An inside look at a neighborhood dispute that became an international media feeding frenzy — and it's all about bacon
The Wong Family, which owns Ashbury Market, offered Jim a lease on the deli portion of their building to operate as a commissary for the Bacon Bacon Food Truck (which then had four employees, Angelus included), and they started making bacon. The Planning Department stipulated that Angelus needed a "limited use restaurant" permit to operate. That's when the trouble started.
Shortly after Angelus opened his doors in January of 2012, a handful of neighbors complained about the smell of bacon and the influx of bacon lovers to the new restaurant in their residential neighborhood. Contrary to SNL-fueled legend, none of the neighbors "complained to the cops that [they] smelled bacon." Instead, they filed a discretionary review application, a process in which anyone can urge the Planning Department to take action if it's found that the case demonstrates an exceptional and extraordinary circumstance. The Health Department allowed the restaurant to operate in the interim, as long as issues with the Planning Department were ultimately resolved.
But when the issue still wasn't resolved more than a year later, the Health Department imposed a 75-day deadline by which the planning permits must be secured. Once that deadline passed in May, Bacon Bacon was shut down. This prompted the media frenzy, which continued through July 11 — when the Planning Commission unanimously ruled that it could reopen as long as an air filtration system was installed.
Four major-network television crews filmed the three-hour hearing, periodically running out of the hearing room to grab more videotape. Phylis Johnson-Silk lives around the corner from Bacon Bacon, on Downey St. "If they put in a nail salon," she said during the commission meeting, "[these neighbors] would complain about that. Put in a bakery, then it'd be the smell of yeast!"
"I know [the neighbors] call FedEx when the truck is double parked for deliveries on their block," said Mike Shell, who showed up to defend Bacon Bacon independently of the company in a pork-pink tie.
In an email to members of the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, HAIA president Ted Lowenberg urged opponents to attend the Planning Commission hearing. "We have to get as many voices as possible to attend to say the Commission must take discretionary review," he wrote. "The owner has committed a number of cardinal sins vis-a-vis the normal process of getting a business started, and to simply let this slide through creates havoc with the planning code and process. It would like legalizing Al Capone's liquor sales because he's been doing it for a while, whilst getting away with murder. Now is the time to scream, 'STOP THIS!!!'"
Neighbor David Nevins described for the commission the physical "clouds" of bacon smell that wafted down the block, "almost toxic smelling."
His wife, Inge, visibly teared up after her turn to speak. "This should not be a popularity contest," she said. "This should be about proper placement of a restaurant ... There are people on our sidewalks eating this stuff!"
In Bacon Bacon opponent David Nevins' plea to the Planning Commission, he cited the Wall Street Journal's interview with the head of Iowa State University's Sensory Evaluation Unit as evidence that the bacon smell was a nuisance, while complaining the media overexposure had turned the proceedings into a "joke."
"I have no problem with what the health department did," Angelus said. "They waited a year and a half for us to sort all this out and it wasn't working. The Planning Department was really banking on us resolving the issue with the neighbors."
"This is a residential neighborhood, not a commercial neighborhood," David Nevins said, "The commercial activity that's existed is 'limited commercial use,' which means that it respects the integrity of the neighborhood that it's in."