Monday, November 12, 2007

Desperate scramble for line cooks (and the future of tipping)

The Chronicle this morning takes a front-page look at how low kitchen wages make it quite difficult to retain solid line cooks, while increasingly demanding chef bosses make it even tougher.

This is one of the more interesting aspects of the widening divide between the tipped front of the house and untipped kitchen workers. Owners argue that recent minimum wage hikes have exacerbated the divide by diverting owners' money to waiters, who earn minimum wage but have historically been their best compensated employees because of tips. Owners say that money would have otherwise been spent on raises for the kitchen staff.

Proposed solutions to the problem range from replacing tips with a service charge to, more recently, getting the city to freeze the minimum wage for tipped workers, instead of increasing it every year.

Eater SF isn't sure it sees the problem, here, since waiters only get paid (*cough*) nine bucks an hour, and this one blog that hates everything ever in the Chronicle also hates this story.

One solution that occurred to me recently is simple but uncomfortable and unlikely: if we all cut back our tips enough to make up for the minimum wage hikes and eventual health care benefits, owners will have room to raise prices and give wage hikes to the back of the house.

After another year or two of minimum wage hikes, 10-15 percent could become the new 15-20 percent. If your tax dollars and menu prices have hiked the minimum wage several times in four years to 35 percent above the statewide minimum and if the promise of free health care for uninsured workers is delivered (assuming failure of a pending a suit by restaurant owners), is it not reasonable to adjust your tip to account for this more dignified standard of living?

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Town Hall guys strike again

Marcia at Tablehopper made me laugh: She says the owners of Town Hall and Salt House would "make a great law firm."

They're called Rosenthal, Rosenthal and Washington.

Or at least, that's what I'm calling them from now to eternity.

They're launching an "oyster bar and fish shack" and, in keeping with their operating philosophy, putting it in the same neighborhood as their other two restaurants (and not in Oakland). This lets the founders keep a close eye on all their properties and more easily trade staff and, presumably, ingredients. Plus you can do effective cross-marketing and more easily generate buzz, since you already have a neighborhood client base. At some point there's an upper limit where, if you open too many restaurants in one neighborhood you start cannibalizing your sales, but apparently these guys don't think they're close to that point yet.

Also, more chaos at Mint Plaza.


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Michael Mina also rocking the Millenium

Nice scoop in the Chronicle today, Mina is going in to the Millenium Tower condo project:
  • Mina + "his longtime wine director" Rajat Parr
  • Named RN74 after Burgundy highway
  • spring 2009 opening "at the earliest" (building itself not done until spring 2009)
  • 4,700 square feet, with 70 seats in dining room, 60 in bar
  • "moderately priced French-American cuisine ... A typical menu will offer five vegetable dishes, five fish, five pork and poultry items, and five meats."
  • Mina: "I just want it to be very relaxd."
I'm a bit of a dunce -- I was tipped to something like this nearly two months ago and forgot to ask Mina about it when I had him on the phone last week. Sigh.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Limon or Dosa at Mint Plaza??

Like a sweet, sweet Julep on a hot Kentucky Derby day, everyone is grabbing at Mint Plaza, a dingy little lane where Martin Building Company is building a restaurant row to rival Belden Place.

The plaza includes three large restaurant spots, one spoken for by Portrero Hill bistro Chez Papa and the other dibbed by Russian Hill's Sushi Groove. Cult coffee roaster Blue Bottle has a café in 800 square feet, as well.

The third big spot was to go to the Castillo's family's Peruvian-Californian restaurant, Limon, but talks fell through.

Then, I was told by a source involved in the project, talks shifted to Dosa, Emily and Anjan Mitra's South Indian place about five blocks away in the same Mission District neighborhood.

Today, the Chronicle's Inside Scoop reports that Limon is back, "getting close to signing a lease."

Indian, Peruvian – the bigger question is whether Martin can make a culinary destination by photocopying neighborhood restaurants and tearing them out of their original, uh, neighborhoods. Hmmm. Worked for the Ferry Building, I guess.

Oh, and Chez Papa and Sushi Groove were supposed to open by Labor Day -- what happened to all that?

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Phan FINALLY seals deal with Soma Grand

Six months after the developers of the Soma Grand condo complex started hyping their talks with developer Charles Phan to prospective buyers, it looks like the restaurant deal is actually officially happening, if the Chronicle's Inside Scoop is to be believed.

Phan of course is known for his ubiquitous chain of StarbucksSlanted Door-branded restaurants, including the relocated "original" Slanted Door in the Ferry Building, a new one under construction in Pacific Heights, the Out the Door takeout spinoff in the Ferry Building, the Out the Door in Westfield San Francisco Centre and the forthcoming joint project with Loretta Keller at the California Academy of Sciences.

So if you loooorve Charles' crab cellophane noodles to the tune of around $700,000, give or take a few hundred thousand, and you actually mange to get a hold of a mortgage amid the financial markets meltdown, totally go for it!

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Nirvana at the Communist Table?

You've probably already read the Chronicle's Food section cover story on communal tables; if not, go read it, it's a fresh look at a long-developing trend.

What I wonder, from a business standpoint, is whether this is a rare, perfect overlap of the interests of patron and proprietor. The patron gets a fun seat, available at the last minute, where she can meet friends and maybe suitors.

The proprietor gets highly efficient use of his space, plenty of cocktail sales to grease the socializing and, apparently, at Pres a Vi, the sale of a whole bottle of Veuve to some dude trying to impress some chick, successfully it turns out.

So what's the catch here? Is service a headache, keeping track of all those individual orders and who is paying for who? Do people linger too long after they are done eating?

And if people want to be so social, what's with the explosion in private dining rooms? The Hilton's planned "urban tavern" is supposed to have four separate private dining areas AND a communal table.

Perhaps it's a sign people are weaving restaurants into new parts of their lives as good food becomes more prized and more central, with restaurants stealing ground from singles bars and private clubs. Lucratively, I might add.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Hubert Keller doubles down in ... St Louis?

Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys has not one but two restaurants going in St. Louis: a Burger Bar and a steakhouse called "Sleek," both in a riverboat casino, according to the Chronicle's Inside Scoop.

The Chronicle also reminds us that Keller is trying to put Burger Bar in San Francisco, but as a Covers reader you already knew that, and you already knew about one of the two St. Louis restaurants.

St. Louis seems like a weird place for such a high-end chef. When I reported about the Burger Bar in St. Louis in January, Ed Levine told me he thought it was odd because "Hubert's a bit of hipster and might not want to hang out a lot in St. Louis."

Levine isn't kidding about the hipster bit: a photograph of Hubert DJ-ing a party has appeared in 7X7. Apparently it's a major hobby of his, and he agreed to train a DJ ("Frenchy Le Freak," no joke) in his kitchen if the DJ would train Hubert on the wheels of steel.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Chez Panisse chef says there's nothing funny about pizza

Inside Scoop: In the rough and tumble Oakland Hills, "Chez Panisse Cafe veteran chef and produce buyer Russell Moore has taken over the former Country Home Furniture store to open Camino (3917 Grand Ave.) in about a year."

Also, the oven will be a towering stone inferno whose flames will cook lamb, fish and stews and also avenge
Rusell Moore's passionate hatred of pizza, a type of food he is totally over because he's not jealous of Pizzaiolo even though it was started by his apprentice and they light their stoves with hundred dollar bills.

Also, Dona Tomas couple still opening in Uptown, in case you forgot, because I stopped reminding you every five seconds of the restaurant that sits on the very nexus of all threads of my personal and professional lives. The Chron does reveal the food: "
house-ground hamburger, pasta alla Norma, chowder and salads."

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Kimpton suddenly bereft of chefs

Marcia at tablehopper is digging the dirt like something furious; maybe she's trying to get back to 'stralia?

First she tallies departures at Kimpton (astutely): With David Cohen gone from Scala's, Kimpton is now without exec chefs at:
  • Fifth Floor
  • Grand Cafe
  • Scala's
The company has been on a national growth tear and this might have the executives distracted from the restaurants.

Marcia also gets her hands on an email from Arnold Eric Wong, one of the founders who left Bacar. Wong isn't quite blunt but does admit that the break with Bacar's "new majority owner" is tied to a juicy-sounding "struggle with the moral, ethical and professional dilemmas associated with Bacar's ongoing enterprise. I tried to come to a compromise that would uphold my personal and professional integrity while working with the new general partners."

So tablehopper saunters off for a vacation in Australia and comes back with serious scoopage.

I so HATE her! (Kidding, mate, kidding.)

Tablehopper chatterbox

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Aqua opening wine bar

Laurent ManriqueChronicle Inside Scoop: "Laurent Manrique and partners will open Rouge et Blanc, a wine bar in the former Viansa Enoteca (334 Grant Ave.), next to their Cafe de la Presse. Rouge et Blanc will offer an international selection of 40 to 50 wines, with about 15 by the glass, along with charcuterie, cheese and what Manrique calls 'croque baguettes'-- croque monsieur-like sandwiches on baguettes."

Also, AsiaSF expanding to Hollywood!

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