Christmas music played in the background at Roosevelt’s Tamale Parlor as Aaron Presbrey and Barry Moore filled their last orders for holiday tamales.
A patron strolled in to pick up her order, and asked the owners, “What’s next?” Just two weeks earlier, it was announced that they’d be closing the neighborhood gem on Sunday, Dec. 6, after having taken it over in 2012.
Opened by a Dutchman named Roosevelt in 1922, who also owned a dry cleaner on that block and what is now the Brava Theater (formerly known as the York Theater, and the Roosevelt Theater before that), the menu used to serve enchiladas with spaghetti and French bread.
Juan and Luz Carrasco bought the restaurant in 1955, changing the menu to reflect their family’s recipes from Jalisco, Mexico. Rose, who inherited the restaurant from her parents in the 1980s, admitted that their clientele had always been mostly non-Latinos, so they kept their salsas mild.
Presbrey worked closely with Doña Maria Perez—the chef/head cook at Roosevelt’s under los Carrasco’s for 25 years—to perfect her taste and technique. They paired the menu down and added some new items, like a tamale with caramelized calabaza and goat cheese, which Moore said was their most popular item. Business was strong and their community solid, as can be seen by the “I’ll miss you” drawings hanging on the wall’s left by young diners.
“[People] perceive Mexican food as being inexpensive,” Moore said, adding that they are only willing to pay so much for a tamale.
He attributed much of their success to using high quality ingredients and their pork, which comes from the same vendor as Traci des Jardins of Jardinière restaurant, where menu items range from $12 – $149 for caviar service.
However, they were limited in charging what the neighborhood could afford, as well as what their clientele was willing to pay.
Earlier in the year, half of the kitchen staff informed Presbrey and Moore they’d be returning home to Mexico. When their initial post for kitchen help didn’t yield any inquiries, they went through friends, whose candidates requested 40 percent more in wages than what they had been paying their staff.
The 2012 U.S. Census reported that San Francisco had the highest density of restaurants per household in the entire nation (almost double that of New York City), making competition for kitchen candidates fierce.
The math wasn’t adding up.
Presbrey and Moore, who had worked every service, six days a week for three years, felt it was time to move on.
“We’ll miss this place a lot,” Moore said.