Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ozumo on a roll in Oakland. Get it?? Shut up.

Ozumo is doing it YET AGAIN -- going for a new location in Oakland. They can't get enough of the Uptown district!

This is in addition to the new, second Ozumo at Signature Properties' Broadway Grand condo project.

Going beyond that done deal, the team behind Ozumo told me they plan -- but had not yet signed the lease to -- do a wine bar, wine shop and restaurant concept in the large basement of the historic (and attractive) Cathedral Building just a few blocks away from Broadway Grand. They have already applied for a liquor license.

My understanding, by the way, is that Ozumo will not be using the name "Ozumo" in connection with the new location, per agreement with their original Oakland sugar daddy/landlord Signature Properties.

For those who don't know, Ozumo is a swanky sushi place on the San Francisco Embarcadero near the financial district. Owner Jeremy James has been drawn to Oakland in part by lower costs there as the minimum wage rises in San Francisco.

I was tipped off to this story by The DTO, the Web site that broke the news. Go check it out! I'm still marking this "scoop" because I confirmed the advanced negotiations and plans and got details on the concept. Plus I'm MSM -- I'm evil like that. Muhahahaahahaa!

Business Times: S.F. sushi place plans second Oakland spot (free link)

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San Francisco to remind you it was gay before gay was cool

In case gay and lesbian travelers forgot how fabulously pro-gay San Francisco has been since forever, the city's convention and visitors bureau is launching its first ever (wha?) ad campaign targeted at gays and lesbians.

It seems that now that "Will and Grace" is in syndication, pretty much every dusty two-bit town in the country is now claiming/acknowledging it has a gay district and spending money on ads in gay travel mags like Passport, gay papers like the Advocate and gay TV channels like ESPNLogo, trying to get a piece of our action.

The big spender is Philadelphia, whose ad campaign stretches to the UK and includes TV commercials showing two men trading impassioned letters and converging for a tryst in ye olde colonial times.

Houston just jumped in the game with a series of "Not So Straight Facts" about Houston. Phoenix is trading on the alleged hotness of professional baseball players and their butts (really? seriously?).

Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix, Bloomington Indiana -- everyone's gay friendly now and safe and diverse has been forever and ever really!

The Atlanta guy told me he only got a handful of hateful disturbing phone calls about the campaign and said you are perfectly safe from those people if you stay within the city limits or something. So there! (I kid, but Atlanta is actually the gay capital of the Southeast. Or so I was told.)

San Francisco is worried people will come visit less often and spend more time in, say, sweaty Houston if they are not reminded to come "home" to San Francisco, as the convention and visitors bureau put it. Its initial spend is $100,000 per year for print ads in gay and lesbian magazines and newspapers, perhaps a quarter of what Philly spends.

And city officials insist they aren't too worried -- the Travel Industry Association's first-ever gay travel survey found San Francisco ranked number one in percentage of gay travelers who rated it gay-friendly, with 76 percent compared with 57 percent for number-two Key West.

But just to be safe they put five shirtless, muscular men in their first ad. Eat your heart out Fire Island New York!

Business Times: S.F. steps up gay tourism efforts (free link)

SF gay ad: PDF

SF lesbian ad: PDF

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Corn is a sick depraved vegetable that will enslave us all, said (who else?) Michael Pollan

Speaking to an angry mob of local radicals who were probably looking to burn something down, author Michael Pollan may have taken his food purity crusade just a bit too far when he suggested corn, the vegetable, is a sentient collective being that will kill us all.

Pollan went on to say people should not sleep easy at night while demon corn is allowed to freely roam our streets.

From the Oakland Tribune:
"Corn is on a quest for world domination," Pollan said last week to a standing-room-only crowd at the Oakland Museum of California. "Corn has taken over our land, diet, and now cars with ethanol fuel."
"Politicians sleep easy when food prices are cheap," he said.
Pollan won plaudits for his previous argument about corn -- that it was an inanimate object wielded as a simple but effective tool by a mindlessly self-perpetuating cabal of agricultural corporations and rural politicians.

But while it's tough for activists to remove a sitting Congressman, it's relatively easy to go after an innocent little veggie guarded only by a green husk and shaggy brown strings of hair, limping along with sad genetic mutations like a complete nervous system and set of teeth.

So Pollan may have decided going after corn, not certain politicians, is the easier route. Either that or Pollan had been eating at Chez Panisse that night, wink wink.

Oakland Tribune: Corn aims to rule world, prof says (NOTE: This is the actual headline.)

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

In restaurants, small is the new big. (Did I just type that?)

Andrew McCormack of Frisson, Joseph Manzare of Tres Agaves and Dennis Leary of Rubicon are among the big-name restaurateurs who have recently opened twee little places with the aim of keeping down those ever-rising San Francisco labor costs, some of which exempt restaurants with fewer than 20 people.

The small size also helps make the restaurant feel like a comfortable home away from home for meeting up with friends, or just plain meeting friends.

McCormack's case is particularly interesting, as he has gone from the biggest and splashiest restaurant space in the dot-com era or immediately after to a truly small little neighborhood joint.

More in my restaurant design story:

Business Times: In restaurant design, small is the next big thing; Restaurateurs turn to cozier spaces to counter rising costs (free link)

I also did a sidebar on restaurant design mistakes:

Restaurateurs dodge building bugaboos (free link)


Monday, April 09, 2007

Metreon could become convention center; humans, cylons would meet for peaceful dialog

The San Franciscan fable of Metreon has a familiar ring to it: Humans devise a grand utopian project that will weave technology into their lives as never before, but despite a supposedly failsafe architecture end up with a cybernetic hell spawn threatening to coldly exterminate life as they know it.

The Metreon hasn't extinguished all vital signs inside its brutal walls quite yet. The Yerba Buena arts district shopping center retains the most primordial forms of mall life: food court restaurants and a movie theater. Plus it's got two electronics stores operated by Metreon's original developer, Sony.

But the project is hardly the bustling theme park envisioned when Metreon opened eight years ago. Anchor shop spaces remain open, and the building often has a deserted feel to it.

So the city's convention and visitors bureau now proposes Metreon be used as a conference center and merged into the Moscone Convention Center, which it sits on top of. The idea was a suggestion from convention planners -- Moscone customers.

Apparently they have been forced to send some convention "breakout" meetings to hotels like the Hilton and Marriott due to lack of available meeting rooms. They have also been grumbling about shabby carpets and non-soundproof room dividers in the main Moscone Center, plus a lack of WiFi and cellphone coverage, so the bureau is also asking for money to fix that up as well.

Westfield, which took over Metreon last year, did not rule out the idea, but says it is focused on a retail turnaround.

Full story from Friday's Business Times: Officials eye Metreon for Moscone expansion (free link)

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Alice Waters at Cody's tomorrow night; will get you high, kill us all

Alice Waters biographer Thomas McNamee will be at Cody's San Francisco tomorrow night, 7 pm, which means Alice will certainly be remote-controlling his every last word and gesture and will effectively be present herself. Should be awesome.

The reading starts at 7 and the tentative agenda is:
  • 7:05 pm Welcome and inconsolable sobbing from Cody's owner Andy Ross.
  • 7:10 pm McNamee hands out Waters' famous PCP-laced tarts to lucky first 20 guests.
  • 7:15 pm Reading begins with chapter on Waters' CIA training in Santa Barbara and how she came up with genius ruse of creating hippie restaurant in Berkeley to lure, spy on SDS and Black Panthers and free-thinking professors.
  • 7:22 pm Visibly intoxicated John Birdsall arrives.
  • 7:23 pm Waters "security detail" of Trotskyite drug lords moves to eject Birdsall, not realizing he has concealed a chef's knife under his apron.
  • 7:24 pm McNamee's batteries run out just as he was getting to something interesting on arugula, crowd becomes frantic.
  • 7:25 pm High off organic Columbian cocaine, Waters' "security detail" panics when a foaming-at-the-mouth Birdsall unsheaths his bloody knife. In the ensuing chaos, they spray the entire crowd with standard Chez Panisse-issue Uzis.
  • 7:26 pm Ross reminds survivors there will be NO REFUNDS on unsigned books.

See you there!

Cody's Stockton Street: Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - Thomas McNamee

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Campton Place sale is richest hotel deal in San Francisco history; also first involving pig iron manufacturer

Campton Place just sold to a division of India's Tata Group for a record-smashing $527,000 per room.

Tata's Taj Hotels will pay $58 million for the 110-room property. Hotel consultant Rick Swig and Tom Callahan of PKF Consulting both say that blows other hotel deals out of the water on a per-key basis, surpassing the $470,000 per key for Ritz Carlton in 1998 and the $460,000 per key partner buyout at Four Seasons last year.

Tata is a massive conglomerate that makes cars, trucks, jewelry and pig iron, and yet they will still be much better at operating Campton Place's restaurant than the prior owner, hotel specialist Kor Group, Swig said. Apparently Taj is known for high service quality and a long-term commitment to their properties.

Kor didn't have a long-term commitment to Campton, selling it after less than a year and a half, during which time it managed to nearly destroy the restaurant's reputation.

I was chasing the story down last night. As it turns out, Tata put out a press release to Indian media Monday, and then Kor followed suit this morning in the U.S..

Business Times Web update: Campton Place hotel sale smashes record (free link)

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Al Gore gets new Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Room Service

When Al Gore is staying in his San Francisco pad at the St. Regis, he has certain needs.

He might need some (more) late night snacks delivered up to his condo while he polishes another PowerPoint stack.

Or he might need his Prius or whatever valeted do he can drive down to Cupertino to clear Steve Jobs of any responsibility for thousands of instances of stock option backdating at Apple.

Or maybe he just needs the St. Regis bar sealed off so he and Nancy Pelosi can have some peace as they order cosmos, gossip and conspire to spread extreme San Francisco values to innocent children via the Hollywood media machine.

Whatever Al Gore's specific hotel service needs, they are provided by the staff of Starwood's St. Regis hotel, a staff that until this week was overseen by general manager Elias Assaly. Assaly is a longtime industry veteran, having opened the W San Francisco and run a luxury hotel in Dallas.

Now, Assaly is on his way back to Dallas. So Al Gore's no-doubt-increasingly-difficult, Oscar-winning-A-lister-Hollywood-celebrity-level demands on the staff will be coordinated by the new general manager Toni Knorr, who next week is coming over from Starwood's W San Francisco to run Starwood's St. Regis.

Gore is widely expected to demand "confirmation hearings" for Knorr, which he will chair.

Full Business Times Web update: St. Regis gets new GM (free link)


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

San Francisco to ride this whole 'peaceful tolerance' image out, see where it takes us

Like the teenager who has put his awkward high school days behind him, San Francisco is realizing that maybe it shouldn't be quite so ashamed of its insane crazy radical left-wing ideas like believing in global warming, welcoming gays and lesbians and asking if maybe we should think this Iraq thing through.

Maybe these "San Francisco values" might not look so bad to potential tourists, what with Al Gore winning the Oscar, the gay community basically rescuing from instant bankruptcy all network and cable TV channels -- oh and with the whole San Francisco-led takeover of Congress following a Democratic landslide election victory thanks to apparently widespread voter concerns about the war and corruption and the deficit and the planet melting and World War 3 with Iran.

Could the city draw tourists by promoting its wacky values of peace and tolerance?

Mayor Gavin Newsom thinks the idea is so crazy it just might work! Appearing to be quite sober, he told the San Francisco Hotel Council recently:
These are the values that make us so culturally vibrant and economically vibrant, and so these are the values that we need to promote ... We are competing in an industry that is the No. 1 growth industry in the world.
Plus the rest of the world is kind of upset with America for the whole (alleged!) arrogant warmaking hegemony thing, and the whole treating them like terrorists at our airports thing, and it would be nice to have them as tourists since their currencies are worth on average about a hundred million times more than the dollar. So highlighting San Francisco's differences with the rest of the country could yet again prove highly lucrative.

Full story in my Business Times report: 'San Francisco values' to woo foreign visitors / City to stress its differences from U.S. (free link)

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Campton Place for sale

When Kor Group bought Campton Place a year and a half ago, it had four stars from Michael Bauer, ranking it among the top four restaurants within city limits, at least by the Chronicle's standards.

Campton Place's restaurant arguably made the reputation of the hotel, and was a key reason that Kor paid $400,000 for each of its 110 rooms, the city's richest hotel deal in seven years.

Things went downhill quickly after Los Angeles-based Kor started running Campton Place, its first SF hotel:

  • chef Daniel Humm left for New York;
  • Michael Bauer gave the restaurant a devastating review that cut it to two and a half stars and said, "it's clear that Campton Place is no longer playing in the big leagues;" and
  • the city's debut Michelin Guide said the kitchen had "floundered" and did not award it a single star.

Now Kor has put the hotel up for sale, I reported in Friday's Business Times (free link). Given the hyperactive market for San Francisco hotels lately, Campton hopes to earn a profit on the property despite the fortunes of its restaurant.

If a sale occurs, Kor's experience in San Francisco will have been brief. If the price isn't right, it will clearly have been bitter. Campton is Kor's last hotel in the city. The company briefly owned, then sold, the shuttered Canterbury Hotel.

To be fair, Humm said his departure had was not a result of the hotel sale to Kor. Also, whatever faults the restaurant may have, its pastry chef seems to have developed a loyal following in some circles.

Full story: Los Angeles group to sell lone S.F. hotel (free link)

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