SF's rising rents force 'mom & pop' out— Lori's Diner closing in Union Square

- A decades-old 50s-style diner near San Francisco's Union Square is closing its doors to make way for an upscale eatery, much to the chagrin of customers.

It's a San Francisco trend that has become all too common; skyrocketing rents forcing mom and pops out and newfangled eateries- in.

The lease on the original Lori's Diner on Mason Street is up January 2. The popular restaurant opened there in 1985 and expanded, later opening locations at 500 Sutter, San Francisco International Airport and Ghirardelli Square.

Today, at 336 Mason, line cooks flip flapjacks, fry bacon and whip up old-fashioned milkshakes right behind the counter, where hungry customers sit on red vinyl stools that spin and Sam Cooke croons in the background.

Marta Delfino is a fast-talking (and walking) blue-eyed blonde-haired waitress who's been dishing out plates and calling people "honey" for 25 years.

"I like the fast pace. I like the people.," said Delfino, who has 11 tables under her care today, plus the 15 seats at the counter. "This is the very first Lori's Diner but it's more cozy, you know smaller. I love it, we know the customers. It's sad for us to have to go."

The diner's owner Man J. Kim, says after 32 years, the building's owner wants to remodel and add a fancy upscale restaurant. "I wish I could stay more longer years," said Kim. "But the landlord made a substantial investment and they have to make building improvements and we understand."

"A lot of the little places like mom-and-pop kind of places are all going. No more leases, they're going, it's sad," said Delfino.

Sandra Jackson is a regular who often orders the banana split at the counter. "I very much think that some things from the 50s and the 60s should be preserved," Jackson said.

"You'll never find this in South Africa!" boasted Andre Hugo, who is visiting San Francisco with his family. He and his crew are eight of the thousands of tourists that seek out Lori's Diner for its grub and retro ambiance. "I think it's great! Very, very American!" he explained.

"When you travel through the States I always love finding a good diner and actually this is one of the best I've been to," said Chantal Christofi, Hugo's relative, also from South Africa.

Despite the closing, Kim says there are no hard feelings. He understands that business is business. He's scouting out another location nearby which he hopes to have open by summer. In the meantime, he'll transfer some of the 30 employees to the other restaurants.

But for Delfino, this is home, her co-workers and customers are like family. "There are a lot of brand new places, there's not the old style. Like, we're really old school," she says with a twinkle in her eye. That's how she and others wish it would stay.

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