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Storied: San Francisco

Jul 13, 2023

We open Part 2 with a discussion on the nature of neighborhood bars. An opportunity arose for John when he left the corporate world. His then-wife, Sommer Peterson, reminded him of his idea to open a bar when she also left the 9 to 5. Sommer researched spots in the general area of Divisadero and stood in lines at City Hall.

After scouting a couple other locations, they found the current spot, which looked like it would work. Sommer and John worked out an agreement with the landlord and they got to work building the space out to become a bar.

John's childhood friend, Nerius Mercado, asked to be part of this new adventure, and came on as a co-owner, which he remains to this day. Molly Bradshaw, whom you might remember from our episode this season about Mission Bowling Club, was a good friend of Sommer's growing up. Molly knew bartending and also wanted in. The four formed a partnership and signed the initial lease in early 2008.

John and I go on a sidebar on Divisadero neighborhood history at this point in the recording. We also delve a little into John's personal history. He lived at McAllister and Masonic as a kid before his family moved, first to the Inner Richmond and then to Anza Vista.

We trace some history of the Mini Bar location. When they signed the lease, there had most recently been an artist who lived there and effectively turned it into a live/work studio. Before that, it was a produce market. And before that, according to one patron, it used to be a Black video store run by her dad.

Sommer and John had talked about making it a community space and the importance of art that comes from the neighborhood. They talked with neighborhood groups about their plans to get feedback and share their plans.

Shortly after signing the lease and starting the build-out, they ran into issues. A neighbor wanted money to drop his protest of their opening, which put the approval of their liquor license on hold. They were forced to stop the build-out while they waited for an ABC hearing in Sacramento. At the time, Mark Leno was SF's rep in the state legislature, so John reached out to his brother to see whether they had any connections. Leno sat on the SF Nightlife Commission then.

The very next day, John got a call from ABC to let him know that they would issue a provisional license and work on the build-out could resume. A week later, on Friday, August 15, 2008, Mini Bar opened its doors to patrons.

They hadn't yet established a price list, a little hiccup in the face of the enormous task of building a bar from scratch. John asked his partners to call nearby bars and restaurants to see what the market rate was, which pushed the opening back by a whole hour. No bigs.

John ends the podcast talking about the importance he places on having clean bathrooms. That's where patrons spend alone time, after all. "Respect them in their alone time, and they'll respect you back," he says. Not a bad way to run a business.

Check back next week for Part 3 with Mini Bar's bar manager and one of its two art curators, Erin Kehoe.