Monday, August 8, 2016

Where Hospitality is Top Priority: Meet Jason Alonzo, Jordan Keao and Cheryl Liew of ‘āina


The owners of ‘āina in Dogpatch created an innovative Hawaiian themed menu of food and drink. They include Cheryl Liew, Jason Alonzo and Jordan Keao (Standing).
A change in ownership or concept in the restaurant business is not unusual but we were sad to see Joshua Shertz's hard fought efforts to convert his Cup of Blues cafe into Ensoleille Restaurant not work out after only a few months.

When the official SF notification of a change in owners was posted on the closed restaurant door in September 2015, we were excited to learn more about their plans.  The corner of 22nd and Minnesota is such a prime spot in Dogpatch that it seemed a waste not to have a business there.

Cheryl Liew, Jordan Keao and Jason Alonzo might be the new tenants but they are not new to the restaurant business.  They were the force behind the pop-up, ‘āina (ainasf.com), the weekend-only Hawaiian inspired brunch spot that had a successful but short run in the Bernal Heights neighborhood.  ‘āina was so successful they decided to shut down and put their efforts behind searching for a permanent spot -- they couldn't stand having to turn people away. Their dream was to have a restaurant that could be open for both brunch and dinner for more than two days at a time.

The offering at ‘āina includes Kalua Pork Belly (front),  Kalbi Loco Moco and Breakfast potatoes.
To say the last few months has been a whirlwind for them would be an understatement -- not only did they find the restaurant space, work through the usual SF red tape, and then build out the restaurant doing much of the work themselves, they did it while holding down full-time jobs. In addition, married couple Liew and Keao who already have one young child, welcomed their second child to the world.

Life isn't slowing down since they opened their doors to the hungry public in April -- the sidewalk in front of their restaurant is frequently crowded with folks hoping to get one of the tables that they keep open for walk-ins. (neighborhood tip -- early spots during the week are often available without a wait).  The ‘āina team hopes to start dinner service in the Fall and also has a few other creative ideas they are working on to make sure we all have our fill of malasadas and more.

We have dined at ‘āina numerous times and were impressed not only with the food and innovative bar program, but also by the warmth of everyone there.  They genuinely seemed like they were having a good time amid the chaos of a busy restaurant.  We often felt like they would sit down and join us for a leisurely chat despite the evidence of a packed restaurant and a line out the door that would prevent such an act. True hospitality seems to fuel the ‘āina experience.

Jordan Keao, Chef and Owner
Why do you do what you do?

I love the instant gratification I get when I see that a customer has been changed by something that we have done -- by creating this great meal and experience for them.  When we see a customer's smile then we get to see the real benefits of what we do -- why we work so many hours. When a customer is enjoying themselves in a space we created with food we created that is a powerful thing to us.

I grew up in Hawaii but moved to Boston when I was 13.  You might say I'm a balance of city and country.  I returned to Hawaii when I was 18.  I did a lot of fishing and thinking and decided to focus on becoming a chef.  I went to culinary school in San Diego -- it was a more affordable place to live while going to school.  The goal was always to move to the SF Bay area.  I wanted to be part of what was happening in the food and restaurant scene here.  After culinary school I moved to this area -- to the East Bay where I helped to open a sushi restaurant.  From there I dove into a more serious food and restaurant environment when I joined La Folie.  I was there for three years where I learned to prepare high quality food in a fast paced environment.  That's where I met Jason Alonzo who was in charge of the bar program there.
Don't miss the Malasadas - Portuguese style donuts - filled with guava custard at ‘āina in Dogpatch.

I then joined a restaurant management group who managed the food service for Google.  I learned so much there -- I realized that there are many different skill sets needed in the restaurant world in addition to having a great chef.  Marketing, finance and more are needed to run and manage a large team.

Eventually I left Google for Airbnb -- we had a newborn and the commute from where we lived in SF to Google became just too much. I was still interested in working with a technology company but wanted to work with a smaller company so that I could really be involved in building and growing their food program.  I really liked that Airbnb didn't contract out their food program but made it part of their company culture.

While at Airbnb we got the idea to do a brunch pop up on the weekends.  Jason and I had always talked about doing a side project together.

We called our project, ‘āina, which is a Hawaiian word which means "the land that feeds us." The name reflects how we approach our work.  To be mindful and to take just what you need.

From the start the project felt right -- we weren't forcing it to come together.  Cheryl heard about a pop up Ramen spot in the Bernal Heights neighborhood that was open Monday-Friday and they were interested in letting us do our project on the weekends.  It was a lot of fun but a lot of work.  Social media and word-of-mouth made it a success but ultimately we just didn't have time for it so we closed.

We realized that we might as well have a full time restaurant than only a part-time pop-up.  We all agreed on our direction and we all trusted each other.

Cheryl Liew, CFO and Owner
Why do you do what you do?

Well, keep in mind that I work full-time at a recruiting firm and love my work there.  I wanted to support Jordan's dream of owning a restaurant.  I look at the three of us as being the three pillars that will make ‘āina a success -- management, creative bar program and amazing food.  It all comes together in our desire to provide a great experience for our customers.

I have always been a major foodie.  I was born in the U.K. but grew up in Singapore which is a food obsessed country.  Jordan and I first met as foodie friends -- we wanted to try all that the SF Bay Area had to offer.  I went to school for economics and my original goal was to work for the World Health Organization or for the U.N.  I thought I could use my expertise in economics to help developing countries.  I did an internship at an investment banking firm in Singapore.  It was intense but I loved it although I knew I didn't want to do that type of work long term.  I then worked in media including stints at CNBC and ESPN.  All of this experience led me to the recruiting industry -- I love the combination of finance and psychology.  I so enjoy hearing other people's stories.  I moved to SF in 2010 and started working in recruiting for technology positions. Jordan and I were married in 2012.

I knew he wanted to start a restaurant some day.  I met the chef of a Ramen restaurant in Bernal Heights and that's how we found our weekend spot for ‘āina.  At ‘āina I was the server, the host, whatever they needed me to be and almost always with our son strapped on my back!

We started looking around for a full-time space and a friend who lives in Dogpatch told us about Ensoleille and Joshua.  It all started to come together after that.

Jason Alonzo of ‘āina mixes up a great menu of brunch cocktails at the Dogpatch restaurant.

Jason Alonzo, General Manager, Owner
Why do you do what you do?

I like making people happy.  Hospitality is our top priority.  To me, food is love.

I grew up in Boston but didn't meet Jordan there although it turned out that we had friends in common.  We had an immediate trust with each other when we met at La Folie.

I started in the beverage business in Boston when I was 19.  I was a bar back and learned the old school ways.  I then became bar manager.  I also worked at the Liberty Hotel where the chef there, Joseph Margate, was amazing -- he was doing California inspired food in Boston.  I became interested in creating specialty cocktails to complement  the food we were serving and to even use in the drink program some of the same ingredients that the kitchen was using to create their dinner menu.

Boston is a good place to be from but I always felt that I was born on the wrong coast. I had thought about moving to Southern California but moved to San Francisco when my then girlfriend decided to attend the Academy of Art.  I moved here in 2011 and went to work for La Folie.

I took over the bar manager program at La Folie.  I felt strongly that what the chef is doing with ingredients should also influence the beverage program and they supported my passion for crafting that type of bar program.

At ‘āina we have a low-ABV license which means I get to be creative with low proof alcohol like lillet and sparkling wine and use herbs, fruit and other seasonal ingredients to create drinks to complement our menu.


Why Dogpatch?
We were looking for a neighborhood where we felt we could make our own mark -- that wasn't yet too well known.  We looked in the inner Richmond, East Bay and South Bay. We didn't know a lot about Dogpatch but a friend who lives in the neighborhood told us we should look at the Ensoleille space after it closed and we made contact with owner Joshua Shertz.  We liked that it was still a "hidden" neighborhood -- not yet totally discovered but well on its way.  It reminded us of where we had our pop-up restaurant in the Bernal Heights neighborhood.  This neighborhood also feels like an East Coast neighborhood where everyone knows their neighbor and are vocal about what they like and don't like. All the pieces started coming together here. We really felt like we could be part of the changing face of the neighborhood in a good way.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?
JA:  I would be a session musician I play guitar, bass, and drums.
JK:  A professional windsurfer.  I did a lot of it as a kid in Hawaii.
CL:  Well, I'm also still working full time at a recruiting firm so I think I would find some balance in my life.  Two jobs, two kids and a husband is plenty for me right now!


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Marriage of Food and Merriment: Meet Adam Mendelson of The Pearl

Adam Mendelson of The Pearl in front of the metal facade depicting Dogpatch's iconic cranes - Nick and Nora. 
Anyone walking by the Ace Boiler and Welding Works industrial space at 3rd and 19th would certainly not have had the image of a pearl and the beauty that word conveys.  Many times we would rush by not wanting to disturb the ever-present guard dog that lurked in the open warehouse door and who looked none too friendly.

But if we think about the definition of the word Pearl (the finest example of something) or indeed how a Pearl is formed (something beautiful coming from an irritation), we might be closer to the newest incarnation of the Ace Boiler and Welding Works building into the event spaced named The Pearl.

And it is a beautiful space -- including the outside of the building which is now clad in metal and etched with renderings of the cranes perhaps from the nearby future park, Crane Cove Park. The artwork outside and inside is by the artist and one of the partners of The Pearl, Alexis Laurent.  We long ago nicknamed the cranes Nick and Nora and were delighted to find that the yet unfinished bar in The Pearl will be named Nick and Nora.  (We think bar seats should always be reserved for us.)

When the project was first announced, the concept included a distillery, event space and a restaurant. The concept has changed a bit -- the distillery is no longer part of the project and the restaurant space is still being figured out -- but the primary purpose of The Pearl is to be a destination for events and given the amount of activity we have seen on that corner in recent months, is already a success.  The 8,000 square foot space is split into three levels including a rooftop space -- all of which can host a diverse range of events.  As mentioned, a small bar space is still under construction as is a yet to be named restaurant.  The restaurant model is still a work in progress but the hope is to have it ready by December 2016.

For many months during the long construction project we would see Adam Mendelson, managing partner of The Pearl, seemingly overseeing every second of the transformation.  In fact, we weren't sure if he ever left the building.
Adam Mendelson in the main event space at The Pearl while it was still under construction on March 28, 2016.

Why do you do what you do?
I'm in love with all things related to food and the theatre of making a great event happen.  I'm continually amazed and gratified by the impact a good experience can have on someone versus the short-term impact of a purchase.  I love the pull of an experience that seems seamless -- where the customer doesn't see all the effort involved.

I grew up in Ohio and went to high school in Pennsylvania and college at Washington University in St. Louis.  I had a double major in finance and painting. I became interested in the intersection between the environment and commercial development.  I worked in Latin America on social and economic projects then returned to the U.S. to attend grad school at The John Hopkins University.  I returned to Latin America to work for the Inter-American Development Bank to try to make an impact from within.  I worked on several small infrastructure projects there.  I fell in love with the idea of working on renewable energy projects and co-developed wind projects with a focus on Latin America.  In 2008 I moved to California to work on large solar projects in the U.S. for SunPower Corporation.  After three years I decided to take a sabbatical to figure out what I really wanted to focus my passion and energy on.   I moved to the east coast but moved back to California in 2012.  I moved here with my fiancee -- neither one of us had jobs. Three days before our wedding our car was hit by a drunk driver. Thankfully, neither one of us was injured.  The accident solidified for me that I only wanted to pursue something that I was truly passionate about.

I realized that all of my free time -- reading, traveling, etc. was around food so I decided to make it my life. I wanted to be part of something that was excellent and that was in the hospitality industry.

I was inspired by a friend who had opened a winery in Brooklyn.  I loved the marriage of food and merriment and how the business had ties to the local community.  I invested in a small hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee and saw just how much work it was to build and operate that business.  But I was inspired by all of it.

I had met The Pearl partner Kurt Huffman, a Portland based chef and restaurateur, through a colleague at SunPower.  He was interested in developing a project that was more than a restaurant space. Sam Mogannam of Bi-Rite Market also loved the idea of an event space that his business could be a part of.  Alexis Laurent had an unofficial event space that had to close so he was interested in putting his talents and energy to work with me.  The food industry in SF is amazing.  It is highly competitive but I found that everyone shares their expertise in the hopes of making the experience an excellent one for the consumer.  I put together a 56 page business plan and with that and my passion I got my foot in the door of the food world and The Pearl started to take shape.

Why Dogpatch?
Once the project started coming together we looked not only at the local real estate market and what was available, but also where light industry and public assembly were allowed to happen.  We looked at Dogpatch, Mission Bay, Pier 70 and the Outer Mission.  We knew about the Dogpatch neighborhood but didn't know it very well.  Once we started looking at the neighborhood, we realized that Dogpatch had what we were looking for -- urban mixed used development, great weather, and an amazing list of developments that were approved and on the way and so it became ground zero for our search.

We met with the property manager of the AIC and he mentioned that the old Ace Boiler and Welding Works industrial space at 3rd and 19th was for sale.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?
I would continue to find a way to work with local stakeholders to create something lasting and that reflects what people want to see in their neighborhood. I love finding the best people and then helping them to do what they do best.  I love the role of the producer in making this happen.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Always Something New to Learn: Meet David Netzer of The Wine House

David Netzer of The Wine House in Dogpatch loves wine and passes along his passion to customers. 
The area known as SoDoPa (south of Dogpatch and not to be confused with DoReMi) is quickly becoming a bustling corridor along 26th Street with ShopFloor Design and Harmonic Brewing as anchors off of Minnesota and The Wine House off of Third Street.

The Wine House might be a newcomer to Dogpatch but the company has been in San Francisco for almost 40 years.  The Wine House sells direct to consumers and also has a thriving distribution business.  The company started as a French importer with a focus on Bordeaux but has widened its focus through the years to include wines from Italy, Germany, Austria, South Africa, California and more.  Today the company enjoys a reputation as a place where the staff is knowledgeable and friendly and the wine selection is highly curated.

Tell us about The Wine House

I became president of The Wine House in 2009 but I joined the company in 1984.  John Carpenter started the company in 1977.  He grew up in Maryland but taught history in France -- in the Bordeaux region  He caught the wine bug when he was there and started the Wine House when he returned to the U.S.  He offered a small group of investors wine at cost if they invested and it is still the same small group that owns the company today along with myself.  John isn't active day-to-day in the company now.  We have a staff of four and most of them have been with me ten years or more.

John was one of the pioneers in focusing on Bordeaux and on grower champagne long before it was popular to do so. Grower champagne is produced by the farmers who grow the grapes -- not a big luxury consumer company who owns a champagne producer.  That is anything but artisan.  The goal of the luxury champagne producers is for every bottle to taste the same.  Someone sees an orange label and they know what to expect every time.
The Wine House team really knows wine.   Right to left: Anya Balistreri, David Netzer and Peter Zavialoff 
In contrast, we want to work with small producers, with the farmers.  Producers like Pierre Gimonnet and Pascal Doquet.  We work with people we like.

We have lots of wine from some very obscure places.  But we aren't stuffy wine people.  When you come in to our shop we don't ask you how much you want to spend but instead, we ask what you are serving it with.  We don't take ourselves too seriously.  We are here for the wine lovers and the foodies because that is who we are as well.  We recommend what we would want to have.

Why do you do what you do?

I adore wine.  It really is a miracle that you can grow grapes and get something amazing like wine from them.  I love the conviviality of the wine and the miracle of it existing.

It's something that I've never gotten tired of learning about.

I also grew up in Maryland -- in the D.C. area.  It was a very aware place to grow up and it was also a very diverse place.  I studied music composition and piano at the University of Maryland.

I had my wine epiphany at a restaurant with a 1973 Red Burgundy that I still remember to this day. I had never tasted anything like it.  I started studying wine and reading everything I could about it.  I read all the book by the master of wine, Michael Broadbent

I went to every retailer who had a tasting room and went back time after time.  Many of the owners got sick of me showing up but some answered my questions and mentored me.  I developed my wine palate with the classics -- Bordeaux, German Riesling, Burgundy -- there were no California wines in our area at that time.  Every bit of my disposable income went to wine and books and I even started a tiny cellar in my parent's basement.

My girlfriend wanted to go to business school in California so we moved together to Albany in 1983. I had decided I wanted to focus on the retail side of the wine business and not the wholesale side because I thought I would learn more.  When I got to California I went to every fine wine retailer in San Francisco but didn't have any luck landing a job.  But I did however meet John Carpenter of the Wine House but he wasn't hiring.

So, I ended up at Liquor Barn in Albany.  Not quite my dream job but the wine buyer there took me under her wing and brought me to tastings and introduced me to the right people in the wine industry. John  offered me a job two months after I started at Liquor Barn but I turned him down -- I felt bad leaving so soon.  But after a few more months they cut my hours and luckily John called again and this time I took the job.  The job at The Wine House was only my second job in the wine industry and I'm still here and still learning.

Why Dogpatch?

John opened The Wine House in a 3300 square foot space on Bryant in SOMA in 1977 which then was simply called, South of Market.  He was there for 22 years until we were pushed out by the dot-com boom.  Our landlord was a great guy but our lease was month-to-month and he told us to take our time but that we needed to find another space so he could accept the lease of a dot-com for our space. 

We found a 7200 square foot space in Potrero Hill and moved but unfortunately the company that wanted our Bryant space backed out of the deal and that space sat vacant for three years.  That dot-com is long gone.  Well, we were in Potrero Hill for 14 years and again our landlord was a great guy but we had a month-to-month lease.  The San Francisco market got hot again and the landlord wanted to build condos on that land so we were once again looking for a home. 

We told our real estate agent we wanted to stay in this general area so we never really looked anywhere else.  We love the feel of this area and already knew several of the shops like Piccino Restaurant who we sell wine to, Olivier's Butchery and Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous ice cream shop. There are so many hidden gems in this neighborhood just like in Potrero Hill.  We loved 22nd Street but at first worried that this location on 26th Street was too far south but we saw that Bayview was just exploding with cool new spots so grabbed this location.  Each move has taken us further south and I joke that we will soon be on a barge out in the Bay!

But the good news is now we have a ten year lease and 11,000 square feet which is perfect for our retail and distribution spaces.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

Well, only my lack of talent keeps me from my goal of being the second baseman for the SF Giants. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Pick. Bottle. Enjoy: Meet Carl Sutton of Sutton Cellars

Sharon and Carl Sutton of Sutton Cellars at the winery in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco, CA. 
It's the laugh that most people hear first.  That slightly maniacal, yet full of glee hoot that makes you wonder exactly what is going on in the warehouse space at the corner of 22nd and Illinois.  But don't let the trademark laugh of Carl Sutton of Sutton Cellars fool you into thinking that he doesn't take winemaking seriously. Underneath that laid back demeanor is a great intensity which comes out in full force when asked about his wine.

Sutton Cellar's offerings include cider, a house red, rose and a digestif wine.  But their most popular offering might just be their Dry Vermouth which is the basis for the very refreshing Sutton & Soda -- vermouth with a splash of seltzer and a grapefruit twist.

His tasting room, which is located in the American Industrial Center (AIC) looks like a winery but it also feels like it might be your living room or at least one furnished in slightly shabby yet chic couches, chairs and tables.  And that is the vibe Sutton and his wife and business partner Sharon Sutton have worked hard to create.  There is a definite sense that you are welcome to hang out and drink wine as long as you want but if you want to learn about the wine you are drinking then just ask and an education will be had.

Sharon, who joined us at the end of our interview with Carl, is in charge of quality control at Sutton Cellars -- she makes certain anything with their name on it is a quality product.  The couple met in 2001 and married in 2004.  Her position as a senior design manager for Old Navy's international franchise operations has her traveling 2-3 weeks each month so her time at the winery is limited. Her business travel and her travels with Carl inspired many of the products they produce -- their trip to Italy inspired their vermouth product; the rose and their digestif were inspired by travels to France and their house red by a trip to Milan.

Carl Sutton puts the finishing touches on the Sutton & Soda made with Sutton Cellars' dry vermouth. 


Here is our interview with Carl:

Why do you do what you do?
Well, I generally answer that question by saying that I'm unemployable elsewhere.  But the truth is that I find winemaking very fulfilling -- I'm still discovering how you can take grapes and have something delicious come out of the winemaking process.  That's still a big accomplishment to me.

I grew up in a town in Monterey County -- outside of Salinas -- where the only culture is agriculture. San Francisco of course was the Big City and once I had a car, I spent all my time in SF.  I knew I wanted to live here someday.  My high school teachers inspired me to pursue my love of creating art and I spent more than three years at Sonoma State studying fine art and photography.  But it was when I interned at a winery during one summer that I knew I had to switch gears.  I loved the work.  I did everything at the winery -- vineyard work, winery work, tasting room.

I went back to school at Santa Rosa Junior College and earned a certificate after four years there in vineyard management and wine marketing.  I learned so much there -- their Schone Farm has more than 100 acres of experimental and commercial vineyards.  While I was in school I also received even more hands-on experience by working at various wineries including DeLoach Vineyards and Cline Cellars.

I became a pretty serious home winemaker and I like to say that it got a bit out-of-hand as it started to take all my time and resources.  So in 1996 I started Sutton Cellars.  By 1996 I felt that I knew the nuts and bolts of winemaking and I knew that if I kept working for other wineries I would never be able to make a wine that was totally my vision of what I thought it should be.

My vision, which was really unusual in 1996, was to make wines with very little intervention -- no yeast, unfiltered, no preservatives.  Basically:  Pick. Bottle. Enjoy.  Oh, and don't mess it up!  I wanted to make wine that tasted like the grapes.

And I felt it was important to sell direct to the customer so I could explain to them that they should treat wine like they treat milk.  They should enjoy it right away because it is alive and won't keep. But of course my intentions don't mean shit if customers don't like the wine. So my end goal is to have people enjoy the wine while I educate them.

Why Dogpatch?
I feel like Dogpatch chose me, I didn't choose it and I'm so glad it did!  I had been living in San Francisco since 2002 but commuting to Sonoma to make the wine.  About seven years ago I started talking to Dave McLean (Smokestack) and Scott Youkilis (Hogs and Rocks) about coming together to do a project in San Francisco that was a winery/BBQ/brewery all under one roof.  We wanted a destination place.  We looked in a lot of places including SOMA and Bayview.

Michael Recchiuti (Recchiuti Confections) and Erin Rooney (Serpentine Restaurant) --  who both have their businesses in the American Industrial Center in Dogpatch -- encouraged me to talk to Greg Markoulis, one of the owners of the AIC.   Greg suggested a smaller place for just my winery and as soon as I saw this space I knew this was it.  It was a beautiful space -- the light was streaming in from the windows and it had a huge roll up door.  I decided then and there that I would take this space for my winery until the plan with McLean and Youkilis came together.  That venture didn't end up happening although I do a lot of joint events now with Smokestack.

I finally opened in December 2010.  We really feel like we opened in Dogpatch before the neighborhood started to change.  I felt like if I got in to the neighborhood and hung on through all the changes good things would happen and they have.  It feels like everything is happening on the 22nd Street corridor.  Mark Dwight (Rickshaw Bagworks on 22nd Street) and I decided that we are the bookends of 22nd Street.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?
I would most certainly be driving a forklift at Costco.  No, this is it for me! Sharon and I would like to see more of the world - not as an observer but as a participant -- to merge wine and travel together. One idea we have is to lease space from wineries in different countries and produce a local vermouth from their local wine and brandy.  I want to continue to take an agricultural product and turn it into an amazing beverage.  Really, it's no different than making ketchup.
The Menu Board at Sutton Cellars is headlined by their famous Dry Vermouth.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

An Art Gallery that is Open and Thriving in SF: Meet Theodora Mauro of Ampersand International Arts

Theodora Mauro of Ampersand International Arts in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood in the gallery with her dog Yoko.
We had seen the art postcards next to the dog treats at Piccino Coffee Bar but our attempts to visit the art gallery on Tennessee Street with the unusual name of Ampersand International Arts were met with a "now closed" sign.  Just when exactly was this gallery opened we wondered.  It took awhile but finally one day a sandwich sign out front proclaimed that the gallery was open.  Up the steep wooden stairs and into a sparse room with floor to ceiling loft windows we went.  That day we met curator and owner Theodora (Thea) Mauro and was introduced to two contemporary artists whose many works were adorned with quite a few "sold" stickers.

Turns out the gallery is in a Live/Work building and the Live part of the building is occupied by Mauro's extended family and the Work part of the building is the gallery and a custom drapery business owned by her mother.  Since the family lives in the building, the gallery has limited hours that it can be opened to the public.  Mauro informed us that the gallery was the first art gallery in Dogpatch.

After our visit we reached out to Mauro to find out more about her and the history of the gallery. Dogpatch is quickly becoming an arts destination with the excellent Museum of Craft and Design calling the neighborhood home since 2013 and the soon to open Minnesota Street Project bringing numerous artists to the neighborhood.  We wanted to hear more about this pioneering gallery and its owner.

The rainy day we met with Thea we were greeted at the gallery door by the barking of her dog Yoko -- an adorable mix who promptly jumped in my lap and briefly settled in before she was off to see what that photographer was up to.
Art by Brian Perrin and Melissa Miller at Ampersand Gallery.

Why do you do what you do?

Well, it's a lot of fun and I love it.  I so appreciate the artists and love making a connection with them in order to get their work out into the world.  I'm not an artist but a curator although I like to call myself an art enthusiast.  Everyone has a different response to the art they see in the gallery.  I love it if the piece can make them think and they then develop their own relationship with the artwork and the artist.

My grandmother bought this building in the 1980s for her custom drapery business, MaisonTenn20 . My mother worked in the business with her and the business is still going strong today.  My sister now works in the business as well.

My father, Bruno Mauro, was originally from France and my mother from the middle east.  He came to the U.S. to study art and he worked in several galleries before he opened this gallery in 1999.

I'm so fortunate to have been brought up in the gallery world.  My siblings and I were gallery kids. My sister and my brother and I would often help out at openings with the food and cleaning up.

We lived in the Richmond neighborhood but in the mid-1990s we added a floor to this building to create a Live/Work space and we moved to Dogpatch to live.  I was in middle school when we moved here.

I studied in California and in Paris. When I returned to the U.S. I went to work at the restaurant Jardiniere in Hayes Valley where I stayed for about five years. I did many jobs there with one of them being front of the house which helped me learn how to engage with the public which has been a big help in the gallery business!

My father passed away in 2012.  The last show at the gallery before he died was in 2011.  Before he passed away he asked me to consider running the gallery.  He believed in me and he knew I could do it.  I had actually already curated a show at the gallery with several of my friends in 2009 and we eventually curated three shows.  We called ourselves the Young Ampersands.  Even so I wasn't ready to take on the running of the gallery without my father.
Theodora Mauro of Ampersand International Arts with artwork from Brian Perrin.

But in 2014 a light bulb went on and I left Jardiniere to reopen the gallery.  My light bulb moment was realizing that so many galleries were having to close in San Francisco because high rents were forcing them out of the area.  Ampersand didn't have to be one of those galleries.  I had the space and the knowledge to keep it open.  I also wanted to offer a space to other curators to show the work of the artists they represented since so many of the spaces they used were now gone.

I've keep the focus similar to what my father envisioned -- we feature conceptual art as well as more commercial art.  Often the conceptual art is more about the story behind the piece than the actual piece itself.  The public might not get the chance to see that type of work anywhere else.  I like to also focus on many mediums -- not just one style.

Now that so many galleries are calling Dogpatch home, it would be great to have a regular event for the public similar to the First Thursday that takes place among Downtown SF galleries.

We are limited by the hours we can be open but I hope to eventually work with other artists and curators in other galleries.  And as the name of the gallery indicates, we feature local artists but we also extend our reach internationally and hope to do more of that.

Currently I don't do any fund raising to support the gallery.  We rely on the commissions from each show to keep us going.  I also have other part time jobs as time allows.

Tell us more about growing up in Dogpatch

Well thank goodness for the 22 bus because when we moved here in the 1990s there wasn't much here!  No T-line and not many shops.  My siblings and I were not allowed to even go from our house to 22nd street by ourselves.  But it was a true neighborhood in the sense that we got to know all of our neighbors and still do.

In the early days of the gallery if someone came to the gallery it was because they truly wanted to be here -- we were certainly off the beaten path of the art scene in San Francisco! Once they were done there was no place else for us to tell them to visit in the neighborhood.

Now of course there are so many things to do here.  I love the Museum of Craft and Design, Workshop Residence and all the restaurants and shops.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

I would probably still be at Jardiniere!  It was a lot of fun and the people were wonderful and the food amazing.  But I would most likely be in the art world in some way -- either working in a gallery or a museum.

But Ampersand is where I want to be and need to be.  I'm not a political person, that's just not me, but I feel keeping the gallery open is my response to other galleries being pushed out.



Note:  Ampersand International Arts is located at 1001 Tennessee Street.  The gallery is open Thursday & Friday noon-5pm and by appointment.  Their current show is open until February 19 and features the artists Brian Perrin and Melissa Miller.


Roses at Ampersand International Arts in San Francisco's Dogpatch


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Art + Function: Meet David and Christina Whippen of ShopFloor Design

ShopFloor Design focuses on custom metalwork, fine art sculpture, metal fabrication and machining. Here are owners Christina and David Whippen sitting with their Modular Side Table and Modular Cabinet.
Although the look of the Dogpatch neighborhood has changed tremendously over the past few years, it is still home to many artists and craftsmen.  Finding out how to stay in the neighborhood calls for a long term vision and the willingness to adapt to changing market conditions.

ShopFloor Design is one such business that has figured out how to create and thrive not just for their own business, but also for local designers as well.

Located in SoDoPa (south of the Dogpatch!) at 26th and Minnesota, the ShopFloor building is home to just opened (and already much visited) Harmonic Brewing as well as other designers and artists.

Founded by David Whippen seven years ago and expanded by David and his wife Christina over the past two years, ShopFloor Design focuses on custom metalwork, fine art sculpture, metal fabrication and machining.

Why do you do what you do?

David:
I can't imagine doing anything else.  I like the idea of using my fine art background in a practical way.  I moved to San Francisco from New York to attend grad school in 2004 -- I received my MFA from the Academy of Art in sculpture.  I love working with metal and the precise nature of machined parts. I was initially inspired by my grandfather who started a machine tool shop after WWII.  After grad school I worked on several public art projects in Tomales Bay and commuted to my home in SF.
I enjoyed working on the projects but became focused on finding a way to work closer to home.  It was also becoming obvious that many of the artists I had graduated with were having a terrible time finding and keeping studio space.  They needed a spot they could rely on to be there long term and a landlord that wouldn't charge them huge fees to use the machines.  When I found this building I knew I could have my own studio as well as be a resource for my fellow artists.  I own all the equipment and charge a flat fee to other artists to use the machines.

Christina:
This business is a good mix of my creative nature with my sales and marketing side.  I started my professional career at Google in marketing and sales but left to pursue my passion for pastry.  I graduated from the pastry program at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa and together with another pastry chef opened a pastry catering company called Bicyclette.  I actually had a commercial space across the street from ShopFloor.  I bring my creative skills to the design part of our business but also my precise pastry nature to sales and marketing.

Right now we design and manufacture custom furniture and design pieces and sell them primarily to architects and designers. We are refocusing our company to also sell direct to the consumer.
Michael Walsh sands a table at Shopfloor in Dogpatch.

Why Dogpatch?

DW:
Even seven years ago there were few places available to rent for a commercial machine shop. We were fortunate to find a landlord who is fair yet business minded.  It is a family owned business and they are in it for the future so they weren't opposed to giving us a long lease.  Our business fit the current zoning and usage for this neighborhood so the city gave us the go ahead.

We love the neighbors -- it feels like a small town within the large city.  We even sometimes lend tools to our neighbors or produce small jobs for them on the machines.

I had a vision for a space with large windows that would showcase the industrial space within.  I had seen a similar space years ago on the East Coast.  I wanted a showroom that would showcase how these pieces were made right here and by me.

We started to renovate the rest of our space several years ago with this vision in mind.  We did a lot of the work ourselves.  I wanted the space to look old and established, like it had been here a very long time.

The result is our showroom just for our custom furniture designs.  We had originally planned to put a commercial kitchen space that could be rented in the other part of the large space but when Christina decided to join the company we decided we wanted a different type of a business there like a distillery or brewery.  We are very pleased that Harmonic Brewing is in that space now.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

DW:
I'm already doing what I love, where I want to do it with people I enjoy working with.  But if I had to pick something else I might do well as an architect.

CW:
I've already sampled enough careers and I'm very pleased with what I have ordered this time!
Shopfloor Design's Christina and David Whippen at their Weldsafe Platen Table in their shop in Dogpatch.




Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Harmonic Convergence: Meet the Craftsmen Behind Harmonic Brewing


The founders of Harmonic Brewing in their new brewery and tasting room are (l to r) Eric Tisch, Jon Verna and Eddie Gobbo.
Harmonic Brewing.  The name alone makes one feel calm and ready for a brew.  And so does the sleek, industrial yet modern space with its gray painted walls and sleek table tops.  The 5,000 square foot space carved out of a larger warehouse space includes a brewery visible to the public, a small tap room and seating with office space overlooking the entire operation.  The site of a former nut factory, Harmonic Brewing subleases this part of the warehouse from ShopFloor Design, a metalworking shop that designs high-end furniture and sculptures. 

With the arrival of The Wine House down the road and all the new businesses planned for the area around 26th and Minnesota, it seems that this area of Dogpatch needs its own designation, maybe -- SoDoPa -- Southern Dogpatch. 

Eddie Gobbo, Jon Verna and Eric Tisch -- partners in Harmonic Brewing would prefer BrewPatch but we will let the denizens of Dogpatch decide.

The small, privately funded brewery hopes to ramp up production to 1,000-2,000 barrels and will sell to local SF bars like the Dogpatch Saloon.   They will have six to seven beers to start and consistently on tap.  They also hope to offer seasonal offerings and special brews as the inspiration strikes them. 

Although the brewery will not offer food for sale, the partners hope to have food trucks onsite as well as bring in soft baked pretzels from The Salt Point Pretzel Company. And of course with a name like Harmonic, live music is a possibility in the future.  

Gobbo and Verna met long ago when they both lived on the East Coast then reconnected when they moved to California.  Tisch and Verna met through their online marketing careers.  All shared a common interest in home brewing.  And all three partners kicked off the dust of their corporate lives to form Harmonic Brewing.  

With the smell of grape nuts in the air, we sat down with the partners and sipped their flagship Rye Old Fashioned Pale -- a nod to the classic American cocktail.
Harmonic Brewing Co-Founders Eddie Gobbo and Jon Verna at the Harmonic Brewing tasting room in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA.

Why do you do what you do?

EG:  I'm a chemical engineer and scaling home brew to major production was very similar to my previous career of scaling drug processes from lab to production.  I love the science aspect of the work -- to tinker with the recipes and see what works and what doesn't work.  And then the creative aspect of creating something and sharing it with customers and to get that feedback whether good or bad.  I want this to be a place where people want to come again and again -- to make it their hang out. I want it to be like the old school places in San Francisco that we used to go to when we first came to SF and that we feel are now disappearing.  We know we have to earn that and we are up for it!

JV:  It feels so great to be making a tangible product versus working on spreadsheets and being in client meetings and chained to a desk.  I love interacting with people who care about the product we are making.

ET:  This is strictly a passion project for me.  It is what I always enjoyed doing when I wasn't working so the opportunity to turn this into my career was a no-brainer for me.  I feel so fortunate that a hobby has translated into a career.

Why Dogpatch?

JV:  This neighborhood is the perfect vibe for us.  It's industrial but it is also a real neighborhood. We love how neighbors have stopped by while we were under construction to wish us well and to welcome us to Dogpatch. Everyone is so friendly and wants us to succeed.  It is perfect for us.
Eddie did a pub crawl here with his wife and had a chance to explore the neighborhood.  We looked for more than eight months for a place for Harmonic and we were getting discouraged.  We finally saw a listing on Craigslist from ShopFloor Design and the way the listing was worded, it almost seemed liked they were looking for a tenant like us to share space with.  We signed our lease in November 2015.
Harmonic Brewing Co-Founder Eric Tisch oversees the process at the brewery in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA.
What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

EG:  Make my living as a musician -- form a band and play bass.

JV:  I would be a music promoter like Bill Graham which is what I originally came to California to do!

ET:  This is the only thing that I want to be doing -- this is it, no other option!

Why did you decide on the name Harmonic Brewing? 

Well, we are all music lovers so the name reflects that but it also refers to the fact that we want all our offerings to be in balance -- smooth -- not too bitter or too strong of an alcohol taste.


Editor's Note:  Harmonic Brewing passed their final inspections and is now open for business!
Business Hours:  Thursday & Friday 3pm-11pm, Saturday noon-11 pm and  Sunday noon-5 pm