Little Joe’s—an Excelsior restaurant that changed its menu with the neighborhood and served many generations of local families—was awarded recognition as a Legacy Business last week.
The Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund, passed by voters in 2015, was created to provide grants to longtime neighborhood small businesses and their property owners, if those property owners extend ten-year leases.
Little Joe’s was founded by Joseph Russo in 1958 after Russo’s father, the owner of a North Beach restaurant, suggested that his son try starting his own restaurant.
After Fred Rodriguez Sr. purchased the business in 1972, Rodriguez opened a second restaurant, Little Joe’s No. 2, which offered both Italian and Mexican food to serve the neighborhood’s diverse population and honor the family’s Mexican heritage.
When the family closed the second restaurant, located at 5999 Mission St, the Mexican dishes, based on recipes by Fred Sr.’s wife Gloria, came back to the original location.
The restaurant is now operated by Fred and Patti Rodriguez, two of four children of Gloria and Fred Sr., but some longtime customers still remember eating a unique pizza that originated at Little Joe’s No. 2: the Mexican pizza.
On Monday, a woman called to order the specialty.
“She goes, ‘I remember when you were down the street,’” Fred recalled. “I thought, ‘Wow, I must have been 15 or 16 at the time.’”
The Mexican pizza, a pizza crust topped with refried beans, cheese, homemade chorizo sausage, tomatoes, onions and jalapenos, has become a favorite for some of the restaurant’s longtime customers.
Today, the restaurant serves multiple generations of the same families.
“We see kids grow up and then we see them with their kids. It’s pretty neat,” Fred said.
In a letter nominating the business for legacy status, District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai stated that Little Joe’s is the longest-serving pizza restaurant in the neighborhood.
“Watching the cooks toss, catch and spin pizza dough is a rite of passage for kids living in the Excelsior,” Safai stated.
The walls of the restaurant’s entry hall are covered in pictures from San Francisco sports teams, many of them autographed.
In the late-1980s, Carlos Santana’s band would order delivery to their Lakeview practice space.
Fred and Patti applied for Legacy Business status on the recommendation of Stephanie Cajina, the executive director of the Excelsior Action Group.
Cajina suggested that the program could help the business negotiate a longer lease and recognize to Joseph Russo, the business’s founder and the owner of the building’s owner.
The business was a stop on Mayor Ed Lee’s final visit to the neighborhood as part of the Excelsior Holiday Walking tour, on Friday, Dec. 8.
The Small Business Commission approved Little Joe’s for Legacy Business status on Monday, Dec. 11.
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