Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ringside Seat: Meet Paul Wade of Third Street Boxing Gym

Paul Wade (foreground) with (L to R) Jauquez Hackett, Maljanae Williams, Edward Gutierrez and Oscar Rivadeneyra.
The Dogpatch neighborhood is now home to wine bars, trendy restaurants, design firms and even a yoga studio but the neighborhood is still a place where a business that would have been at home in its gritty past is thriving.

In a nondescript building across from the sprawling American Industrial Center on a still ungentrified section of Third Street sits the Third Street Boxing Gym.

Opened in 2003 by Paul Wade and a business partner, but now solely owned by Wade, the gym thrives by offering a place where the traditional sport of boxing can be learned and potential talent nurtured.

The gym is also a place where the more typical fare of fitness can be experienced including the popular and trendy boot camps, kickboxing, personal training and cardio classes.

Wade and four other staff trainers are kept busy training the more than 300 members of all ages that call the gym home.

Surrounded by posters promoting fights ranging from long ago to more recent, we sat ringside with Wade as he regaled us with tales of his fighting antics and his love and respect for the "sweet science" of boxing, its fighters and its colorful past.

Why do you do what you do?

I've always wanted to own a boxing gym and I enjoy nurturing local talent.  I seem to naturally click with the young kids from the more challenging neighborhoods in San Francisco.

Growing up in Dublin, Ireland, I loved watching the great fighters and learning about such legends as Sugar Ray Robinson.

I studied karate for about eight years then became a professional kickboxer.  Kickboxing is a sport that requires a fighters' complete focus on and off the mat.  As a young fighter I was extremely focused and aggressive and that is an attitude that doesn't vanish when you leave the ring.  I won every fight I participated in except for one but eventually I decided to leave that sport -- I didn't want to live every day with an aggressive attitude whether or not I was competing.

I moved to San Francisco in 1993 and worked as a personal trainer.   I had a client that was a boxer and he inspired me to start training as a boxer.  My martial arts background with its reliance of on both mental toughness as well as physical training helped me become a good boxer.  In 2001 I won the San Francisco Golden Glove championship -- the name given to annual competitions for amateur boxing in the United States.

I really felt that San Francisco had a great boxing history but there weren't many boxing facilities left.  I wanted a place that honored that past and could be a place where boxers could be taken care of.  There is a saying in boxing that the closest thing to being a fighter is to be in the corner of the ring waiting to take care of your fighter.  That's part of what we do here.

Why Dogpatch?

Dogpatch in 2003 was very different than it is now -- much more deserted and gritty.  We often had car windows broken on our street and a few unsavory characters lingering about.

Traditionally boxing rings were located off the beaten path in an area where fighters could focus without being distracted on becoming champions.  So this area was perfect for us.

This was also a new building and still unoccupied so we could build it out how we liked.

Who is another interesting Dogpatch person you have met in Dogpatch?

Arienne Landry of Just for You Cafe.  People like her influence and change neighborhoods.  She's been in Dogpatch just a bit longer than we have.

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

Let's just say that I, along with some help from some other merchants, helped put a stop to some of the undesirable activities in the neighborhood.  My fighting background came in handy.

What would you be doing if you weren't sparring with the talent at your gym?

Back in Ireland my father encouraged me to have a trade I could fall back on so I'm trained as a plumber.  I'm doing what I love but if for some reason I couldn't do it I would be a plumber and try to stay out of trouble.

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

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sweet Success on their Own Terms: Meet Annabelle Topacio and Ian Flores of Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous

Annabelle and Ian of Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous

At first glance, ice cream and sweet shop Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous looks like another San Francisco foodie success story. 

There's the usual crowd of locals and the out-of-the-area faithful making the pilgrimage to taste the incredible ice cream offerings such as buttermilk lemon, candied violet or birthday cake.  And the sweets such as peanut butter malt balls or dark chocolate cookies with Bing cherries call to the faithful as well.

But it's the way pastry chefs Annabelle Topacio and Ian Flores have decided to run their business that sets it apart from the rest of the frantic foodie crush.

Closed on Monday? Not open at night?  And wait, they closed because they ran out of ice cream? Why can't I find their website or twitter feed?

That's no way to build an empire now is it? 

Building an empire though is definitely not on the to do list for the professionally trained pastry chefs.

Their training and their years of working at such high caliber restaurants in Northern and Southern California such as Postrio and Spago have made these partners in both business and life confident of their pastry skills and aware of their natural talent for the job.

As such, they seem to have nothing to prove to anyone.   They have set out to pair their obsessiveness for quality and commitment for control over their finished product with the desire for a more laid back lifestyle. At least, as laid back as you can get when you are running your own business.

While employee Ben Vazakas worked the counter, we spoke with the chefs during a brief break from their baking and churning to get the scoop on their two-year old business. 

Ben Vazakas behind the counter.

Why do you do what you do?

It really was a life style decision.  We both love the physical aspect of cooking and baking and the creative challenge of developing recipes.  But we had both worked at enough high profile restaurants to know what success can bring.

Even though we were employees, we were working a lot of hours and traveling quite a bit. 

But then we found ourselves with time on our hands when the restaurant Ian was working for closed and Annabelle was on family leave from her job before the birth of our child.

We decided to try our hands at opening a sweet shop and believe it or not, thought a small shop selling primarily ice cream and a very curated selection of sweets would not be as crazy a business to run as a bakery.

We certainly didn't anticipate how successful we would be! At first customers were disappointed that we changed the ice cream offerings so much, but now they expect it and trust us to offer some quirky ice cream pairings along with the more traditional flavors.

In a way our shop is really like a restaurant in that we bake with the seasons and because  our menu changes so often.  And it is like a full service bakery in that we make all the items that go into or on top of the ice cream or become products on their own like our cookies, caramels and malt balls.  

When the shop is open we are both almost always here and that's where we want to be.  But we also want to have time for a personal life.  That's why we aren't open all the time and close when we run out of product.

We are asked all the time if we want to bring our hot fudge sauce to market or to resell our sweets such as the peanut butter malt balls or the peanut brittle and brown sugar cookies but that isn't something we want to focus on right now.  We aren't driven by making piles of money but more by the creative challenge of dreaming up new recipes as well as figuring out how to run a small business. 

Why Dogpatch?

When we first came to San Francisco in 2008 we had different ideas on where we wanted to live.  Marin was one choice as was downtown SF.  Dogpatch is a bit like both in that it is residential as well as very urban.  It is a different type of city living.

We like that it has a real neighborhood feel to it.  And in 2008 it was one of the more affordable neighborhoods in SF!

We had lunch at Kitchenette one day and started talking to neighbors about this building that we are in now.  It was a long closed former sandwich shop and was twice as big as it is now.  It also had no electricity or plumbing.  We had no plan at that time to open a shop but we talked to the landlord several times and decided to go for it.  It all worked out and we opened in May 2010.

So we live and work in Dogpatch.  We really don't know where we would go if we were forced to leave -- we like it that much!

Who is another fascinating person you have met in Dogpatch?

We have met so many!  Michael Recchiuti of Recchiuti Chocolates also has a business in this building and is like having a cool uncle around.  He is always willing to offer advice or to help out.

Our landlord, Greg Markoulis has been in Dogpatch forever and his family owns the American Industrial Building where our shop is located.  He has a lot of stories about this area and is always willing to offer business advice to us.

And Shy at Reno's Liquor Shop is a neighborhood fixture and is always in a good mood!

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

The original chocolate man of San Francisco, Joseph Schmidt, used to operate out of this building and he still drops in to see us and he brings flowers!  He enjoys visiting all the various large and small businesses and their owners in this building.  We see him about twice a month.  He is such a riot with lots of stories to tell.  The man spouts out quips as well as advice in every sentence!

What would you be doing if you weren't making ice cream and preheating the ovens?

We are doing what we love.  If would be fun to offer some classes or to host dessert only parties but this is enough for us right now.

And that name is not easy to say -- how did you pick Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous for your shop?

We wanted people to know that there was both a Mr. and a Mrs. involved in the business.  And also that customers get whatever we have that day -- a lot of miscellaneous elements -- and trust that the flavors will work out!

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