Noe Valley Voice September 1999


By Jim Christie

Storetrek is a regular feature of the Voice introducing new shops and businesses in the neighborhood. This month we feature an ice cream cafe, a vitamins franchise, and a store specializing in Southeast Asian imports. We'll also bring you up to date on a few moves and reopenings in the area.

Toko Imports

3910 24th St. (near Sanchez Street)


A funny thing happened to Ralph and Sabine Thuler during a visit to Thailand, part of their extended honeymoon journey that took them through several countries. They realized how much they had enjoyed Indonesia, so they returned and spent the rest of their time there.

Now, 10 years later, the Thulers have two stores in San Francisco featuring Southeast Asian handmade decorative crafts, textiles, jewelry, and furniture, primarily from Indonesia.

The second Toko Imports store opened July 9 in the old Cover to Cover Booksellers location on 24th Street (the first Toko store opened seven years ago in North Beach). The space has been remodeled, with the most noticeable addition being a "Marmoleum" floor, whose burnt-yellow and orange tones blend nicely with the large plantation teak furniture pieces, combining to give the store a warm glow.

Toko -- the Bahasa-Indonesian word for "shop" -- offers an impressive selection of merchandise, from artistic to functional, antique to contemporary, and low-cost to expensive. Popular craft works are the Balinese wooden fish mobiles ($15 to $20), "flying cow" mobiles ($25), Javanese wooden shadow puppets ($20 to $35), and wrought-iron candleholders in whimsical shapes ($20 to $45). There are also Balinese ikat fabrics, sarongs ($16), leather bags ($40 to $175), and collectors' items like wood-carved statuary and Javanese krises (ceremonial daggers, $225 and up).

Ralph Thuler's passion is searching out fine antique furniture pieces, but he feels his business is a byproduct of a deeper passion: "It's really about loving Indonesia and Indonesians," he says. The Thul-ers return to the island nation once or twice a year, as much for renewing friendships as for maintaining their business.

Toko's antique furniture includes teak tables from $800 to $1,400, a massive teak storage chest at $1,950, and an intricately carved Javanese double bed ($5,400 delivered and set up). Newer pieces fall into the $300 to $400 range, and feature teak-frame rattan chairs at $550 a pair. For customers interested in seeing a broad-
er selection of furniture, Toko's Potrero Hill warehouse is open by appointment.

The Thulers are originally from Switzerland but have lived in San Francisco for many years. They moved from Bernal Heights two years ago and now reside on 22nd Street with their three children, ages 11/2 to 6. The two eldest children will be attending the Waldorf School (in kindergarten and first grade) this fall.

Ralph and Sabine are very pleased to have a store in their home neighborhood. "It's been wonderful," says Ralph. "Thank you, everyone, for welcoming us with open arms."

Toko Imports is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (The store at 1314 Grant St. is open daily from noon to 7 p.m.)

Fountain of Youth Ice Cream Cafe

1484 Church St. (at 27th Street)


It's funny the ideas that can pop into your head while you're having your hair done. Thrifty Drug pharmacist Kathy O'Neill suddenly thought "ice cream!" during an appointment last year with Teresa Donnelly of Danu Hair Design.

Why? Because Donnelly confided that she and her husband were acquiring the building at the corner of Church and 27th streets, and perhaps O'Neill would consider leasing a ground-floor space to open her own business. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Fountain of Youth Ice Cream Cafe opened July 3 with a "surprising number of people for a holiday weekend," says O'Neill, who added an official grand opening celebration Aug. 7, which also drew crowds.

Running an ice cream cafe is quite a career change for O'Neill, who moved to San Francisco from Maryland nine years ago, got her pharmacist's license, and then worked for Thrifty (now Rite Aid) on 24th Street for eight years. But she quickly sums up by joking, "I've gone from pills to chills!"

Her pharmacology background slips out in other humorous ways, as when she describes the cafe's '50s-style aqua- and lemon-colored walls as "subliminal Prozac." The cafe's interior has several tables with chrome and burgundy chairs, a kid-level counter with matching stools in one of the large windows, artwork on the walls (local photographer Sylvia Saves' children's photographs will be displayed from September through mid-October), and an L-shaped soda fountain chockfull of goodies.

Fountain of Youth carries Double Rainbow Ice Cream in 20 different (rotating) flavors. It's available in "Little Dipper" cones at $1.75; adult single-scoop "Lonely Dippers" at $2.25; "Double Dippers" at $2.75; and "Big-Big Dippers" (three scoops) for $3.50. Other popular menu items include root beer floats, milkshakes, and malteds ($3); hot fudge sundaes ($3.95); cookies, cakes, tarts, and biscotti ($.50 to $2.50); plus a selection of coffee drinks.

O'Neill wants the New York egg cream aficionados out there to know that hers are made with milk, "two-cents plain" (seltzer), and Fox's You-Bet chocolate and vanilla syrups.

She says if you're coming with friends, you should try her "Martini Sundae," which has no alcohol but "might require a designated diver to get to the bottom of the glass." It includes six scoops of ice cream, whipped cream, nuts, sprinkles, and cherries for $8.50.

Let's not forget the bonuses: Frequent Fountain Card holders get a free Double Dipper after 10 fountain purchases. Those who sit inside can play "Trivial Pursuit" on the placemats. Customers who stay outside, especially those who bring their dogs to sample the "Pup Cup" of vanilla ice cream and dog treats ($1.75), can take their pick of two benches -- one for adults and one for Lilliputians.

Fountain of Youth is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

General Nutrition Center

3934 24th St. (near Sanchez Street)


At 26 years old, Steve Fong may well be the youngest business proprietor on 24th Street. He was taking business courses at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills when he decided to get some real-life business experience. His General Nutrition Center franchise opened July 3 in the retail complex next to Bell Market. (It sits next door to 21st Century Video.)

Fong was born in San Francisco and currently lives in the Marina District. He became interested in General Nutrition Centers while working part-time at several of their locations in the city. "I liked the products," says Fong, "so I thought it was a good idea to get into a business whose products I respect and use myself."

General Nutrition carries a wide range of nutritional supplements, including herbs, vitamins and minerals, sports supplements, energy drinks, mineral water, and natural remedies. There are also displays featuring cosmetics, teas, and health magazines and books.

The brightly lit store is long and narrow, with products arranged by category on wood shelves along the walls and in centrally located islands. Name brands include Creatine for body- and muscle-building; Atkins Diet products with low-carb, low-sugar ingredients; SAMe products which are reputed to aid in arthritis relief and mood enhancement; and Herbal V for alleged vitality of the amorous kind. Natural remedies include ginseng, goldenseal, echinacea (30 capsules for $13), and ginkgo biloba (60 caps for $21), among others.

GNC has its own line of health products as well, such as the Herbal Plus and Pro Performance brands. GNC Gold Card members receive special discounts on all brands. For a $15 annual fee, cardholders get 20 percent off their first purchase and for all subsequent purchases made on the first Tuesday of every month. Any customer, Gold Card member or not, can buy one GNC product and get the second (of the same size or potency) for half price.

To learn more about GNC, Internet surfers can pull up But Noe Valleons should drop in and say hi to Steve Fong and his staff.

His General Nutrition Center is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Other Movers and Shakers

Upper Noe landmark Star Bakery, which had been closed for almost a year, reopened on the corner of 29th and Church streets in July. Baker Yvon Bahic wants to turn the Star into an "international-style bakery with a French flair." French or not, dedicated customers are happy that their favorite item, Irish Soda Bread, is available again ($3.50 for a pound and $6 for two).

Star Bakery is open weekdays, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The phone number is 415-648-0785.


On 24th Street, Psychic Palm & Card Readings by Christina moved from its location a few blocks up the street and reopened in the old Misha's Antiques space at 3870 24th St., next door to Martha & Bros. Coffee.

Christina, who wants to retain her mystery by not revealing her last name, offers introductory palm readings for $10, tarot and angelic card readings for $45 to $50, and psychic readings for $75.

Christina also provides her clairvoyant services in Santa Cruz, where she spends half her time. She'll be at the 24th Street location the first two weeks of September, and welcomes calls for appointments at 415-643-1123.


At the corner of 24th and Noe, Rabat clothing store has doubled its space by completing its expansion into the old Yankee Clipper Travel location next door. Owner Patty Woody has been doing business on 24th Street for 28 years now, and proudly says that several "three-generation shoppers" are among her customers.

The new addition to her store contains footwear, handbags, and men's neckties (Woody is "gradually getting into menswear"), while the original space has kept the women's fashions, dressing rooms, and check-out counter.

The roomier Rabat (415-282-7861) is open weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.


Finally, you are seeing double, with two Cottage Industry stores now open on 24th Street. Bruno Guarini is up and running in his above-ground store in the old Classy Sweats location at 4068 24th St. (the other shop is below 17 Reasons).

The new location (415-821-2465) has more space and larger imported items like furniture (see Voice June 1999). You can't miss the store -- there's an old bicycle rickshaw from Katmandu displayed out front. Cottage Industry's hours are the same at both stores: daily 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.