By Paolo Bicchieri
On a typical Inner Sunset weekend night, a line forms down Ninth Avenue of people waiting patiently for samples of the City’s first all-on-site, from-scratch ice cream company, San Francisco’s Hometown Creamery.
Nothing about 2020 has been typical, but brothers Saadi and Adar Halil, the co-owners and founders of Hometown Creamery, have stayed optimistic. They have also managed to stay open during the most challenging circumstances for small businesses in memory.
The Halil brothers, Adar (left) and Saadi (right), opened the City’s first from-scratch ice cream to be made onsite at their Inner Sunset shop, San Francisco’s Hometown Creamery. Courtesy photo.
The brothers opened the neighborhood mainstay five years ago where a Japanese restaurant had been. It hasn’t always been an easy journey.
“Not a lot of people were giving us a shot,” Saadi said.
After attending San Francisco State University and while working on a law degree at the University of San Francisco, it was Adar who decided that representing corporate interests was not for him. He had been working as a personal trainer for the Sunset Gym, just across the street on Ninth Avenue. He was also living in the Inner Sunset (he and Saadi still live just a few blocks away from their shop).
Saadi had just received a fellowship to produce two traditional music documentaries, but he leapt at the opportunity to make his passion for international cuisine into community work.
“The only machinery I had was just a two-quart Cuisinart,” Saadi said. Today they have a machine that can pack up to 60 pints of ice cream in just 15 minutes, perfect for the stay-at-home ice cream eating many desire while staying safe at home during the pandemic.
The brothers faced hurdles to build their dream. As minority business owners, they faced discrimination.
“The permitting process with the City was a lot,” Saadi said. “There was a lot that we saw, heard and felt that seemed exclusionary.”
Representatives would tell the brothers that there were “certain kinds of businesses” they wanted in areas, like Union Square, a place they planned for their retrofitted 1978 VW van to pop up and sell scoops.
“Small, local, minority-owned businesses were extremely underserved (in Union Square),” Saadi said. “And they came hard with lawyers. But they didn’t know my brother went to law school.”
The brothers won their case to have their business included in the City’s vendor rotation for Union Square, and when these big groups appealed the decision, they won again.
Identity has always been interesting for Saadi and his brother.
“We’re mixed,” Saadi said. “We’re both people of color. We’re both Jewish. I also consider myself Black and bi-racial.”
The brothers would hear comments slip that they considered problematic. If it was their age, their background, or their ethnic identity, they could never tell.
“We’re doing what we’re going to do. We’re just going to make it happen,” Saadi said.
Once COVID-19 hit San Francisco, the Halil brothers remained open in the safest way they could.
“We took things day by day,” Saadi said. They reduced staff from 14 to 4 employees. In the first month, sales dropped 70%.
“Had this happened in our first or second year, we would have gone under,” Saadi said.
Shani Roth, a Hometown Creamery employee, said she loves interacting with folks in the neighborhood. Roth was born at UCSF on Parnassus and lived on Eighth Avenue, so working in the local area has been meaningful for her.
“It’s a really friendly environment,” Roth said. “And people have been really great about wearing masks.”
Community engagement is key to Hometown Creamery. Saadi is a member of the Inner Sunset Merchant Association and works with the Village Project in the Fillmore.
“This time has been so trying for so many people,” Saadi said. “There’s daily work that needs to be done.”
They have loyal fans, the folks who stand diligently in those famous lines outside the shop.
“I would die for Hometown Creamery,” said Fiona Murphy-Thomas, a lifelong Sunset District resident. “They once had a bread pudding ice cream that was probably one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.”
Some of the customers’ favorite offerings are rocky road, Madagascar vanilla, chocolate sorbet, plus waffle cones and maple bars baked on premises.
San Francisco’s Hometown Creamery is located at 1290 Ninth Ave., between Lincoln Way and Irving Street. For more information, visit www.sfhometowncreamery.com or call (415) 682-4977.
Categories: Small Businesses