'Chicken John' Rinaldi clucking over eats in San Francisco's Dolores Park

In the real world, it’s a generally accepted premise that taste is not a matter of dispute.

This being San Francisco, however, taste is not only disputed, it’s protested, demonized, wrapped in fuzzy ideology and served al fresco.

That brings us to tranquil Dolores Park in the Mission, the site of general neighborhood harmony and all-round hipster hangout, at least until city officials decided it would be a great place to set up a mobile food stand or two.

First up was venerable Blue Bottle Coffee, considered among The City’s finest java establishments, which thought it would be a “delightful” idea to open a park concession, until about two dozen steadfast community activists — including several other local cafe owners — roasted the company’s owner and Recreation and Park Department officials at public meetings.

Although Blue Bottle was granted a permit to operate a small outdoor venue, the company decided to pull out rather than face continued opposition.

But the main event is still a week or so away and will showcase San Francisco’s fractured politics, pitting the zealots who believe that no commercial operations should ever be allowed in parks, even if the vast majority of residents support them.

And when the Mission’s own La Cocina opens its 8-by-12-foot aluminum trailer in Dolores Park, it should make for an interesting clash, since it will pit a highly popular nonprofit company that helps immigrants turn their passion into profits against those who see vendors in parks as an evil encroachment of capitalism.

La Cocina is a local outfit that is known as an “incubator kitchen,” which essentially helps cooks set up their own businesses, an entrepreneurial effort that has launched about 30 such establishments and has received much national attention. The company helps people with no business experience get some, and most of their employees are either low-income, immigrants or both.

Those ingredients normally would make the opening of a new eatery serving Yucatan delights in a sun-kissed park a welcome event. But “normal” is not a word one should use casually in San Francisco.

In the reactionary words of the person  promising to fight La Cocina’s new venture, “it’s like opening an auto parts store or a Walmart or a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet.”

That’s the view held by John Rinaldi, aka “Chicken John,” who considers himself something of a showman and artist, but is generally better known as one of the, uh, characters who decided to run against former Mayor Gavin Newsom back in 2007, a campaign that was more of a sideshow staged before an election in which Newsom received more than 70 percent of the vote.

But that campaign won’t be anything next to the one Rinaldi has promised to stage in his efforts to fight “privatization” of our parks — even if it’s just one tamale truck. In a letter to Caleb Zigas, La Cocina’s executive director, Rinaldi said the company could expect “resistance and metric tons of aggravation,” whatever that means.

I called Rinaldi for a more detailed explanation, some of which, he readily acknowledged, can’t be printed in a family newspaper. Let’s just say he’s adamant about any commercial entities in parks. Oh, and he doesn’t much like the Recreation and Park Department, either.

“We don’t want anything in the park,” he said. “If we put one store there, it will become a food court. They have a permit. I can’t stop them from putting a trailer in the park, but we can petition and protest and throw up on each other if we have to.”

Now I could argue that what he plans to do when La Cocina opens will be a lot more alarming to the children he wants to protect from “commercialization” than a taco truck in their midst. But Rinaldi doesn’t have a very compelling case since concession stands and vendors are already operating in city parks, yet somehow San Francisco continues to survive.

And chances are that after Rinaldi and a few of his friends run out of steam, his latest campaign will go the way of his last mayoral run.

But I’ll bet you a carnitas burrito that those first few days could be entertaining.

“I’m not just some wing nut who is loud,” he wrote.

You can find him down at the food court.

Ken Garcia appears Thursdays and Sundays in The San Francisco Examiner. E-mail him at kgarcia@sfexaminer.com.

Bay Area Newsken garciaLocalNews ColumnistsSan Francisco

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

San Francisco Giants second baseman Donovan Solano (7) scores on a double by San Francisco Giants pinch hitter LaMonte Wade Jr. (31) in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Oracle Park on Thursday, July 29, 2021. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
Will the Giants make the playoffs? Five arguments, for and against

By Chris Haft Special to The Examiner You’d be hard-pressed to find… Continue reading

Diners at Teeth, a bar in the Mission District, on July 9, 2021. Teeth began using digital menus based on QR code technology in August. (Ulysses Ortega/The New York Times)
The football stadium at UC Berkeley, on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. George Kliavkoff, a former top executive at MGM Resorts International, took over the conference at the start of the month. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)
What’s Ahead for the Pac-12? New commissioner weighs in

‘Every decision we make is up for discussion. There are no sacred cows.’

The sidewalk on Egbert Avenue in the Bayview recently was cluttered with car parts, tires and other junk. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
New surveillance effort aims to crack down on illegal dumping

’We want to make sure we catch people who are trashing our streets’

Most Read