Employees purchase two SF small businesses, saving co-workers jobs and preserving history

Often, we hear about neighborhoods losing mom and pop stores when they close for various reasons, from owners retiring, to losing their leases.

KTVU has learned about two local businesses on Polk Street in the San Francisco's Russian Hill neighborhood that have a different ending.

A diner and a book store have closed in recent months. But in both cases, employees bought the business and hired their co-workers to help run the place.

At The New Spot on Polk diner, the name and the location are new, but the staff is the same.

"Quaint, adorable. Old school food but with a modern flair," says Nikki Balcom, server.

The New Spot diner has been open only a little more than two months. But the staff who work here have a long history with the neighborhood.

They were employed at Polker's Gourmet, a diner that had been in this neighborhood for 23 years.

The owners shuttered the restaurant in April when they lost their lease.

"I was devastated. I'm on the older side. I have a son in college," says Balcom, a single mother.

She raised her children while working at the old diner for 11 years.

She and others were given two weeks notice that they were going to be out of a job.

"We were family. Someone telling us we have 2 weeks... we're like no. I'm not going to take that," says Nazeira Twal, who also worked as a server at Polker's Gourmet.

She saw the closure as an opportunity to realize a dream to open her own diner.

She found a new location her diner just a block away.

Twal hired her twelve co-workers to join her. The New Spot diner opened two months later, at the end of May.

"We took a chance and opened this fast because we knew what the neighborhood needed," says Twal.

Nearby, there was a similar story. A new page was being turned for the Russian Hill Bookstore.

The owner tells KTVU this is the last of 15 bookstores that used to line Polk Street. .

"They sort of bring back a nostalgia for a lost era of San Francisco," says Ben Bellouin, co-owner of the Russian Hill Bookstore.

He and a co-worker bought the business from their boss who retired in June.

They moved everything: the merchandise... and the bookshelves to a new location because the original building needs seismic retrofitting.

Neighbors say they are relieved the business was saved.

"It's makes the neighborhood a stronger place. It makes it feel like a home," says Jeff Yenchek, a regular customer of the bookstore who has lived in the neighborhood for who patronizes the bookstore and has lived in the neighborhood for 28 years.

The owner describes the bookstore as a bridge to the past....and says it's a preservation of printed materials.
"It just has a lot of character and personality," says Bellouin.

The owners of the bookstore and diner says they wanted to preserve precious relationships.
"We knew we wanted to start something with a family of co-workers," says Twal.

She says the diner enjoys a line out the door on weekends.

The owners of both businesses say they are thriving thanks to neighborhood support.