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.

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