After the 2016 election, Manny Yekutiel became the go-to guy among his friends who wanted to get more involved in social justice issues — issues that suddenly felt more pressing.
“I had worked on two presidential campaigns, so suddenly, folks wanted my advice,” he said. “I started looking around for places I could send my friends, and I wasn’t coming up with a lot of good options.”
So he came up with his own. Yekutiel plans to open his new establishment, Manny’s, on Nov. 6, election night. It is part coffeeshop, part restaurant and part political bookstore, with room for events focused on politics, social justice, advocacy and art — plus Shabbat dinners on Friday nights. And it all will take place in the heart of the Mission District, 3092 16th St. at Valencia.
While not certified kosher, the restaurant will have a meatless Mediterranean menu (Yekutiel keeps kosher himself). It also will feature items from Frena, San Francisco’s kosher Israeli bakery.
“It’s actually a very old idea,” said Yekutiel. “I’m not presuming to invent the concept of coffee, food, beer and wine combined with politics and activism. People have been doing this for a very long time. I’m aiming to bring back something that has existed in all metropolitan areas around the globe.”
Yekutiel, 29, grew up in an Orthodox family in Los Angeles, attending yeshiva until high school. His mother is Ashkenazi, his father a Jew from Afghanistan who came to L.A. via Israel and Toronto.
While in college, Yekutiel did a fellowship in Israel writing an ethnological report about the Afghani Jewish community there.
“I’m very proud of my Afghan Jewish heritage,” he said. “It’s a community that has a lot of positive attributes that I feel a duty to preserve.”
Yekutiel was an intern on the re-election campaign of Barack Obama in New Hampshire and was finance director for Northern California on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He’s also worked for advocacy groups concerned with immigration reform and marriage equality.
Moving to San Francisco in 2012 after Obama’s re-election, he was part of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s first cohort of LGBT Jewish leaders in its Pathways to Jewish Leadership program.
Yekutiel says in the back of his mind, he had often thought of opening his own restaurant, something his father did when he immigrated to Canada. But in Yekutiel’s case, he “couldn’t figure out how to combine that with my work in activism, community organizing and politics,” he said.
Now he has.
He tested the concept by holding several pop-up salon-type evenings last year, featuring prominent speakers such as Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs (the youngest mayor in California), Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza, New York City councilmember Ritchie Torres, and Jason Collins, the first NBA player to come out while still playing in the league.
Yekutiel spent time on a business plan and fundraising; his crowdfunding campaign raised over $72,000.
“If someone wants to watch a movie, they can find which theater to go to,” he said. “Or if someone wants to watch a sports game, they know which sports bar to go to. But if they end the workday wanting to do something civic-minded, or to watch the presidential debate, where do they go?”
Obviously, he sees Manny’s as that place.
“To me, success will be someone coming in to get a coffee, and almost accidentally having a conversation about climate change or criminal justice reform, and not leaving before exploring all the programming that will happen on the other side of the space. Success will look like someone coming in and noticing a documentary about food waste playing, and then end up getting involved in that issue.”