The Civic Center: Jay Foster and Deanna Sison of Farmer Brown
By Jessica Goldman Foung - Illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton
With Blue Jay Café in the Western Addition and Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack in lower Bernal, Jay Foster seems addicted to opening restaurants in undeveloped locations. “I think being in less pristine areas helps you stick out,” he says. “And I think of it as a great opportunity to build a unique relationship with a unique community. Because when there isn’t a lot going on already, you can really contribute to the neighborhood.”
He and his partner, Deanna Sison, were already working on a third concept when the perfect neighborhood found them. “We actually got the space from a friend who just couldn’t seem to make it work,” he explains. And with his track record, and knack for tattered real estate, Foster knew he could turn it around. Beyond enthusiasm and good food, though, Foster says the most important skill an adventurous restaurateur must possess is the ability to embrace the people around you. “You have to do something that gives back,” Sison adds, “and to welcome everyone with open arms.”
Today, Foster and Sison’s latest soul food stop, farmerbrown, supports local farmers and serves up food with fresh ingredients and heaping hospitality. They participate in the Tenderloin Economic Development Project and host parties for nonprofits in the neighborhood. But their respect for their community is most apparent in their enthusiasm for its color.
“The tenderloin is a really good melting pot,” Sison says. “You can get almost anything in terms of cuisine, food and culture here. And that diversity is what makes us feel at home.”
“Turtle Tower is a great Vietnamese spot. Brenda’s French Soul Food is great too.” And even with the long lines, they eat there two to three times a week.
The Neighborhood Needs:
Foster says the community needs to come together and have a joint identity. “It is such an interesting neighborhood and I would like to see people own that.” And they say it could use some better Mexican restaurants too.
Hop MUNI for:
“We love Gracias Madre in the Mission and we love Nopalito. We also go to the Embarcadero to see what kind of produce they have,” Foster says. He also likes to grab a Big Daddy bowl from Hapa Ramen on Tuesdays.