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    GGBA Member Spotlight: Jonathan Ojinaga, Owner and Operator of Azúcar Lounge

    Azúcar Lounge is a premiere SoMa spot for Mezcal, cocktails, and delicious Mexican-style street snacks and entrées. Its loungelike setting with sofas and dim lighting creates a comfortable, cozy atmosphere. Tables are also available for larger groups, and for those who like to order a lot, which is easy to do with options such as tasty Azúcar Tots (tater tots smothered in queso blanco, cilantro, and your choice of veggies and/or meat) and Chile Rellenos made with pasilla peppers.

    Owner and Operator Jonathan Ojinaga made the move from corporate America to entrepreneur and has applied many of his business skills in running the bustling, environmentally conscious restaurant, which has been a San Francisco staple for over a decade. He shares more here.

    GGBA: Please describe your business and its mission and values.

    Jonathan Ojinaga: The mission of Azúcar Lounge has always been centered on honoring and celebrating Mexican spirits, cuisine, and culture. One way we are committed to doing this is through sustainable and environmentally friendly methods that respect the integrity of the agave from which the spirit is derived, all levels of production, and the wider environmental health in general. We want our patrons (and ourselves) to be able to enjoy Mexican food and spirit for years to come. With that in mind, we are committed to working with ethically processed agave distilleries that use sustainable methods that support of the health of land, the people, and the process.

    In house, we have also made a commitment to do our part to support the environment we live in. We are a certified Green Business and we use environmentally friendly cleaning products, compostable packaging, and reusable or compostable straws. We are always on the lookout for ways to minimize our footprint. For the last 18 months we have worked closely with Dispatch Goods, a local company that provides reusable to-go packaging. We have relied on this system of packaging for to-go orders completely for the last year.

    As someone who believes in every person and company doing their part to maintain the health of the planet and its valuable resources, I am proud of the steps we have taken not only to maintain the integrity of our product through sustainable practices but also the broader environment as a whole.

    Lastly, I am a firm believer in being an active member of our community—we have partnered with many charities such as the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Night Ministries, Bare Chest Calendar, Casa de las Madres, Shanti Project, and PRC, to name a few.

    GGBA: Why did you decide to create your business?

    Jonathan Ojinaga: After graduating from college, I was employed in corporate retail for a little over seven years before I decided to leave it all behind me. I found myself on a career path that I did not feel was my calling or the least bit fulfilling.

    Friends and family were taken aback when they found out I was abandoning a position with a lot of growth potential for less lucrative ventures, but it felt right.

    I worked as a bartender in various bars across San Francisco and eventually made friends with a couple who needed help managing their bars & restaurants. The experience led to other management positions in the food and beverage industry and the experiences were one of two things that kindled the concept for Azúcar Lounge.

    The second was my grandfather, who owned and operated small-town bars many years ago in Southwestern New Mexico.

    After years of saving, and with the aid of friends and family, I was able to open the business in November of 2011.

    GGBA: Who are some of your role models, and especially those who helped to influence your business?

    Jonathan Ojinaga: My Grandfather was one of my biggest role models. When I was growing up he would tell me stories about when he used to own a bar. He would always talk longingly about his bar days. He’s no longer with us, but I still fondly remember sitting down and having coffee and pan dulce with him in the morning as he would talk about stories from his younger days.  

    GGBA: Why did you decide to join the GGBA, and how long have you been a member?

    Jonathan Ojinaga: I’ve been a member since 2021. Being a member of the GGBA has opened up the door to a whole new network of like-minded businesses. I appreciate that the organization advocates on behalf of the members and pushes for social, economic, and political change.

    GGBA: How has being a member of GGBA helped your business so far?

    Jonathan Ojinaga: Since joining the GGBA I was able to complete our certification as an LGBT Business Enterprise. A benefit to joining the association was the perk of waved application fees for this certification, which has helped by giving us an advantage in the grant application process. This past summer we were awarded a Community Impact Grant from NGLCC and Grubhub.

    As more businesses return to their physical offices, I’m hopeful that our LGBT BE certification will help us be more competitive with companies who are looking to increase their supply chain diversity targets.

    GGBA: Do you go to the GGBA monthly Make Contact networking events? Have they benefited you and your business, and would you recommend them to others?

    Jonathan Ojinaga: I honestly haven’t participated in many Make Contact networking events. Since the world turned upside down a few years ago, we’ve been running on a skeleton crew. I’m often times working floor shifts by tending bar, assisting our guests at their tables, or even making tacos in the kitchen, which has left me with very little time to break away to attend these networking events. It’s one of my goals to attend Make Connect networking events more frequently in 2023.

    GGBA: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting their own business?

    Jonathan Ojinaga: The two things I always tell others who are looking to start their own business is 1) Talk to other entrepreneurs in the same industry, and 2) Do your market research to make sure there is a need for your offering. These seem like super basic tips, but you’d be surprised how many people have approached me through the years thinking it would be a quick and easy side gig to have a bar, restaurant, or café. I always tell people that “you have to be a special kind of crazy to start a food and beverage business in San Francisco.” It is a fun business to be a part of, but I often times compare it to a toddler—it always needs something!

    GGBA Calendar

    Tuesday, December 13
    GGBA Holiday Party with the San Francisco Bay Times
    6–10 pm
    The Academy SF, 2166 Market Street
    Welcome by GGBA Board President Tony Archuleta-Perkins
    and GGBA Ambassador Olga Garcia
    Emcees Liam Mayclem and Donna Sachet
    Performer Kippy Marks
    Music by DJ Rockaway presented by Olivia Travel

    Gold Gate Business Association Member Spotlight
    Published on December 1, 2022