San Francisco's most controversial fast food joint won a major victory on Thursday when the city's Entertainment Commission gave a Richmond District Jack in the Box permission to resume late night operation.
The restaurant, located near the intersection of Geary Boulevard and 11th Avenue, was forced to cease serving food 24 hours after a shocking hit-and-run attack in the parking lot of a nearby gas station stemmed from an altercation inside the franchise.
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Bay Area firefighter, single father and Marine veteran Albert Bartal was eating at the Jack in the Back around 3am on Thanksgiving night when he got into an argument with 22-year old Eduardo Esquivel. The two were separated and Bartal immediately left the restaurant. He was followed by Esquivel, who got into his black SUV and intentionally ran over Bartal before fleeing the scene.
Bartal sustained serious brain injuries and the incident drew national attention, sparking a campaign by neighborhood residents to force the restaurant to close at night--owing to what many saw as a long-standing pattern of unruly behavior by late-night patrons drawn to one of the few places in the area to get food after the bars close.
Community activist David Lee claims he has gathered over 1,500 signatures on a petition to shrink the operating hours of a site he called "a serious public nuisance in the neighborhood for decades."
Other Richmond District residents chimed in on Lees' online petition:
"They don't even police their garbage during the day. It is impossible for a bunch of teenagers to deal with any level of violence, and it in facts just puts the kids in danger. I believe that this is a bad idea" -Michael Keough
"I previously lived in this neighborhood and was threatened by drunks and angry panhandlers on more than one occasion. Unfortunately these problems are not limited to only evenings. In my opinion, it should be torn down." -Timothy Garafola
"I'm sick of all-night establishments acting as a magnet drunken nuisances and worse in the Richmond neighborhood. Jack in the Box is trying to maximize its profits at the expense of everyone else who has to deal with the consequences. There's no good reason for it." -Daniel Horne
After the initial outcry, authorities found that the franchise, sold to a new owner a few years ago, lacked the necessary permits from the city to operate after 2 am and was forced to cease late-night operation.
The Entrainment Commission, however, disagreed with the petitioners' sentiments and granted the Jack in the Box a permit to resume all-hours operation, citing the need for food options to be available in the bar-friendly neighborhood to serve as a curb on after-hours drunkenness.
However, empirical evidence suggests closing the restaurant at night did in fact make the neighborhood safer.
According to SFPD, the number of police calls made to the area immediately surrounding the Jack in the Box dropped significantly in the months following the restaurant's change in hours. SFPD reports they only received three calls in the nearly two months following the switch; they had been averaging seven calls per month prior to that.
For its part, Jack in the Box defended its record against claims that it is a negative force in the community. "We're not a bar, we're not a club and we don't serve alcohol," franchise liaison Jennifer Cunanan told the San Francisco Examiner. "And there is no correlation between the police data and our business."
Even so, the restaurant agreed to make some changes in an effort to keep peace in the neighborhood. Grub Street San Francisco reports:
The owner of the restaurant agreed to increase security, close the outdoor seating area, and give away free cups of coffee during the 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. hours to help people sober up.
Check out this CBS news report on the controversy: