Berkeley restaurants

San Francisco’s Arinell Pizzeria at risk of closing

After 33 years on Valencia Street in San Francisco, New York-style pizzeria Arinell Pizza is in danger of closing its doors.

“We will be closing soon if we don’t get an increase in business,” owner Ron Demirdjian said. “The pandemic, of course, destroyed the business.”

When he realized there was no real New York-style pizza available in the Bay Area when he moved here in the 70s, Demirdjian opened his first Arinell location in Berkeley in 1975, followed by San Francisco in 1989. He explained that while the Berkeley location is doing well, a combination of factors put the Valencia Street location in dire straits.

For one, Arinell is running out of funds for the Paycheck Protection Program.

“The only reason we’re even in business is because of the Paycheck Protection Program, otherwise I would have been long gone,” Demirdjian said. “So without PPP there is no Arinell. Now we are running out of PPP.”

The restaurant has also had staffing issues, with three cooks leaving California last month. Arinell has also yet to see a significant comeback from the Valencia Street bar crowd that supported her business. Her restaurant used to stay open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays to cater to late-night customers, but now Arinell closes at 11 p.m. on weekends.

“Arinell in Valencia did amazing business when the bars were popping,” Demirdjian said. “We basically fed drunks on Friday and Saturday… now people aren’t doing bars. There may be a bit of business, but for us it’s brutal.”

Arinell Pizza, located at 509 Valencia St. in San Francisco, was a popular late-night bite for weekend crowds. Now his future is uncertain.

Adam S. via Yelp

He also speculated that because Valencia Street has become a sit-down dining destination in recent years, people no longer choose to grab a slice to stroll between bars. He estimated that business is down to 30 or 40 percent of what it was before the pandemic.

“The slice mentality is pretty much gone,” he said. “The business model has been destroyed, basically.”

Additionally, Demirdjian explained that when he purchased the Valencia Street location in 1989, he received a waiver due to a bathroom located in a closet that would have been too expensive to bring up to code. He says it wouldn’t be acceptable today if he tried to sell the place, so it’s basically an unsellable deal.

“I have to keep one of these businesses alive, and the one in Berkeley is in much better shape,” he said. “…I can’t just sell [the Valencia Street location], which I would like, but it’s not possible. So either I keep the business or I close it.”

Arinell is known not only for her hot New York slices, but also for employing her fair share of local musicians over the years. Demirdjian said he likes to hire “rockers” because they’re entertainers, which means “they like to make good food.”

For those who love the Valencia Street restaurant, time is running out. Demirdjian didn’t have an exact timeline for a possible shutdown, but it’s definitely on the wire.

“If we get more business, we have a chance,” Demirdjian said. “But as it stands, it’s not sustainable.”