Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tanya Holland brings TV glitz to West Oakland

West Oakland twice struck out landing the Wayans Brothers, who were going to build a movie studio thing on the old Army Base until they realized their children's "fun zone" would be right next to toxic emissions from giant container ships. Woops.

Now the neighborhood has finally landed a development from a TV star, albeit on a slightly smaller scale and a lot more healthy: Tanya Holland, who previously hosted "Melting Pot" on the Food Network and ran the kitchen at Le Theatre in Berkeley, is opening Brown Sugar Kitchen next month at the former home of Triangle Cafe at Mandela and 26th.

The concept is "cooking with soul" using "locally grown, organic and seasonal ingredients whenever possible." Wines are from African American California vintners -- and from the South of France. There will be microbrews -- and Blue Bottle Coffee.

Think of soul food combined with formal French training. The recipes in Holland's cookbook should give you some idea.

Holland is doing a cooking demo Friday night at the Museum of California (in Oakland).

More in my Business Times update: Food Network star to open West Oakland restaurant (free link)

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Kuleto restaurants delayed, over budget

Pat Kuleto's two waterfront restaurants, WaterBar and Epic Roasthouse, have fallen two months and at least $2 million behind schedule, I reported in the Business Times on Friday (free link!).

Also, some of the ceilings are going to be pretty low (8 feet).

On the plus side: lots of outdoor terrace seating, high ceilings over the dining room, and both restaurants are pretty far along.

The project was already dropping jaws at its $18 million cost, now the cost is somewhere over $20 million.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Exclusive Flora pic! (... link. Exclusive Flora pic LINK. Still exclamation-mark worthy!)

The team behind high-end Mexican restaurants Dona Tomas in Oakland and Tacubaya in Berkeley are close to opening their Uptown Oakland joint, Flora.

I walked past the restaurant last night and spied a small group inside, putting on the finishing touches. It is looking like the casual cocktail cafe we were promised last year, with a definite Raymond Chandler, late 1940s feel.

My cell phone shots are awful, so go check out this picture, taken by one of my companions last night.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Foie gras is back at Jardiniere

SF Chronicle, August 2003, following attacks on chef Laurent Manrique of Aqua:
Jardiniere's Traci Des Jardins ... said she will discontinue her signature foie gras and see how customers respond. Although she, like many chefs, wonders if her restaurant will be the next target, Des Jardins says her decision is not about fear. Ever since she visited a foie gras farm in 1995, Des Jardins said she's been "haunted by the image of those ducks."
Jardiniere menu, November 2007:
Liberty Farms Duck Breast,
Fuyu Persimmon, Chestnuts and Foie Gras Beignet, Huckleberry Jus
Emeritus Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California 2005
And from the Jardiniere New Year's Eve menu (PDF) for later this year:

Terrine of Foie Gras
Ginger Gelée and Toasted
Prum Riesling Auslese “Wehlener
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany 1997

Jardinier's opera-loving customers, it would appear, are quite fond of foie gras, and not particularly concerned with Traci Des Jardins' traumatic, terrifying nightmares.

Tough crowd!

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Truffle crisis means you should probably skip the supplement

Not only do California chefs have to buy truffles with worthless American dollars, but it's pretty much no use even trying, according to my awesome chef tipster writes:
Truffles. Theoretically this is their time. There was no late-summer rain in Piemonte, or most of Italy for that matter and so there are no truffles. Some are popping up in the March, Tuscany, Umbria, northern Campania and Lazio, but they're weak and ridiculously expensive. I've got about the best truffle connection you can get and I'd have to pay 2700/lb for little fucking marbles with precious little perfume. I was in Rome two weeks ago and had some - they were ok, but hardly worth it. After three days of packing, traveling and getting into the states, they'll be pointless and most people will probably have to help them along with truffle oil and other such tricks. ... So far, this is a bad year.
The little ones seem to work well enough in special cheeses and macarons, but point taken!

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Michael Mina brasserie -- may yet be (Or: My seduction by Laurence Geller)

Last week I had a date with Laurence Geller, CEO of Strategic Hotels & Resorts and, by extension, the owner of the Westin Saint Francis hotel here in San Francisco. He put me in an apron, plied me with wine, cooked for me in a rooftop kitchen, gave me a signed copy of his rather purple novel "Do Not Disturb" and entertained me with the most delightful story about Michael Mina.

Michael Mina was going to make him a brasserie, in his hotel. Michael Mina was going to put it in the old Oak Room. Michael Mina was going to also make a bakery inside the brasserie and give it a window onto Post Street, somehow, and everyone was going to come and it was going to be awesome.

Laurence told me this, and gave me champagne, which made me happy, and then later he told as much to his 10 other guests, even though he did not care for them in that special way in which he cared for me, and he poured us more wine, and we were happy.

There were warning signs. When, the next day, I called the general manager of the St. Francis, a reliable and trustworthy fellow, he let on that the brasserie plans were, well, in the conceptual stage, but still "likely." And that Michael Mina was in talks but not, shall we say, signed on the dotted line. Michael Mina could not be reached for comment.

Actually, Michael Mina was reached for comment, the day after we went to press. Telling me that the plan for a brasserie was very preliminary, one among perhaps 15 projects Mina's company (total restaurants: 10) is weighing at any given time. But he was fairly certain he'd be running the St. Francis' new bar, the Clock Bar. But writing about the brasserie would be, uh, premature.

Well, Michael, you'll have to call Laurence about that one. Careful -- he's a sweet talker.

SF Business Times: St. Francis sees $150M hotel upgrade: CEO: But first, fix tourism (free link)

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

SF hotels face capital famine


Hope you had a GREAT summer!

Did you have a GREAT summer?

Hope so!

Because now the money is gone!



Probably not a big deal. The money went away for the month of August, and may return in September, or October, or sometime in the fall, or maybe next year, or maybe not quite ever, but everyone expects it will probably come back.

But for now it's taken a little vacation. Or an extended sabbatical. Whatever.

Don't want to overstate things. By "the money," I just mean the commercial paper that underwrote 80 percent of all hotel finance. And by "gone," I just mean not being given out to anyone, anywhere, anymore.

This really is not a big deal, unless you're a hotelier. Or a restaurateur. Or in the construction industry.

Or a broker, or in interior design, or an architect.

Or in the hospitality industry. Or in a business impacted by the hospitality industry. Or in a business that touches in some way on real estate.

Or in a business that needs, like, capital.

In a nutshell, the problem is that most commercial lending was done through supposedly very safe "commercial paper," or short-term loans to reliable businesses.

But Jim Cramer's hedge fund buddies took some of these loans and invested them in subprime mortgages, junk bonds and probably high-grade Columbian cocaine, no is really sure at this point because we're only talking about hundreds of billions of dollars and who really tracks that sort of pocket change.

Mainstream banks like the one that runs your checking account thought this all sounded swell and started borrowing and lending money this way too.

No one worried too much because as soon as someone made one of these insane loans he could then chop it up into a million pieces and sell the pieces to other investors who didn't know or care much about what they were buying.

They just cared that the loan had been stamped "AAA" by the ratings agencies, who of course valued the loans using computers, esoteric math no one understood and inputs no one could agree on.

About a month ago, everyone finally realized that some of this paper was not backed by operationally sound businesses but instead by people lending money to typical American homeowners which, as you might imagine, is a batshit crazy business to be in. Then they realized they couldn't tell which commercial paper was being used badly and which was sound. Then they stopped issuing commercial paper, which is a way of saying they stopped loaning anyone any money.

Commercial paper underwrites 80 percent of hotel deals, according to Jones Lang LaSalle. Ha ha, pretty hilarious madcap situation, right?

So now hotels, who by the way were sort of supposed to be the saviors of the hard-pressed local restaurant industry, can't get cash and have lost about 20 percent of their total value in like a month or two.

A small fraction of the top hotels can still get money from what are known as "balance sheet lenders," aka people who actually have cash money to lend and aren't counting on reselling the debt to others to offload the risk and aren't like panicking or whatever. Also, if you had a deal closed -- truly closed, not just nonrefundable -- before the meltdown, it will generally still go through, which is why you will still see deals being announced.

The whole capital crunch nearly derailed the recent Hotel Palomar sale a couple of times, all the principals told me, but luckily it was far enough along to make it to the finish line.

More in the ...

Business Times: Credit crunch leaves S.F. hoteliers hungry (free link)

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Aqua taking Fifth Floor in 'very French direction,' source says

Laurent ManriqueGriffin Capital's $58 million acquisition of Hotel Palomar from Kimpton included a detailed agreement on how the Fifth Floor restaurant would evolve, a source close to the deal told me, including Aqua Development Corp. running the restaurant, a female chef who has already been specified and an overhaul that takes the restaurant in "a very French direction."

This is all from my Business Times story Friday.

More and more hotel managers are entirely outsourcing restaurant operations. Ducca at Westin Market Street is being run by Puccini Group, who will also run Eno, the wine, cheese and chocolate bar in the Westin St. Francis.

Kimpton also plans to tweak the menu under the new executive chef at Scala's, Patrick Robertson, and as reported here previously, at Grand Cafe to renovate the bar and take the menu in a more French and casual direction.

Business Times: Kimpton spices up hotel restaurants (free link)

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ogden has 'less active role' in Lark Creek Restaurant Group, Dellar says

My coworker Elizabeth Browne at the Business Times reports in this week's issue on all the growth at Lark Creek Restaurant Group, and interestingly gets co-founder Michael Dellar to admit that his partner, chef Bradley Ogden, has taken a big step back from the business.

It seems Ogden is especially uninvolved in Bay Area restaurants like Yankee Pier and Lark Creek Steak, according to money man Dellar. From the story:
The 8,000-square-foot Bradley Ogden opened at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in 2003, and was named best new restaurant for 2004 by the prestigious James Beard Foundation. Ogden moved to Las Vegas to start the venture and has since taken a less active role in the company, Dellar said, with culinary efforts now headed by Adrian Hoffman, former chef at One Market.
I asked Dellar about his relationship with Ogden in February. He said Ogden was still with the company but had pulled back:

He's just not here very much ... He's here occaissionally -- he makes regular visits here, but his time is spent more and more with our business partners [for example in Las Vegas].

In the Meantime, Dellar is growing the company from 11 restaurants now to 13 in 2008 and 16 in 2009, in the greater Bay Area and "Southern California, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Ariz. and the Seattle area." Revenue companywide will be around $45 million this year.

Business Times: Lark Creek is flowing into new locations (subscriber-only link for three weeks)

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Chow eyeing Jack London Square in Oakland, even as food hall shrinks

San Francisco restaurant Chow is interested in a location in Oakland's Jack London Square, the East Bay Express reported Wednesday, even as the square's developers struggle to attract other food tenants.

Meanwhile, the developers have cut way back on the restaurant and food component of the so-called "Harvest Hall" at the center of the Jack London Square expansion, I reported Friday. It was going to be 185,000 square feet of sit-down restaurants, food stalls, produce shops, meat markets, a cooking school, exhibitions and other food attractions.

Now it's two-thirds offices, with only the lower two of six floors dedicated to food. Apparently this was allowed under the entitlements approved by the city council a couple of years ago.

The changes were put forward after the developers closed on $200 million in construction financing for the first half of the development. Office is easier to fund these days than food, particularly if you are taking a Slow Food approach.

Business Times: Oakland's Harvest Hall will be mostly offices / Developers line up $200M to begin (free link)
East Bay Express: Back to Square One

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

UC Berkeley to finally get a decent hotel

Chip Conley's Joie de Vivre Hospitality is opening its first hotel in the East Bay following its takeover and planned $9 million renovation of the historic Hotel Durant, one block from the UC Berkeley campus.

Joie de Vivre is also poised to takeover the Waterfront Plaza hotel at Jack London Square in conjunction with Ellis Partners LLC, which owns Jack London Square.

Based in San Francisco, Joie de Vivre is expanding aggressively throughout California. It entered the Los Angeles market just two years ago and now has four hotels there, including the recently-acquired Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City. Conley told me the company is finishing negotiations with two more LA-area hotels. (None of this LA stuff made it into my story).

The Durant in Berkeley is an interesting buy for Joie de Vivre. The company may finally give the University of California the hotel it so richly deserves.

I have lived in Berkeley for 13 years, including 9 years within a block of this hotel, and my wedding guests lodged at the Durant this past June. The hotel has a lot of potential, with great bones, a rich history and a bustling bar.

But like the other major hotel near campus, Hotel Shattuck, it lacks in both amenities and service. The Durant is 80 years old and it shows, from the creaky elevators to the lack of air conditioning to the unreliable plumbing.

If you want a better hotel, you have to go to the Claremont, an expensive resort up in the hills, or to the DoubleTree at the Berkeley Marina. Neither are within easy walking distance of the campus.

The Faculty Club on campus has just 10 spartan rooms. The Bancroft Hotel across the street from campus looks nice from the outside but only has about two dozen rooms.

The university wants to partner with Carpenter & Co. on a fancy hotel and conference center just west of campus, a better location than the Durant from both the freeway and BART, but there is skepticism over whether this plan will ever happen at all.

Business Times: Hotel firm Joie de Vivre makes first East Bay foray (free link)

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Straits looking to conquer world, cash out

Chris Yeo of Straits, who mints money out of his Santana Row and Westfield SF Center locations, is closing on a lease in Las Vegas and is in talks with Host Hotels about a hotel in Newport Beach, a deal that could potentially lead to a partnership or acquisition.

Yeo wants to get bought or go public in four years, so brought in nightlife and front-of-the-house restaurant guru Parnell Delchan, who, random trivia, at one point was Matthew McConaughey's boss at Kwanzaa in New York. [Can we play this up for our LA readers?? -ed.]

He's also looking at mall deals in the Midwest and some other deals in Vegas. Not bad for a former hairdresser.

More in the ...

Business Times: Straits owner brings on manager to grow chain (free link)

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Bijou for sale

Joie de Vivre and its partners have put the 65-room Bijou on Union Square on the market for close to $10 milion, I reported in Friday's Business Times.

Kimpton still has Palomar on the market, and the Crowne Plaza future flag or owner is still up in the air.

Subscriber-only link until July: Bijou the latest to ride the wave of hotel sales

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Michael Bauer gets his Izakaya

Photo courtesy SiFu RenkaWhat Michael Bauer wants, Michael Bauer gets!

Well, except for a decent table where other patrons don't brush against him a million times an hour, or a small plates restaurant with any sense of pacing, or a respectful hostess half the time, or ... well ... maybe he can't exactly snap his fingers and get whatever he wants.

But he's getting Izakaya!

And the news comes within just two months after Bauer noted on his blog that "the Japanese izakaya way of dining has largely passed us by" in the Bay Area. Izakaya is Japanese bar food.

Exhibit A: The planned Japanese restaurant and baseball lounge at O (free link, see fourth paragraph) in the Japantown Miyako Hotel, soon to be renamed Kabuki Hotel, is supposed to focus on Izakaya dishes. Supposedly they have the designer who did Bix and Myth, they had not named the chef by the time I wrote that story but supposedly were excited about a local up and comer. This is a Joie de Vivre property -- look for close to a dozen new restaurants from them over the next two years, openings overseen by their new food and beverage director David Hoemann.

Exhibit B: SF restaurant Ozumo, which is planning two distinct restaurants in Oakland, is planning an Izakaya menu (free link) at the one carrying the Ozumo name, at Broadway and Grand Ave.

(Photo courtesy SiFu Renka)

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New hotel and restaurant in old Pac Bell tower will be nicer than St. Regis, says architect

When the St. Regis hotel opened in San Francisco in 2005, its general manager said it would be more luxurious than anything else in town -- past the Four Seasons, past the Ritz, "top top ... really superior."

The hotel has been charging $400-500 a night and, from what I hear, not negotiating that rate down significantly for anyone.

Now there's another contender -- the "Jazz Era" Pac Bell building, which will become a hotel and condos under a plan from Wilson Meany Sullivan, which is about to pay $118 million for it (free link).

The architect for the building says the 70-80 hotel rooms will be "more intimate than the St. Regis with an even higher level of service." Perhaps they already have a hotel operator lined up, then, since there are a only a handful of companies that would fit that bill.

This is a Biz Times scoop but not by me: real estate reporter JK Dineen gets the credit.

Full story: S.F. tower to become luxe hotel / Wilson Meany Sullivan recasts AT&T building
(free link)

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Larry Ellison would like to see other cities. It's not us, it's him.

San Francisco's most financially lucrative convention is called OpenWorld and is run by Oracle, a massive business software company that could buy and sell you like, well, like all the people they have already bought and sold.

OpenWorld has been in San Francisco every year for at least five years, but city officials believe the company is shopping around, looking at younger, "trophy" convention centers (with bigger exhibit spaces, naturally) in places like Las Vegas and Chicago, where CEO Larry Ellison grew up.

Oracle kinda sorta denies it, and San Francisco is totally not impressed.

The good news is, Mayor Newsom led 70 people down to Redwood City to win Oracle back for 2008. The bad news is that there is a significant chance they will leave in the next several years, as I was told by both the CEO of the convention and visitors bureau and the city's head of convention facilities.

The trouble is, the show has grown so large it fills up hotel rooms in the city and they have to put people in rooms as far north as Petaluma and as far south a Santa Cruz and then bus them in. We're close to Oracle HQ and a great lure for attendees, but it would be nice to fit the whole thing in one or two cities, apparently.

I broke this Oracle story (free link) last Friday in the Business Times, and on Saturday it was picked up by that Chronicle column, I think it's called Matier & Ross & What We Read in The Business Times This Morning.

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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 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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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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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cap on minimum wage for tipped employees

Aaron Peskin likes caps, freezingSan Francisco restaurants have been pushing for a statewide tip credit for many years now, which would allow them to count tips toward the minimum wage they pay waiters, at least partly.

Now they are trying to get something similar done on the city level. The idea is to freeze the minimum wage at $9.14 for tipped workers, so they would not get the annual cost of living increases.

The idea is that waiters, bartenders and bussers are making so much money on tips that they can afford to give up their annual minimum wage hikes. Restaurant owners would then have money to give delayed raises to their back-of-the-house workers and to stay afloat, the thinking goes.

A Golden Gate Restaurant Association study two years ago put typical waiter tips at $22-30 per hour, with bussers making an estimated 20 percent of that. The accuracy of such figures could become a key point in determining whether the wage cap idea gains political currency among the Board of Supervisors; whether they see a freeze of the minimum wage, which won't sell, or a freeze in raises for well-off workers, which will sell.

Another idea is to support the gross receipts tax plan floated by Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin, who shows his love for both caps and freezing in the picture at right. Peskin wants a gross receipts tax in place of the payroll tax, a move that would benefit restaurants since their biggest cost is labor.

Either way, restaurants clearly want to put some ideas behind the possible one-day restaurant shutdown I reported more than a week ago.

Full details in my Business Times update today:

S.F. restaurants may push for minimum wage freeze for workers who get tips (free link)

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Tyler Florence moving to Bay Area from NY, is talking to Kimpton

Because I'm cheap, I haven't had cable at home for a few years now, prefering to watch my favorite shows on DVD from Netflix. This led to an awkward situation when I interviewed Tom Colicchio at 'wichraft SF and he had to explain to me that he was on TV and what Top Chef is, by way of answering a question about traffic to his restaurant.

I am similarly not sure how to play Tyler Florence's move to Mill Valley from New York, confirmed for me just now by his wife (and press contact), since I am not well acquainted with any of his three Food Network shows -- Food 911, Tyler's Ultimate and How to Boil Water.

Will this be giddy news, as the accompanying photo suggests, to all of Tyler's female fans in the Bay Area? Is he admired by local chefs despite his partnership with Applebee's? After all, he was listed in Bill Buford's New Yorker takedown of the Food Network as part of the more credible first wave of hosts on that channel, as opposed to the more telegenic later waves.

In any case, I note in my Business Times Web update on Tyler's move, where you can get more info on this, that:

Florence could likely pick his opportunities in San Francisco. In addition to the three Kimpton openings, the 1,900-room downtown Hilton needs a chef for its planned gourmet tavern; the Argent/Westin is putting in a high-end Italian restaurant and has held talks with PBS chef Nick Stellino; the 1,500-room downtown Marriott has announced it will overhaul its restaurant; the InterContinental hotel under construction next to the Moscone Convention Center will have a 24-hour Italian restaurant and has announced no chef; and HEI Holdings is redoing the restaurant at Le Meridien.
GraceAnn Walden, by the way, broke news of Tyler's move in a brief mention in her monthly e-mail newsletter earlier this week, so consider signing up for that on her website. I am the first to report he is in talks with Kimpton though, so I'm going to mark this as "scoop."

My full story: TV chef moving to Bay Area

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Restaurants may shut down in protest

San Francisco restaurateurs are enthusiastic about a possible day of protest in which they all close their doors in opposition to the city's minimum wage and other mandates.

The protest idea came out of a meeting attended by close to 100 restaurateurs at Tres Agaves Thursday, about twice as many people as expected.

It looks like restaurants interested in adding service charges to their bills will not be coordinating with one another, to avoid charges of collusion.

More in my Business Times Web update: Restaurants ponder shutdown protest (free link)

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Monday, March 12, 2007

5% service charge topic of big restaurant meeting

Restaurateurs around the city are seriously considering adding a 5% service charge to cover minimum wage increases, I reported in Friday's Business Times (free link).

Dozens of owners, along with the head of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, are expected to meet this Thursday at Tres Agaves to talk about the issue and possibly coordinate a strategy. Either that or just drink some delicious margaritas at three in the afternoon, but far be it from anyone in the industry to consume alcohol during working hours.

This service charge idea is not new in San Francisco. It surfaced (free link) back in 2004, when the city's higher minimum wage first went into effect, but it turned out to be a false alarm.

But allegedly it's for real this time. Since going into effect in 2004, the minimum wage has since increased three times.

Meanwhile, restaurant owners said they can't hike menu prices any higher -- diners have started ordering cheaper items, cutting back how often they eat out and, horror of horrors, taken to drinking less.

So the restaurateurs have taken up what some of them concede is a bit of psychological trickery: a bill surcharge that could range from 3-18%, depending on the restaurant, but would probably end up being around 5% most of the time.

Technically this can be deducted from the tip. But Mark Pastore at Incanto, who imposed a 5 percent service charge back in 2004, told me that "people rarely do" deduct it from the
tip, even though his menu description of the fee as a "partial service charge" is designed to imply they may do so.

Someone asked me on email this weekend whether this could amount to collusion. In short, the restaurants don't think so. When I asked Kevin Westlye of the restaurant association about this in the course of reporting my story, he said the association attorney believes the meetings are fine because restaurants are not setting prices per se but instead discussing a percentage surcharge. In other words, they are not talking about setting the price of a steak or certain kind of wine, things that would continue to vary widely, but about a percentage on top of these prices.

Full story: 'Service charge' on the boil at S.F. restaurants (free link)

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Chris Yeo may expand to Vegas, once had three struggling businesses, aspires to be like Kimpton

I profiled Chris Yeo of Straits (free link) in Friday's Business Times, and if you can't write an interesting profile of this guy you don't belong in journalism.

The story writes itself: After training at Vidal Sassoon in London, Singaporean hairdresser immigrates to the U.S. He starts a successful hair salon by lying to his landlord and working long hours. Parlays his haircutting profits and clients into a restaurant serving his native cuisine. Signs the restaurant lease as his wife is in labor.

The restaurant is failing, so he gambles on a move to a larger space. Then he gambles on a nightclub. Nightclub tanks, but luckily the restaurant takes off.

The restaurant becomes two, then three, then four, now five, with a deal "95 percent" likely in Las Vegas and expansion to Southern California and Seattle on the horizon.

Oh, and it's a total cash machine, with low food costs and high drinks tabs.

I hope I did Chris some justice.

Full story, including some hard revenue numbers:

A long Strait journey / Restaurateur Chris Yeo's story (free link)

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Gordon Biersch founder ditches SF for new restaurant

Gordon Biersch co-founder Dean Biersch initially wanted to put his new beer restaurant in San Francisco, but says he has decided to put it in the city of Sonoma due to spiraling costs in SF.

Biersch's tavern is to be called Hopmonk. The place is optimized for serving beer -- each beer is to be carefully selected, served in traditional glassware appropriate to that particular brew, and paired carefully with food.

The beers will be imported from Europe and selected from regional craft brewers in the U.S. Biersch will also brew a house pilsner of his own design, under contract to a brewer (likely Gordon Biersch).

The idea is to have a constantly-changing lineup of beers by category, for example during a winter month Hopmunk might feature bocks and dunkelweizens.

The food and decor is to be locally-inspired, with a Northern California flavor, rather than an imitation of the sort of pub and pub food one might find in Europe. Though it will use local ingredients, Biersch is not aiming for a high-end "gastropub" type menu as at, for example, Salt House, but more of the traditional bar foods -- sandwiches, burgers, soups, salads.

I have the full story in the Business Times:

Biersch taps out in S.F. (free link)

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Hilton's $13m Gramercy Tavern lookalike

Yes, that's a fireplace there in the back.The monstrous San Francisco Hilton can't stop eating. So it's building an "urban tavern" to lure gullible prey (free link).

Traumatized onlookers will remember that the 1,900-room beast ritually devoured three general managers in as many years. But the hotel is still hungry and must be fed, so out come the barrels of delicious, sweet cash money to fill its belly -- for now.

Hotel owners have set aside $13 million to build a restaurant and bar with 240 seats, plus 20,000 square feet of adjoining meeting space.

The place has no chef or name yet, but Hilton has a pretty developed idea of what the place will be.

It's a gastropub, a bar serving gourmet renditions of hearty foods. It's supposed to lure in unsuspecting businessmen for lunch or dinner. Before they know what's happened, they will be handing over their Amex Black cards for backslapping parties in the private wine room, global arbitrage lectures in the meeting hall and client suites in the hotel tower.

Ideally, they won't emerge from the hotel for several years, confused and destitute. Hotels around town have become increasingly adept at this game in recent years, leading to a slew of new high-end hotel restaurants (free link).

Hilton's restaurant is designed to mimic the investment banker's natural habitat: clubby, with dark woods, faux leather, copper and these medieval looking chandeliers. Engstrom Design Group has been working on the interior and expects to begin demolition in August.

The place was built with an eye toward Gramercy Tavern in New York, according to Hilton's new Food and Beverage Director Stefan Gruvberger. But it's unlike anything else in the Hilton chain and is supposed to feel very separate from the hotel.

It will even have its own entrance, near the corner of Mason and O'Farrell, and the Hilton logo will be banished from the premises. It is set to open in March 2008.

Full story:

Hilton to spend $13M to build new restaurant (free link)

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Monster hotel consumes yet another GM

The San Francisco Hilton must be fed!

The beast is the largest hotel on the West Coast, with 1,900 rooms, and demands human sacrifice, specifically General Managers.

It just chewed up and spit out John Mazzoni -- for the second time! Mazzoni lasted less than two months before throwing in the towel ... err, towels.

He's off to a job at Hilton corporate, a promotion. And his first term lasted for more than three years, starting in 2003. So I'm not saying it didn't go well for him, all 42 days of it.

But it's starting to look like musical chairs over there.

In between Mazzoni's two terms was Karima Zaki, a warm and charismatic woman who was charming hospitality types all over town starting last March, and breaking new ground as a female hotel executive. But she announced her departure in November after it became clear her predecessor Mazzoni was not going to be needed any longer as the national union negotiator for the chain, contract talks having gone better than expected.

So Mazzoni returned, and Zaki went off to open a giant new Hilton in San Diego, nearer her extended family and her young daughter's old Southern California friends.

The hotel has just begun its search for a new leader. I write about this on the Business Times website today (free link).

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Farmer Brown wants to reap new place

Farmer Brown chef-owner Jay Foster wants to take over the Plush Room in the York Hotel, the hotel's new owner told me.

Personality Hotels is buying the York from CTwo hotels, plus the Maxwell Hotel from Joie de Vivre Hospitality, bringing its total stable of Union Square hotels to seven.

Personality is already landlord to Farmer Brown: the neo-soul food restaurant is located in the company's Metropolis hotel.

I learned all this at a party for the Diva hotel, which was recently renovated with the help of a bunch of up-and-coming artists. Personality Hotels founder Yvonne Lembi-Detert was excited about the new hotels, but gave no indication on how likely she is to let Farmer Brown run the Plush Room.

Prior to writing my story, I confirmed the hotel sales with CTwo and Joie de Vivre. But after we went to press, someone from Personality called to tell me that the loans for the acquisitions are not fully nailed down yet, so these are not quite done deals at the moment.

The Plush Room, aka Empire Plush Room, is now run by Razz Productions.

This all comes from a story I wrote on Personality Hotels (free link) in Friday's Business Times.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Burger Bar story online for free

My story on Hubert Keller bringing his Burger Bar concept back to his culinary hometown of San Francisco from Las Vegas is now online for free.

(This post was corrected Feb. 9: it originally had the wrong link.)


Vessel charging $500 per table; new age of excess

I almost forgot to post my front page story from Friday's Business Times:

A spate of new bars are riding the second dot-com wave, targeting conspicuous consumers with new fees and rules.

My lead example is Vessel, already open many nights as part of its "soft opening" and set to formally open Feb. 22. Vessel is on Campton Place, across from the hotel and next door to Alfred's steakhouse.

The bar cost $1 million - $5 million to build but is hoping to swiftly recoup that from consumers, charging nighttime rates of $500 for a full, 12-person table and $250 for a half table. That's just to sit down, not including bottle service or other drinks.

I also mention the Ambassador, opened in January and reserving booths for people spending hundreds of dollars on bottle service, and of course Bourbon and Branch, where you need a reservation in advance and have a time limit on your visit.

Finally, there's "Mister," a forthcoming Financial District barbershop-and-bar, which targets affluent young financial services types and offers memberships at the "player," "hitter" and "mogul" level.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Hubert Keller's Burger Bar coming to SF

Fleur de Lys chef-owner Hubert Keller is bringing his Las Vegas concept Burger Bar back home to San Francisco, though he has not yet picked out a location.

Keller is also spreading Burger Bar to St. Louis, where one is already under construction as part of a casino project, and possibly to Hawaii.

Keller told me Burger Bar is doing close to 1,000 covers per day in Las Vegas and that he is hoping it will soon cross the $7 million per year revenue mark. Bon Apetit credits the ultra-luxe hamburger joint with spawning a long line of imitators after it opened in March 2004. High end burger places have since opened from chefs like Laurent Tourondel and David Burke in New York, Bobby Flay in Las Vegas (reportedly) and of course Thomas Keller in Napa Valley, who is hoping to soon uncork his burger place.

(Of course New York chef Daniel Boulud was serving a high-end burger at his DB Bistro Moderne by the start of 2003, before Keller’s Burger Bar, but that was not a standalone burger joint.)

I report all this in today's Business Times, along with what neighborhoods Hubert is looking in, what other restaurateurs think of the idea and why SF may be more perfect for Burger Bar than Las Vegas.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Aqua closing Pisces

Thanks to the Covers operative who tipped me off to the fact that Aqua is closing their Pisces seafood restaurant in Burlingame. I got into details on the Business Times website this morning.

While flagship Aqua was the two-Michelin-starred alpharaunt of San Francisco, Pisces did not even merit a mention in the redcoated guidebook's "South of San Francisco" section. People writing in to Zagat rated it a middling 22/30, with one providing the not-so-ringing endorsement "more charming than annoying." The Chronicle gave it two stars in its last review two and a half years ago.

Meanwhile, Pisces was not profitable and needed a facelift that the landlord would not underwrite. So, according to Laurent Manrique, the restaurant is set to close within the week ending Monday.

Aqua Development Corp. still has, in addition the flagship, the profitable and buzzy Cafe de la Presse, a more casual place near Union Square.

It's worth noting that the company's website now lists just two restaurants, compared with six restaurants three years ago. The company is, however, "probably" going to reopen Pisces somewhere else, Manrique said, and there is no reason the company can't come up with more successful concepts like de la Presse, which opened just over one year ago.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Levende Lounge and Ozumo expanding to Oakland

OzumoLevende Lounge has just taken out a lease for "Levende East" in Old Oakland, at the former Rex's bar and grill at Washington and 8th St, right across the street from another SF transplant B's (from the Boxed Foods people).

Ozumo is "eager" to close late-stage negotiations with Signature Properties at Broadway Grand in Oakland's Uptown district. Though this is much further along than the Town Hall deal that fell apart, it's never a sure thing until the doors open.

And, as reported elsewhere, Rich and Rebekah Wood sold Frascati in Russian Hill to open Wood House in the former Grasshopper in Oakland's Rockridge district. (As not reported elsewhere, they are bringing over their old Frascati executive chef, Maximilian Dimare.)

Three makes a trend, so I dig into the three deals in a front page story in today's Business Times (free link).

All restaurants involved site rising costs in SF as at least one of the reason for crossing the bay. Downtown Oakland restaurants are also just a few minutes from SF by BART or, on good days, bridge, which makes it easier to train and oversee staff. Some of the owners live in the East Bay. There's also the building boom in downtown Oakland, combined with the scarcity of existing high-end restaurants.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The moonlighting celebrity chef

I guess it's sort of like Dylan cutting a few tracks with George Harrison, or Eminem dropping in on a Dr. Dre album: I have confirmed at least two cases of celebrity chefs dropping in for cameos at other restaurants.

Or maybe they just needed the money?

The first one I heard about was Bradley Ogden at Izzy's Steaks in Corte Madera, not sure if it's converting to something else because it's no longer on the main Izzy's website. Anyway, one of the managing partners there explained to me that Bradley was a personal friend who dropped in to chat with the staff and perhaps lend some advice and instruction. (His appearence had caused some strange rumors I had called to check on.)

The other was George Morrone, who I had been told was moonlighting at Michael Mina over the holiday break when his own Novato restaurant was closed. When I later talked to Mina on something else, he confirmed that Morrone does work in his kitchen from time to time.

I guess it makes me more optimistic, as a diner, about those occasions when the executive chef isn't working in the kitchen. After all, you can't assume the replacement chef has less experience that the regular chef. He might have trained the executive chef!

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Dot-com days are back, not so much

Hotel rates are back at dot-com peaks and set to zoom much higher in 2007, according to PKF Consulting's numbers, touched on previously. I talked to hotel managers about this for a Business Times story (link free starting Jan. 15) , and they pointed out two things:

1. PKF is too optimistic about 2007 because conventions are off; Jon Handlery at Handlery Union Square is budgeting about half the $15 per room per night gain PKF sees (in percentage terms);

2. Costs are up since the dot-com days thanks to rising health care costs and wages, plus you have to factor in inflation, plus occupancy is not back to dot-com peaks, so things aren't really as good as they were back then.

Which might explain these quotes from Convention and Visitors bureau chief Joe D'Alessandro, who wants more money from the city to promote San Francisco to tourists and convention planners:

"I'm embarrassed the city of Portland spends more than San Francisco" on tourism marketing, D'Alessandro said. "It's embarrassing to go to a trade show and (the booth for) San Francisco is hiding behind the 'S' in the San Diego booth."

"Stepping on people on the sidewalk in the garbage is embarrassing ... we have to develop a different culture."

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Hyatt Regency sells for $200 million

The 802-room Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero has sold for $200 million.

The property is the fifth-largest hotel in San Francisco.

The buyer is a hedge fund operator out of New York, Dune Capital Management, and a real estate investment company in Southern California, DiNapoli Capital Partners . The seller is Strategic Hotel Capital LLC, a fund whose primary investors are Goldman Sachs and Prudential Real Estate.

No immediate changes as a result of the deal, since Hyatt has a long-term management contract on the property. Possibly some sprucing up of the retail along Market Street, right near the Ferry Building, and of the bar and restaurant and retail inside the hotel.

Most interesting is the $250,000 per key sales price, at the low end of market expectations, which had ranged up to $400,000 per key. That's what Campton Place had gone for, and the St. Francis sold at close to $375,000 per key, albeit bolstered by attached retail with Union Square frontage.

I had this one all lined up for Friday's paper, but an unexpected press release forced it out onto the Web this morning:

S.F. Hyatt Regency sells for $200M (free link)

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Fresh links

I blog here at Covers about my Business Times stories as soon as they are published, but it can take up to three weeks before non-subscribers can actually visit the story links. (Sometimes the stories are offered for free sooner, usually when they are picked up in the nationwide "vertical journal" for restaurants and hotels published by my newspaper's parent company.)

Below are FREE links to stories I blogged about in the past, which non-subscribers can now read. These have also been added back to the original blog posts for which the story is relevant, so they no longer say "subscriber-only."

Growing appetite for S.F.: Restaurants setting new tables in the city (Dec. 15)
This is my story about the new restaurant from the Frisson team and the new places from the Bacchus guys.

Hotels run up tab to boost restaurants: Today's special: Hot chefs (Dec. 8)
This story has the scoop on the Nick Stellino concept at the Argent, an update on the restaurant concept for the forthcoming InterContinental and the new Eno concept at St. Francis.

Crowne Plaza, Palomar hotels hit sales block: 'The market is coming back' (Dec. 1)
S.F.'s Parc 55, Oakland Marriott sold: Larry Chan makes trio of hotel deals fetching $250 million (Oct. 27)
Both on how capital continues to chase SF hotels.

French cafe Left Bank to grow throughout West (Nov. 10)
On chef Roland Passot going to Las Vegas, beyond.

Tourist map gets redrawn: New campaign rallies around Ferry Building (Oct. 27)
The effort to brand the Central Embarcadero neighborhood, led by Hyatt Regency and Equity Office Properties

N.Y. chef to expand swanky sandwich shop beyond Westfield mall (Oct. 13)
Tom Colicchio's 'wichcraft in SF

New Westfield food is too much to swallow at once (Talk of the Town) (Oct. 13)

S.F. restaurants eye opening Oakland outposts (Oct. 13)

Gary Danko plans ritzy private dining facility (Oct. 6)

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Hoteliers question growth assumptions

Hoteliers weren't quite drinking the Kool Aid at the Hotel Council's holiday lunch Friday. Tom Callahan of PKF Consulting unveiled a forecast that room rate will grow $15 per room per night to $182 in 2007, with occupancy nudging up one percentage point to 79 percent.

He fielded some pointed questions from the audience on how that's possible given the 100,000 fewer convention visitors expected next year. Tom said tourists and business travelers will make up -- "backfill" was the term he used in the heat of the moment -- for the lost conventioneers.

Pressed on exactly who these new corporate travelers will be, Tom did not put forth specifics. Biotech? Banking? Digital entertainment? Tech? I guess it remains to be seen.

The Hotel Council lunch, held at the Nikko, also saw the Convention and Visitors Bureau's 6-month-old CEO Joe D'Alessandro really come out swinging for more marketing bucks and solutions to the homeless problems, signalling perhaps that his listening tour of City Hall is wrapping up.

State Sen. Mark Leno weighed in with a plan to bolster statewide tourism spending with a fee on rental cars -- but only after cutting general fund monies, a detail that raised a pointed question from a hotelier in the audience.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

No Town Hall in Oakland

The discussions between the Town Hall guys and Signature Properties, which would have brought the restaurateurs to the Oakland's Uptown district, have fallen through.

The impression I got was that Doug Washington and Mitchell and Steven Rosenthal, the Town Hall partners, had their hands full with Salt House, a new concept two blocks from the original Town Hall in SF's SoMA district. Without heavy financial incentives from Signature, they probably weren't going to come to Oakland.

And what condo developers is going to sink a lot of money into incentives amid a tumultuous market and falling prices?

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Frisson guys to open second restaurant

Frisson managing partner Andrew McCormack and his backers are opening a second restaurant, a much cheaper affair than Frisson that aims to be much more profitable. I report this in a story in Friday's Business Times (FREE link).

Frisson was rumored to cost as much as $7 million when it opened two years ago, and only started turning a profit on an operating basis six months ago. This time around, McCormack is opening a much smaller place, holding less than a third as many people in perhaps 1/10th the space.

The new concept is a Spanish restaurant and bar -- not tapas -- called Laiola. It is slated to go into the former Pizza My Heart's space on Chestnut in the Marina, about 1,500 square feet seating 60. The acquisition of Pizza My Heart and its lease has not closed yet, however.

McCormack and his partner in the venture, Frisson GM Joe Hargrave, told me they could see opening close to half a dozen of these little neighborhood places over the next several years.

To keep Laiola profitable, McCormack has made its bar roughly twice as large as normal, holding 20 of the 60 seats. That should help grow alcohol sales and turn seats more quickly.

Also, by positioning the restaurant as casual rather than aspiring to four stars, as at Frisson, he dispenses with positions like reservationist, hostess, runner, sous chef and pastry chef. He figures he can run the place with around 10 people at a time: bartender, barkeep, two servers, busser, chef, three cooks, perhaps one more.

This means he can keep total headcount under 20 and avoid the city's approx. $1.50-per-hour health care fee for uninsured workers.

FREE link: Growing appetite for S.F.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Italian boss says 'no chains' at Jack London Square

The new food hall at Jack London Square in Oakland will all but ban national chains, I write in the Business Times Wednesday.

I spoke with slow food leader and Jack London Square resident Renato Sardo, who has been hired as a consultant by developers to lord over the leasing of the food hall. His advisory committee includes representatives from green investing funds and plenty of Slow Food International vets, including PR queen Eleanor Bertino.

The committee's guidelines, due out within a few weeks, will emphasize
  • local producers
  • quality producers
  • environmental sustainability
  • small producers
The committee would also like to see a farmer's market at the food hall, known as Harvest Hall and set to span 185,000 square feet, including 18-22 restaurants and a grocery store. The developers are counting on the size of the hall and its diversity of restaurants, plus the grocery store, to distinguish it from places like Ferry Plaza Marketplace, Market Hall in Rockridge or Epicurious Garden in Berkeley.

Sardo said:
We are not looking for national chains ... if there is a particular chain we regard as high quality or arrives with a particular concept, we may consider that. But probably we won't have big chains there.

Renato's initial consulting contract runs out in nine months.

Story link, free starting Jan. 2: No link to Oakland project for big chains

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Friday, December 08, 2006

TV chef to helm Argent restaurant. Probably.

I report in today's Business Times that Nick Stellino of PBS fame is considered "likely" to helm a new restaurant project underway at the Argent hotel.

The hotel is set to convert to a Westin next summer, at which point a new restaurant concept of some sort will go in, complete with a large outdoor seating component, even if the contracts being draw up for Stellino fall through. Puccini Group is designing the restaurant.

Meanwhile, the St. Francis will get a chocolate, cheese and wine bar called Eno this spring. The concept was conceived by Strategic Hotels and Resorts CEO Laurence Geller, who is also putting Eno's in his hotels in two other cities. Puccini is designing this one too.

Finally, the new InterContinental gave a few more details on the 24-hour restaurant it will have when the hotel opens next to Moscone West in Feb. 2008. It will be an upscale Italian concept with "showcase kitchen" and a bar called "Grappas." InterContinental is looking for a chef.

This was all part of a front-page feature story on the surge in worthwhile hotel restaurants, a topic I blogged about previously. This time around, I remembered to credit Bill Kimpton for starting the first wave in this trend 20 years ago, and pointed out that it has spread to more established and larger hotels.

This issue of the Business Times also has my update on what Renato Sardo is up to at Jack London Square in Oakland, which I will blog about later, and a profile on the team behind Beach Chalet and Park Chalet.

FREE LINK to Business Times story

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More like LINE Out the Door

How busy is Charles Phan's team at Out the Door in the San Francisco Centre mall?

Serving 1,200 patrons in one day busy.

If everyone had eaten in that would have been about 10 turns, since the joint only serves 138 (yes you can stay Inside-the-Door, and are even provided with table service at that). But of course the whole point of the place is that you can take your food to go, so 10 turns is unlikely.

Phan's publicist tells me he is giving staff extra time to unwind, though whether this is just individual time off or whether he closed the restaurant for a day (which was the impression I got) isn't clear. At least not to, um, me.

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And you thought the hotel strikes were over

Far from it.

I reported online Tuesday on a strike vote at the W Hotel.

As usually happens in these situations, the workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize union leaders to call a strike if negotiations break down. The union, Local 2 of UNITE HERE, said the margin was 84 percent in favor and blasted the hotel manager, Starwood, for having not "learned" from the recent faceoff between the union and 14 large city hotels, including two run by Starwood.

That confrontation ended in a fairly generous contract for workers, see link above for details. The SF Marriott a few weeks ago signed a deal with the same terms. The union is pushing for the same at the W.

The W San Francisco is actually owned by Starwood, whereas its hotels party to the 14-hotel contract are owned by others -- Strategic Hotels and Resorts in the case of the St. Francis (previously Blackstone), and the Kyoya Corp. in the case of the Palace (which as I reported almost a full year ago has been trying to sell the hotel in part on the value of an entitled condo tower).

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Hotel holiday sale, prices higher than ever

As predicted, a second wave of hotel sales is in full swing, reprising the mass trading of last winter.

Now up for sale:
  • Crowne Plaza (400 rooms, $100-120 million, FelCor)
  • Hyatt Regency Embarcadero (805 rooms, $200 million - $320 million, Strategic Hotel Capital, retail strip)
  • Hotel Palomar (200 rooms, Kimpton, Fifth Floor restaurant)
  • Cypress in Cupertino (225 rooms, Kimpton)
  • Maxwell (153 rooms, Joie de Vivre)
  • Villa Florence (182 rooms, Kimpton)
  • Prescott (140 rooms, Kimpton, Postrio restaurant)
Sold or in the process:
  • Renaisance Parc 55 (1,010 rooms), Oakland Marriott (484 rooms), Oakland Courtyard (157 rooms) (Larry Chan to Rockpoint, Highgate and a Hong Kong group, Highgate did not go in on Oakland properties) ($250 million) (still in process)
  • Commodore (110 rooms) (Joie de Vivre to anonymous buyer converting to residential)
  • Monticello Inn (91 rooms) (Dern Greinetz to Larkspur Hospitality) (Kimpton managed)
I detail the most recent deals in the Friday Business Times.

The only sale so far, the Renaissance Parc 55, does not bode well for pricing, so people are watching to see how the other deals play out. But there seems to be plenty of capital still in the market, and plenty of confidence business will continue to improve in San Francisco.

Issues of panhandling and cable car fares aside.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hilton gets new old GM

The West Coast's largest hotel is losing its first woman general manager.

The 1,900-room Hilton San Francisco will see Karima Zaki leave after just nine months, returning to San Diego to open a $350 million Hilton down there.

Replacing her is John Mazzoni, who had been general manager before Zaki but left the position to head up Hilton's labor relations. When the company's union negotiations proved smoother than expected, Mazzoni was freed up to return to SF.

Mazzoni took over from Holger Gantz, who led the Hilton for 17 years before retiring in 2002.

I interviewed Karima for our executive profile feature. She said the toughest part of her job is "Balancing my career aspirations with the well being of my child. I certainly parked a lot longer in San Diego than I would have as a single person."

In San Diego, Zaki has extended family to help raise and support her child.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Amber India deal preserved

Recap: First the Chronicle reported that noted South Bay restaurant group Amber India was coming to Yerba Buena Lane in San Francisco, right next to the four seasons.

Then, Covers reported the deal was dead. Because, well, it was.

Now comes word from the same involved-in-the-deal source that the deal is back, and Amber India will, in fact, go in on Yerba Buena Lane.

We hope you've enjoyed this little circular ride.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Kimpton fermenting hotel in wine country

There were several things to learn at the party Monday night celebrating young Fifth Floor chef Melissa Perello's Michelin star, first among them that Melissa Perello would not have anything to say to assembled guests, but would stand and smile politely beside her hotel's General Manager as he spoke on her behalf.

(Not that I blame her. The event was in the middle of dinner service. Talk about timing -- do you chefs get this a lot? "Yeah, we're going to honor you at the busiest possible moment in the day, and oh by the way can you put together some apps and pastries beforehand ...?")

I also learned that Oprah, allegedly, had planned to put the organic vodka from Novato, Square One, on her "Favorite Things" list but decided hard liquor endorsements did not suit her image so shuffled the product off to her magazine, where someone else raved about it. Business, apparently, is through the roof.

I learned that I am worthy of not one but several glamour shots for the pages of party host Papercity, including several awkward over-the-shoulder glances (suggested by the photographer).

The most important thing I learned was from a Kimpton source who let slip that the San Francisco boutique hotel chain has plans for a property somewhere in wine country. No word on timing, whether they've identified a property or site -- it might just be a glimmer in Mike DePatie's eye. But it's in the cards.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Left Bank Las Vegas -- long way from Larkspur

Roland Passot and Ed Levine are "very, very likely" to soon sign a lease to put a Left Bank brasserie in suburban Las Vegas.

I report in today's Business Times that the duo are reviewing a draft contract to go into the Village at Queensridge, in an ultra-luxe suburb on the outskirts of Las Vegas. The mixed use development is supposedly like Santana Row on steroids.

The Vegas deal would be the launching point for a much broader expansion that would add 12-15 Left Banks throughout the western U.S. over the next five years or so.

Passot told me he does 800-900 covers a day out of the 300-seat Left Bank at Santana Row, with an average check of $38 per head. The Las Vegas edition would be roughly the same size.

FREE link: French cafe Left Bank to grow throughout West

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ferry rich indeed

It's amazing how a neighborhood just takes off. In four years of covering hospitality in San Francisco, I have seen it happen with the Central Embarcadero neighborhood around the Ferry Building.

The Ferry Building is producing stellar business for restaurateurs, for example Charles Phan's Slanted Door is doing $12 million per year (more numbers), following the renovation completed and refilled with tenants by the start of 2004.

The boutique Hotel Vitale from Joie de Vivre completed last year is reportedly doing stellar business, pulling in Average Daily Rate in the ballpark of $225, surprisingly competitive with the Four Seasons, Park Hyatt/Meridien, Omni and W -- four-star business class hotels.

Robert Lam moved butterfly into the neighborhood a few years ago. Pat Kuleto and his investors are spending $18 million to build a restaurant there. The Exploratorium is planning to move in.

It helped that Boulevard and Ozumo were already there.

As if to underline the activity, the Hotel Griffon earlier this year sold for a record per-square foot price, though this is something of a gimmicky number, since hotel deals are usually measured per "key" or room.

Now the Hyatt Regency and Embarcadero Center want in on the action and are joining with Equity Office Properties, the Ferry Building developer and leaseholder, to begin formally branding and promoting the neighborhood, hoping to make it the next Union Square. This bit I report in this week's Business Times.

The Central Embarcadero would include everything from the ballpark up through Pier 5. That's where Pacific Waterfront Partners is putting in a restaurant-and-office project that seems likely to draw some interesting chefs.

In the Convention and Visitors Bureau's most recent survey, the Embarcadero drew 34 percent of hotel guests, compared with 73 percent for Union Square.

FREE link: Tourist map gets redrawn

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Monday, October 30, 2006

The power of a marquee restaurant

Per room sales price, Campton Place, paid by Kor Hotel Group, fall 2005: $400,000

Per room sales price, Renaissance Parc 55, the fourth-largest hotel in the city, paid by Rockpoint Group and Highgate Holdings, fall 2006: $170,000

Same brokerage firm. Same neighborhood.

Management matters. Branding matters. Food matters.

Free link: S.F.'s Parc 55, Oakland Marriott sold: Larry Chan makes trio of hotel deals fetching $250 million (Oct. 27)

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mall madness for Centre chefs

After my post last month on someone being ejected from the food court at the new gourmet food court in Westfield San Francisco Centre, I kept hearing of more and more hiccups.

Thanks to a weekend power outage, Tom Colicchio had to push back the opening of his 'wichraft sandwich shop a day, losing hundreds of orders. He reports a neighbor lost five tractor trailers full of food, though I could not run this down for confirmation.

Then Luigi at Beard Papa's told me of an errant fire alarm, that just happened to go off during a weekend lunch rush. The whole place had to be evacuated, and when people were let back in, the rush had subsided, which means lots of lost sales. (Although Beard Papa's had a hectic opening even without the fire drill, Cruz added.)

Then there's the issue of about half the restaurants not being able to take advantage of the crush of customers in the mall's first weeks because they could not open in time, given how mall construction unfolded.

Something tells me, though, that the brisk business everyone I have spoken with claims to be doign is going to more than make up for the hiccups. Assuming the hiccups stop.

From the Business Times:

New Westfield food is too much to swallow at once

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Town Hall in Oakland deal

In Friday's Business Times, I reported that Town Hall is advanced negotiations to take space at the Broadway Grand condo development in Oakland, at Browdway and Grand Ave. in the Uptown district, right across the street from Luka's Tap Room.

Town Hall's publicist cautions that "this is not a deal with all signed on the bottom line" and "the ink is far too wet to make it for real."

Another important caveat: Though backed by the same team as Town Hall, the new restaurant would not carry the Town Hall name, per agreement with their SF landlord. They are also still racing to open their first spinoff, Salt House, two blocks from the original, by the start of November.

The link is subscriber-only until Nov. 6: S.F. restaurants eye opening Oakland outposts

Town Hall was one of the SF restaurants mentioned in my earlier post about restaurants in Oakland's bustling Uptown district.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Straits outta Santana? If so, mark it up to wine.

Chris Yeo's publicist confirmed something Chris told me when he stopped by my table at Straits the other day -- that Yeo is considering turning his Straits at Santana Row into a second outlet of his new tapas concept, Spanish Fly. (My memory is that Chris was pretty certain about this when we spoke, but at one point there were five people at the table, all talking at once, so I double checked with the publicist.)

Chris will no doubt reconsider his wine list following Michael Bauer's comments on his 'outrageous' 200 percent markups on wine from ho hum producers. The comments came in a generally positive, two-star review of the debut Spanish Fly at the old Straits location on Geary.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Straits Dope

I had a lengthy lunch at Straits Cafe in San Francisco Centre this past Thursday with a hotel industry source, and had an interesting conversation with chef/owner Chris Yeo.

Chris told me -- after I identified myself as a reporter -- that he does about $7.8 million per year in revenue out of his Santana Row location, roughly 8,000 square feet. In San Francisco, he's at a tighter 5,000 square feet and 80 seats, but with Westfield spent about $2.8 million on the tenant improvements. That helps keep the employee head count below 50, above which Yeo would have to unionize.

Chris seemed utterly at ease talking about dollars and cents, enjoying a break from the physical exertion of the kitchen and floor. This comfort with money made even more sense when Chris informed me he got his start as a hairdresser and opened his first restaurant with only one month's rent, no deposit and no real credit to speak of.

Chris is so busy juggling customers -- the room was brim-full when we arrived for lunch at 1 pm -- that within five days of my visit he stopped taking lunch reservations. This may help bring in the ladies who lunch, but could also backfire among the big-spending expense-account types who from the business community, who typically appreciate the certainty that a reservation at least simulates.

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