“Big Heart” Video Cafe at Geary & 21st closes after 25 years

Several people have written in today asking why the Video Cafe, a Richmond District institution for the last 25 years, is now closed and cleaned out.

From what I’ve been told, the cafe was having financial problems for the last year. Business was slow and they were under the gun to come up to code for the American Disabilities Act (ADA) in areas like the restrooms, the front door and front sidewalk.

The cafe’s proprietor is also the building owner. She bought the building about 5 years ago after renting for twenty. As a result, the costs to meet ADA guidelines would have come from the cafe’s coffers, which were probably not very big to begin with.

I contacted a friend who was a longtime customer of the cafe, affectionately known to regulars as “Big Heart”. For over 15 years, he met friends every morning for coffee and breakfast at the cafe.

He told me that the atmosphere in the cafe has been rather gloomy the last few months, as staff and the owner anticipated having to close.

I do not have any information about what will happen to the corner retail space. If I hear anything more, I’ll be sure to let you know.

It’s very sad to see this cafe close. As one reader put it, “The Richmond loves its Video Cafe” so I am sure there are many who will be saddened by this news. It was one of those quirky, anachronistic spots that seemed to be caught in an endearing time warp. Plus the combo cafe and video rental counter was uniquely…different.

RIP Video Cafe – you will be missed.

Sarah B.


  1. another abuse of the ADA, killing another small business. This “punishment” model is not helping americans with disabilities, and now we’re losing another business in SF. Watch some awful chain store move in, or another yoga studio, or some other business that isn’t nearly as cool.

  2. Cool? Seriously? The food was awful and the service was worse. I feel for the owner, but a real diner with decent breakfast plates would do gangbusters business there.

  3. The person that got them closed down was the same jerk that has been making his way across the city getting rich suing small businesses. His name is Thomas Edward Frankovich. .

  4. Bummer!!! My wife and I loved going there! It was definitely a lo-fi greasy spoon, but it had a lot of charm. Sad to see it go… :(

  5. Aw, man! This makes me sad. I was especially reliant on that place in college, but it remained my go-to for comfort food to this day.

    Sarah, can you find out what they did with the furniture? My god, listen to me. I am such a vulture!

  6. I used to live at 22nd and Geary so we’d go there all the time. I’ll be sad to see it go. But on the same token I have to say it’s not like they had good food, the service could be a bit odd and the atmosphere was not really much to speak of. It’s a quirky place and it’s (almost) always sad to see long-time businesses close. I do hope something decent goes in there. It’s a pretty decent sized lot.

  7. earlier in the week came word of the Delano’s IGA market closing, and now this. looks like the slumping economy is taking its toll on businesses in the neighborhood.

    i’m not sure it’s a zero-sum game, where the closing of one market or one eatery means there will be more business for others. empty stores affect foot traffic and property values, along with lowering the overall quality of the community. i’m also not sure that some other business will swoop in like a fairy and restore the locations. neighborhoods in general are either on their way up or on their way down.

    maybe the Richmond is stuck. for one thing, it’s divided over whether transit investment in the form of BRT will improve the area, or whether it will further squeeze businesses on the verge of going bust.

    for the time being, these closures don’t make it seem like there’s progress.

  8. @JoJo who is this Thomas Edward Frankovich bad guy and how do we expose him?

  9. I live very very close to this place and hated it. The food was the most disgusting dreck I’ve ever had in SF. It doesn’t come close to ‘greasy spoon’ its just rotten. That said, I’m not sad to see it go at all. Let someone open up a real restaurant.

  10. I’m very sad to hear about this, and the Delano’s IGA too? Geary would really benefit from a light rail, like Irving Street. I lived in the Richmond for years, and now having moved to a different neighborhood (I’m not a car owner) I would come visit all those favorite old places if it wasn’t so difficult and time consuming to get there. I can easily get to the Sunset, so am much more likely to head there since the train is so much nicer and faster that the dreaded 38 Geary. A train would make Geary more pedestrian friendly and would re-vitalize the neighborhood and bring more business to these shops and restaurants. Best of luck to the Big Heart folks.

  11. Interesting thoughts, Anthony. While I don’t want to see storefronts closed all around the Richmond, I also don’t want to see a bunch of trendy businesses and brunch places rushing in to take over the leases. The Richmond is the last bastion of northern San Francisco that hasn’t been overrun with retail and restaurants catering solely to yuppies, hipsters, and other posers. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Video Cafe (not-so-great food and generally depressing vibe), but it was a bit of an institution, that’s for sure. It’s funny to think that’s its “gimmick” was once actually relevant.

  12. I dunno, I’d rather have some place that doesn’t make me want to shoot myself because its so depressing than Cafe Video. Bring in someplace with quality and vibrancy. If god forbid someone you think looks like a hipster goes there to eat, I don’t think its the end of the world.

  13. Myles wrote, “The Richmond is the last bastion of northern San Francisco that hasn’t been overrun with retail and restaurants catering solely to yuppies, hipsters, and other posers.” I couldn’t agree more – the Richmond is “unfashionable,” uncool…and full of real soul. You don’t have to personally like a place to appreciate its function. We should be watchful, when older places close, of what and who wants to come in next. The LAST thing we want is to become the New New Thing.

  14. I’m bummed that this place closed, but at the same time I’m feeling a little smirky. They did kick me out once for playing backgammon.

  15. RichmondResident: I agree, some other entrepreneur can probably do a lot better than the Video Cafe. Aside from when I was little, I only ate there once or twice in the last few years. But my concern about hipsters, while driven by disdain and cynicism, is quite well-founded. Hipsters are like a fungus; once a few of them get a whiff of something new that fits their sense of irony, they all descend with cash in hand, hoping to spend their way to a genuine experience (the vast majority of hipsters having moved to SF from somewhere much more boring, are pathetically desperate to make their experience in SF as “genuine” and “urban” as possible). The influx of cash pushes business rents up, and the more down-to-earth businesses lose their leases. Once the hipsters have co-opted and fetishized everything, a once-normal neighborhood is mutated into an amusement park for overgrown children, full of trendy retail, tapas bars, high-end coffee shops (e.g., Blue Bottle…gag…), pretentious bars, and overpriced second-hand stores. So…the fewer hipsters in the Richmond the better. I hope they never find a reason to anoint this neighborhood as being cool.

  16. there have been a couple of responses to my comment above, which I appreciate, and though I am loath to add to a silly yuppies-bad, hipsters-worse debate, it’s worth pointing out that you can create a viable business that serves everyone, local or not.

    the best example is right here in our neighborhood: Joe’s. it took over a larger space across the boulevard and is definitely more spruced up, and is still bringing in kids, teenagers, parents and grandparents along with the skinny-jeaned coolsters. tip of the fedora to Joe’s for showing that you can succeed without worrying about people who don’t approve of your “scene.”

    i want the Geary corridor to thrive because I live here with family, friends and neighbors, not because it’s particularly uncool.

  17. Alright people, good food or not, the problem with cafe video closing is now there is nothing open late in the neighborhood!

    When I moved in 2 years ago, I reveled that this isolated neighborhood not only had a 24 hour supermarket (DeLanos), a 24 hour drug store (the old small Walgreens), but also a 24 hour diner!

    Now we have squat and I might just find myself wondering I put up with a 45 minute bus ride to downtown from this neighborhood

  18. pretty sure there is a sushi restaurant open till 2am on clement and 24th.

  19. Myles – right on assessment of “hipsters”. New District campaign for Eric Mar: “Keep the Richmond Square.”

  20. That is so sad. My first kiss was at the phonebooth that used to be in front of the place. I used the phone to call the girl and she snuck out of her parents house and we smooched right there for a couple minutes before she had to sneak back. That was 1994 i think…

  21. So what’s a good place for breakfast in this brave new world? Hamburger Haven on Clement is as close as I can think of.

  22. Here’s a few places I know of:

    EATS – Clement & 2nd Avenue
    Bob’s Restaurant – Calif btwn. 5th & 6th Avenue
    Louis’ Cafe – Point Lobos, right above the Cliff House
    Velo Rouge Cafe – Arguello at McAllister
    Blue Danube Cafe – Clement btwn. 4th & 5th
    Joe’s Coffee Shop – Geary btwn. 25th & 26th
    Seal Rock Inn Restaurant – 545 Point Lobos at 48th
    The Cliff House Bistro – at the Cliff House

  23. Thanks for the tip about Joe’s Coffee Shop. I had never noticed it. Alas, all of these places are at least a mile from home, and some close to 2 miles (versus half a mile (4 long blocks) to Big Heart). Good to get some excercise and work off the pancakes.

  24. Dating myself here – but I worked at Big Heart back in the 80’s when it was still just Big Heart and closed at 8:00 pm. I lived a block away, and worked my way through school doing shifts there, waiting on cops, cutting meat for elderly people, and refilling endless cups of coffee. It was pretty much 2 years of torture, but I also have fond memories. I quit when it changed to being open 24 hours and they started using computers and doing fancy coffee drinks. I never set foot in there again after I quit, even though I lived there until a few years ago. Still, I’m sad its gone.

  25. Spent many a late night early morning there after working at the AMC theater in Japan Town back in the 90’s. Sad to see it gone. Many good memories with good friends there. Knew the servers too.

  26. The first time I used the men’s restroom at Big Heart I thought, this is definitely pre-ADA. It was one of several restaurants (which shall remain nameless) that required you to pass through narrow hallways used for storage (at least for Big Heart the ladies room was a clear shot from the back corner of the dining room). I fondly remember one (possibly fixed with a recent renovation) where the men’s room was up in a mezzanine.

    Big Heart’s restrooms were by no means the least accessible in the city, not to mention the entrance. It would probably have been possible to make both restrooms unisex and renovate the ladies room for disabilities access, though retrofitting an accessible sink, adding legal grab bars, etc. on a limited budget is still a big hurdle.

  27. I heard the building is going to be torn down, real shame, my nanny used to go in there with her friends after church to have coffee and breakfast. I’ll miss their shakes, the food was nothing to write home about, but in the late 80s it served as a friendly video store, before blockbuster moved in (who knows how long we will have that)

  28. This is so sad, it is getting harder and harder to find a place to have a breakfast that won’t break your wallet. I had many good breakfasts there and the staff was great, always remembering my standard order. We’ll miss you Video Cafe.

  29. I spent so many late nights eating there after hanging out with friends.

    When it was 1 a.m. on a otherwise lonley Friday night, after a long hard week at work; I simply felt like I needed to go to a place where the people were friendly, the setting is quiet – video cafe was this bastion from a world I very much wanted to take refuge from.

    So many dates ended up there.

    So many fond arguements with that glasses wearing waitress…which im sure was just tired from super-long shifts.

    Yep. I love you video cafe. Always will.

  30. It’s not just the Video Cafe, its restaurants and stores in the Richmond, Sunset and Mission. This is the work of two greedy bastards, the attorney Frankovich and his slimy client, whose name is Craig Yates. Yes, Craig is in a wheelchair, but I doubt that he reads books(closing of bookstore on Clement at Arguello), or buys women’s jewellery (closing of Gallery of Jewels on 24th). He and this attorney are working the city to make money, this is not a serious ADA issue. I have heard that some small businesses are paying out $1000/month so they can stay open without having to ensure ADA accessibility (don’t quote me on that one). Anyrate these two bastards are ruining small businesses in this city and should be stopped. Does anyone have any ideas, picketing, caustic e-mails, whatever. Whatever is legal I guess!!

  31. no, it won’t be missed. that place sucked. the food was bad, the service was worse. if you came in with a backpack, intent to sit down and read/study, you were asked to leave. video cafe didn’t get a dime out of me since the last time i went there in 1995. good riddance.

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