowd-pleaser sold by McLellan, whose grandfather first ran the concession in the 1940s.
“We’re going to great lengths to retain the character of the property and to bring the memories back,” Klein said.
While repairs are being made, operating hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. It will remain closed on Mondays and Tuesdays for repairs.
E-mail Rachel Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org.