Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dog Whisperer of Dogpatch: Meet Anna Gil of Dogpile Dogs

Anna with Baxter and Truman.
The first thing you notice is how quiet it is.  There is hardly a sound although in reality there are often 60 dogs playing, sleeping and having an overall excellent time at
Dogpile Dogs.

Opened in late 2009, owner Anna Gil and her ten employees have not only been providing a loving and safe environment for dogs of all breeds, but also giving peace of mind to dog owners who live throughout San Francisco.

The peace of knowing that their best friend will be taken care of in cage-free, off leash dog daycare nirvana in 8900 square feet of indoor space and 2200 of sunny, outdoor yard space.

And if an overnight stay is needed there are plenty of comfy cots and human supervision to get them through the night without you.

Gil's impressive background include degrees in law and molecular biology as well as positions as a lawyer at Genentech and law firms as well as positions as a scientist and researcher at such lofty institutions as Oxford University, Harvard University and MIT among many others.  But the unassuming Gil only revealed the extent of her background when asked for her resume.  Today, as is every day, was about the dogs -- or "canine guests" as Gil prefers to call them.

When we arrived for our interview a neatly dressed and petite Anna greeted us calmly and introduced us to her two best friends -- Truman, a seven year old basset hound and Baxter, a senior citizen corgi, shepherd mix.  Soft classical music played and dogs of all sizes and breeds played nearby.

Anna is a calming influence on all the "guests".

Why do you do what you do?

I've always loved animals.  I started out my college studies intending to be a veterinarian but switched to biology after I realized I didn't have the temperament to deal with sick animals and their owners who would give their entire savings to make them well.  It broke my heart!

After my last dog died I didn't get another pet for a long time.  When I finally got Truman I spent a long time trying to find a place for him to stay while I was at work.  At that time I was working long hours as an attorney so I barely got to spend any time with him. 

But he was constantly on my mind.  I was always wondering if he had clean water, if he was too hot or cold or was with someone who would be good to him.

Dogs teach us so much.  I finally realized that I wasn't spending my time the way I wanted which was to be with him.  So I made it a goal that when I was able to retire from my corporate job I would open the kind of dog care facility that I always wanted for him but could never find.

I wanted to offer drop-in daycare, 24 hour seven days a week of human TLC, filtered water and a super clean and healthy environment for the dogs.  And no cages!  We have lots of cots for the dogs to lounge on and huge indoor and outdoor areas for them to roam around and play in.

Although I don't decline any breeds, I do require a temperament evaluation for all prospective canine guests and we always monitor the dogs for any concerns such as aggression towards other dogs or humans.

But we don't use any special tools to make the dogs behave -- no shock collars, rattles or squirt guns.  We only use our voices and our bodies.   

Our employees are so important in achieving this goal.  They are trained in just such calming moments -- a soft voice, a gentle hand on the side of the dog -- I truly believe that dogs can read the energy in the room whether it be of a dog or a human.  Even the puppies respond to a calming moment.

Why Dogpatch?

I did research and searched for just the right place for more than four years.

I wanted a large space with an indoor and outdoor area and I hoped to find something in a sunny neighborhood in San Francisco that had easy access to the various freeways.

Many of the large industrial warehouses that are empty now are contaminated sites.  So it wasn't that easy to find just the right spot.  I was so happy when I found this location.  It used to be a POM distribution center so there was no contamination plus it was zoned for kennels.  It was very clean and big enough so I could get right to work setting it up.

I designed the space so that it can be changed if needed.  I can see and hear everything in the space even though it is very large and more importantly, so can the dogs.

One day I hope to start a program that rescues senior dogs and maybe even dogs with special needs.  That's why there are a lot of low ramps and all the play structures are low to the ground.  

Every month our business grows a bit although I am committed to growing slowly.  We haven't advertised yet and most of our business comes from word-of-mouth referrals.

Currently we average more than 60 dogs per weekday, more than 30 dogs per weekend day and more than 20 dogs per night.  I wanted to build a community of dogs and people and now we have enough regular canine guests that they teach the new ones how to behave.  A true pack mentality!

Who is another fascinating person in Dogpatch?

I enjoy the owners of Piccino and the workers at their coffee bar.  Every morning I get a boiled egg for Truman and Baxter.  They are all so great at creating a welcoming ambiance.

I just love the community of people of Dogpatch.  I love how unpretentious it is here.

What's an interesting story that has happened to you in Dogpatch?

One of our customers has three dogs and their dogs are frequent guests here.  This couple noticed that one of the street lights was out in front of our facility.  They thought it was unsafe to not have the light so they made phone calls and called on all their relevant contacts to get it fixed for us.  And they got it fixed!  Amazing!

So what would you be doing if you weren't giving your heart and soul to your canine guests every day?

I'm doing it!  Anything else would also be dog related.  I mentioned the programs I want to start for senior and special needs dogs.  Perhaps I would also bring to market some dog related inventions I've been tinkering with.  Maybe even write a book.

But the dogs have taught me how to live.  They have taught me that life is short and every day should have a bit of fun in it.  I'm having fun!

Why call your place Dogpile?

I was talking to a friend about how I needed a name for my new venture.  I said I wanted a name that would indicate a fun, relaxed environment where at the end of a fun day the dogs could form a dogpile -- where they can nestle together.  And he told me that I already had the name -- Dogpile!

Okay then, what's the biggest dogpile you have seen?

Our small dog record is 12 and for the bigger dogs, 9!

Article Written by Patricia Kline, Photos by Scott R. Kline

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

To Serve & Protect: Meet Dames Shouman of Reno's Liquor

Dames always greets the customers at Reno's with a smile. 
"Name is Dames, like James but with a D," Shouman declared with the tone of a man that had been asked many times to clarify his name.

Dames Shouman, owner of Reno's Liquor, was the first person we met when we moved to Dogpatch.

Dames, along with his coworkers Shy and Rafik, are the greeters of the unofficial hub of the Dogpatch neighborhood. A constant flow of long-time neighborhood residents, cops, fellow merchants, Hells Angels, Muni employees, dogs and neighborhood newcomers all find their way to Reno's.

It may be called a liquor store, but it is so much more. High-end offerings such as Scharffen Berger Chocolate share shelf space with bags of Nestle's chocolate chips and local small batch beer offerings sit next to the Miller High Life.

We spoke with Shouman one recent morning as he took care of a constant stream of customers and vendors. Many wanted lottery tickets, some needed cash from the ATM before they headed to work and others needed a Red Bull to get them there. Dames was unflappable as he efficiently fulfilled every request.

Without fail though even the sleepiest customer wanted to put in a good word or share a story about Dames and his shop.

There was the woman who came in everyday with her dog for the treats Dames keeps behind the counter. "My dog won't let me pass the shop without stopping for his treat!" she said. Another long-time customer told the story of how she once came in to buy her usual soda and was so preoccupied with her thoughts that she didn't notice she had bought the wrong brand. But Dames noticed and quietly asked her if she was sure of her purchase.

And there were also those customers that noted Dames is often quick with
good-natured ribbing at their expense. They were happy to poke a bit of fun at him for being photographed and interviewed.

Dames and his shop are often credited with helping to transform Dogpatch into the vibrant neighborhood it is today. And he is certainly thought of as the metaphorical bartender who always has a willing ear for the daily stories, joys and troubles of the people who pass through his shop.
The steady flow of customers didn't stop during our interview.

Why do you do what you do?

I enjoy people and I enjoy the different personalities that make up the Dogpatch neighborhood.

It is a challenge to cater to the wide variety of customers that come through my shop. We have everything from $2 to $100 items. We like to think we have something for everyone here. I enjoy the challenge of making sure we keep up with what this changing neighborhood needs.

I grew up in Brooklyn and moved with my family to California when I was 16. We had a small shop similar to Reno's in another part of SF. I wasn't sure I was going to continue to work in the family business but when my father became ill, I left college to help out. I took over from other family members in 2005.

Why Dogpatch?

We eventually closed the other shop and were looking for another space. A family member knew of this space so we bought the existing business in 1989. The business had changed hands many times through the years. I think the Reno's name came from the original Italian owner many years ago.

It was definitely a different neighborhood in 1989 than it is today. We were still busy then but the mix of customers has definitely changed.

Who is another fascinating person in Dogpatch?

Dennis Herrera (City Attorney for San Francisco) lives in this neighborhood and comes in all the time. He loves this neighborhood and he is just a really nice guy and a strong family man. I like to tease him after I see him on TV being all serious. He is easy to joke with.

What's an interesting story that has happened to you in Dogpatch?

We have had a lot of interesting people come through here. The former manager of the SF Giants, Dusty Baker, used to come in here all the time.

But one of the more interesting things to happen here is when the TV show Nash Bridges filmed a scene in our shop. I wasn't in it but it was fun to be part of it.

So what would you be doing if you weren't saying hello to the entire population of Dogpatch every day?

Well, I would have probably become a police officer. Maybe a detective -- I read people pretty well.

Article Written by Patricia Kline, Photos by Scott R. Kline

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Howlin' For You: Meet Jesse Mullan

Jesse Mullan with his favorite beverage at his favorite hangout. 
Much has been written about the Dogpatch neighborhood being a bit like the old Wild West -- not lawless exactly, but certainly a neighborhood in transition.

And if this were still the old West Jesse Mullan would be the publisher of the small town newspaper.

But instead of ink stains on his hands, Mullan, creator of The Dogpatch Howler neighborhood blog, uses his computer to chronicle the events happening in Dogpatch as well as the happening people of Dogpatch.

A better word might be an examiner of the doings in Dogpatch. A reader of his blog will find the art openings and restaurant features typical of many city blogs but Mullan's blog stands out because of his fascination with the history of Dogpatch.

He uses his computer skills to wring as many details about Dogpatch as he can find including all the resources to be found on the Internet such as combing through the records from the Library of Congress to reading police crime reports of the past.

Mullan also detects the old-fashioned way using shoe leather to track down neighborhood landmarks and history books dedicated to this small patch of San Francisco in his quest for that one neighborhood fact that might have escaped notice for all these years.

Our conversation with Mullan took place appropriately enough in a modern day Dogpatch saloon -- Hogan's Goat Tavern.

Why do you do what you do?

I love to write and I love the process of discovery. I truly feel that the history of Dogpatch has not yet been fully explored.

I moved to Mountain View, California from my hometown of Minneapolis about four years ago. It was a bit of a culture shock for me to move from such a large city to such a sleepy one.

Luckily my girlfriend got a job in San Francisco so we made the move to SF in October 2011. I also now work in San Francisco as a software engineer for a start up company.

I read a lot of neighborhood blogs and I thought there should be one about Dogpatch since it is a neighborhood where so much is happening now.

I really enjoy researching the history of this neighborhood. For example, it is hard to discover exactly why the neighborhood is called Dogpatch. The first mention I can find is from 1973. I want to know why this place is here at all and what the people were like who used to live here.

Dogpatch is one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Francisco but not much is known about this area. There is so much mystery here that has not yet been fully explored.

I also have a real interest in genealogy so I guess I love research that involves dead people!
Tattoo of the Loteria Card on Jesse's arm.

Why Dogpatch?

We were lucky enough to find this neighborhood when my girlfriend landed a job with the artist Jim Campbell who has a studio in Dogpatch. We liked the neighborhood so we started looking for an apartment here. We quickly felt comfortable here.

Who is another fascinating person in Dogpatch?

Christopher Webster, the owner of this bar (Hogan's Goat Tavern), is really a pillar of this community. He was a bartender at the Dogpatch Saloon before he took ownership of this place. He has made this not only a great place to meet people for a drink, but also a place where you feel comfortable staying awhile. The vibe is low key and neighborly.

What's an interesting story that has happened to you in Dogpatch?

This story also involves Hogan's Goat Tavern. I met a guy here one night and we got to talking about the neighborhood and he mentioned that he lived nearby and he was in the process of remodeling his house. He actually took me to his house for a tour.

I think that experience sums up how Dogpatch can feel like a small town in a big city.

What would you be doing if you weren't trawling the neighborhood for stories?

Well, I do have my day job but I'm also interested in indie comics as well as genealogy as I already mentioned. I'm also going through the 1940s census that was just released -- I find the history fascinating. Another project I'm working on is helping Pastmapper map every address in San Francisco since 1853.

But I guess if I had to pick one thing only it would be to write open source software code as a public service so I could serve humanity in some way.

Article Written by Patricia Kline, Photos by Scott R. Kline

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ready for his close up: Meet Nic Candito of Yield Wine Bar

Nic Candito at Yield Wine Bar
The interior of Yield Wine Bar with its dark woods, soft sofas and reclaimed wood bar and tables, looks like an old western saloon and that image is made even more vivid when we are greeted by manager and assistant wine director, Nic Candito, who is dressed this day in a dapper suit with his bow tie neatly tied. If only he had on sleeve garters the image would be complete.

But in reality Candito with his seemingly boundless energy, plays many roles at Yield including party host, wine expert, art director, vendor liaison, and maybe the most important role -- customer care. Candito seems to have an uncanny memory for customer faces and he makes all who walk through the door feel welcomed.

It is certainly a testament to that welcoming feeling when you see Candito moving among the baby strollers and chatting with moms from the Potrero Hill new mom's group that counts Yield as one of its regular gathering places.

And on the popular trivia night held each Tuesday evening, he is a charming but firm taskmaster. His booming voice belies his slight build as he announces each question and keeps the evening on track. If you think his boyish looks might indicate that he might be tempted to give out helpful hints to each trivia question -- you would be seriously mistaken. But his refusal of hints is given in such a way that you almost feel like a better person for having asked.

But wine isn't Candito's only passion -- the performing arts have always been a big part of his life. He is an actor as well as an award winning lighting director and usually works on several theater projects each year.

Candito has been with Yield (and its sister wine bar, Pause on Market Street) since 2009.
Sampling one of the many great wines on hand at Yield.

Why do you do what you do?

I love people and I love having a conversation with people. I feel like I am hosting a nightly party with rotating guests.

And I love how our customers use Yield almost as their own living rooms to entertain their guests. I like being part of that.

When I came to San Francisco from my hometown of Sacramento to work with owner Chris Tavelli I didn't know a lot about wine. I've learned a lot over the years from Chris and our vendors and I'm especially proud that our wine bars were the first to offer wines that are made from grapes that are farmed organically or bio-dynamically. And our food menu complements the wines by offering vegetarian and pescatarian fare.

But we aren't snobby about our wine knowledge or wear it on our sleeves. Yield attracts customers who are wine enthusiasts as well as those folks who really just want a drink! If a customer wants to really talk wine -- we can do that.

Why Dogpatch?

Chris started Yield in 2006 here in Dogpatch and in 2011 opened Pause on Market Street. Chris has said that he just had a feeling about Dogpatch -- he felt like it was a neighborhood that was poised for change. In 2006 it was a pretty quiet neighborhood. And unlike Pause, which attracts a lot of business people, Yield has always been more of a local hangout. That has changed a bit with customers coming from outside of Dogpatch to meet up at Yield thanks to the completion of the Third Street Light Rail in 2007.

Who is another fascinating person in Dogpatch?

Goody the bartender next door at Dogpatch Saloon is quite the character and is very amusing but I think one of my regular customers here is one of the more interesting people I have met. She is an executive and I call her one of my SF "moms" because she is always telling me to save money, to take care of myself and on and on. She has such a great spirit.

What is an interesting story that has happened to you in Dogpatch?

Well I think it is very interesting that several members of the Hells Angels come here to drink. They drink Rose or White wine. Only in Dogpatch! I love that it busts the stereotype of what you think a Hells Angel would be drinking!

What would you be doing if you weren't pouring wine and listening to customers?

I would probably be pursuing theater full time in Sacramento. Most likely light design. I love lighting the mood and the setting of a play. Similar to how a director takes a script and uses it to direct the actors, when I get a script I view it in colors and use it to put together the light plan -- what colors, angels, and cues go with the play.

I take on one or two projects a year and I'm always there on opening night!

Article Written by Patricia Kline, Photos by Scott R. Kline