By Gui Oliveira
“Keep Cassava open on Balboa Street” was the name of the GoFundMe campaign started by Yuka Ioroi, the general manager of the Outer Richmond restaurant, Cassava.
Thanks to the community’s help, Ioroi and her husband, Executive Chef Kristoffer Toliao, have kept their restaurant alive in the Outer Richmond District for seven years.
The inception of the restaurant dates back to March 5, 2012.
“When we first opened, the restaurant was just half the size. There was a bakery here but they weren’t baking, so we took that over, ” Ioroi said.
“We soon came to realize that people were interested in actual food, so we started doing reservation only, pop up, second course dinners in the beginning and we saw that people really liked that kind of experience.”
Cassava soon found an audience of diners who were very receptive to “modern California cooking,” featuring Toliao’s use of California-based ingredients.
Toliao is a San Franciscan who has worked alongside numerous chefs, including Dominque Crenn, who asked him in 2007 to join her as her sous chef at the InterContinental Hotel in San Francisco. The restaurant would later become Luce.
“Working under chef Crenn did influence my own cooking,” Toliao said.
He even got the opportunity to cook for President Barack Obama and at the James Beard Foundation.
Ioroi said the growth of the restaurant had to be supplemented by more equipment, “so we kept adding and adding.”
Buying new equipment, plus a slow winter, caused financial hardships in early 2017.
“We completely ran out of money two days before we put the (GoFundMe) campaign out,” Ioroi said.
When the “Keep Cassava Open on Balboa Street” page launched, a community of support came to the rescue. Enticed by special deals on gift certificates and membership opportunities, within a few hours of the publication of the campaign, they were able to reach $6,000. A few hours later, they topped off at $8,000.
“Seventy-five percent of people who donated were regulars. The other 25 percent heard about it or thought the gift certificate was a good deal, or thought that the membership was a good deal. So we have a lot of people who became regulars from the campaign too. It was a blessing on its own,” Ioroi said.
“The costs of opening and running a restaurant in San Francisco are astronomic,” a supporter commented on the GoFundMe page. “This is about building a more sustainable business and the legions of supporters and donors understand this and thankfully are doing their part.”
Ioroi became more involved with business and community endeavors in the Outer Richmond, specifically in the corridor known as the Balboa Village. She teamed up with her organizing mentor, Marjan Philhour, who was a candidate in the District 1 supervisor race in 2016. They established the Balboa Village Merchants Association together.
In retrospect, Ioroi said the GoFundMe campaign was a huge success and serves as an example of the Richmond community helping by donating to keep Cassava open.
“After all, we are a community gathering place,” Ioroi said. “Looking back now, I don’t think I would’ve done anything differently. It was a pure blessing.”