Any trip into the City must include breakfast, not at Tiffany’s, but at Sears Fine Food. It has been around since 1938, when it was founded by not Sear, Roebuck but Hilbur and Ben Sears, a former circus clown. It certainly would have been a colorfully named diner if his name had been Bozo, or Clarabelle!
They were famous for their 18 Swedish pancakes. Of course, I never heard of Swedish pancakes, though I grew up in a Swedish village with roughly 3000 Swedes. I first set foot in the precursor to this City institution in 1961, as a lowly Freshman in high school.
I returned every year, with old high school mates, like John, Mario, and Bob O. I often went with my Dad when we came up to the City for Giants’ games or family vacations. It is located just off of Union Square, on the Cable Car line, and across from the old Sir Francis Drake Hotel on Powell Street.
But I digress, so back to Sears. It was purchased by Mrs. Quita Brenner in the 1950s. She kept the name, for obvious reasons. A place owned by two ladies named Hilbur and a Quita must have a colorful past. Many famous people have dined here over the years. How about George Burns? Yes.
Along came an Armenian (just kidding, some of my best friends are Armenian), son-in-law, Al Boyajian, who convinced his in-laws to purchase the building at 439 Powell. Al, and his son Lee, who I met on several occasions, ran the place or should I say, ran the place into the proverbial ground.
They closed on Christmas Day, 2003, a very sad day for me and old San Franciscans from everywhere. But good fortune reigned, or did it rain soon thereafter. The Lori’s Diner owners stepped up to the plate, probably the one holding the 18 Swedish pancakes! So, after restoring the place to today’s building codes, paying off fines incurred by the Boyajians, Sears re-opened in August of 2004.
Is it the same? They still have the large counter, where old San Francisco ladies come for coffee and breakfast before a big day of shopping. They still have a hat rack in honor of the old City tradition. The waitresses and waiters are still “old” school! But, sadly but most importantly, it is mostly tourists that keep the place going.
The menu bears little likeness to the old paper menu. The 18 Swedish pancakes, while much more expensive, and not as tasty, still headline the menu. Now, they have added all sorts of healthy options, like egg white omelets, granola and yogurt, and fruit plates.
Despite all of this, I would still recommend that you step into old San Francisco on your next visit. They now have a slot machine at the exit. Your bill comes with a token that can be played for a “free” food item. We must really thank Lori’s for taking the chance, to keep this place alive, for people like you and me.