Grilling By the Bay for a Century

Red’s Java House has Stood Strong at Pier 30 for Generations


Photo Credit: Mia Alvarez


The century-old food shack, Red’s Java House, popularly known as Red’s, is a piece of Bay Area culture, where celebrities and working-class citizens can wind down and enjoy amazing food. Right down the street of Oracle Park, Red’s history and familiarity run deep within these walls of San Francisco. This notion couldn’t be echoed better by anyone other than Carlos Medina. He is the current General Manager of Red’s and has worked there for almost 12 years.

How Did it Start?

“Well, it became Red’s in 1955, which is 68 years ago,” said Medina. “Before that, it was something else, this building.” Medina is referring to the Lunch Room. Images depict the Bay Bridge under construction with the Lunch Box in the foreground. From the Lunch Room, the remote location was rebranded into Francos Lunch. He said, “Yeah, this became super popular back in the day because it used to be a lone shoreline place. All the people who used to come here would work 0n the ships, and they’d come here to get some burgers and beers. There were many people, and it was the only place in the area.”

Brothers Tom (Red) and Mike McGarvey went on to purchase Francos Lunch, and the location would undergo its last rebranding. Even though the McGarvey brothers have sold the site, it still stands as Red’s Java House. Red is still loyal to the shop; he frequents it as a client and legend.

Who Makes it Work?

To have a longstanding business, Red’s has had to satisfy the people ordering their meals and those behind the counter. Carol Perez, a San Fransisco native, has been dedicated to the food served for decades. “Well, I’ve been a customer for about 60 to 70 years. I remember my dad, who worked as a sailor on the pier, would always bring me by to have lunch with me.” Perez was accompanied by two friends who shared the same sentiment.

While young and old customers commit to freshly made food, Red’s has made sure to make their work environment as familiar and fun as possible. Munoz said, “Pedro over there has been working with me for seven years. I do not see them like employees, adding, “We’re more like a family. The stadium [Oracle Park] is right here, so some weeks we’ll work seven days a week. We spend more time here than at home sometimes. It’s really like a family, and it’s great.” The eatery’s reach is much farther than San Francisco natives. For years, San Francisco Giants and Golden State Warriors players have stopped by for a quick bite. Not only are high-profile athletes coming to dine here, but the location has been featured in a few films and shows. Munoz told El Paisano that you could see Red’s featured on Amazon Prime’s Goliath.

What’s on the Menu?

In such a densely populated area like the bay, it can be challenging for smaller businesses to compete or stand out from the large companies. While many businesses try and fail at crafting trendy gimmicks, Red’s has done a great job at sticking out in a good way. To begin, all of their food is fresh. From the meat and onions to the pickles and bread, it’s all sourced locally and delivered daily.

Speaking to the bread, they take an unconventional approach to meat sandwiches. Red’s uses San Francisco Sourdough French Bread, and a local bakery provides the loaves. The bread choice isn’t the only significant change to the burger scene. Red’s purposely does not serve their food with lettuce or tomato. Their approach may be unconventional, but generational customers, awards won yearly, media attention, celebrity attention, and more show that Red’s isn’t just a restaurant. It’s culture.