Valencia Street probably already hit "peak restaurant" last year, and if you believe chef and restaurateur Dennis Leary (The Sentinel, Golden West, House of Shields), so did the rest of the city. San Francisco Magazine has a long-read in their new issue in which they speak to a bevy of local players in the restaurant scene, including Leary, Marlowe/Park Tavern owner Anna Weinberg, and restaurant empire building Adriano Paganini (Beretta, Lolinda, Belga, Delarosa, Super Duper, etc.) who all say many of the same things that restaurateurs have been saying about San Francisco for years now. Basically, it's a nearly impossible place to do business, rents are going through the roof, it's impossible to hire good staff these days because no one can afford to live here, and yes your chicken entrée does have to cost $40 for all of the above reasons. Also, God help anyone who's trying to open anything this year, but also, best of luck.
Below, a few choice pull quotes.
On making sure your concept works: "Anyone who opens a restaurant needs to create a concept that is really ‘on’ in some way and isn’t marginal. Because marginal isn’t working anymore... You need to make damn sure that you’re going to be very busy at all times. Otherwise, don’t even do it."
- Adriano Paganini
On keeping prices low: "It’s about being creative. You figure out how to use ingredients that don’t cost as much but taste good. The advantage restaurants have right now is that people are willing to try anything."
- Ryan Cole, one of the owners of Hi Neighbor Hospitality, which opened the $35 prix-fixe spot Trestle to instant success last year.
On having to raise prices eventually: "There’s only so much you can cut before you raise prices. There’s no hidden thing, like, oh, we shouldn’t get garbage picked up anymore. You have to raise prices."
- Laurence Jossel, chef-owner at Nopa
Regarding the city's healthcare mandate, and that earlier scandal in which the City Attorney's Office went after restaurants that were pocketing leftover flexible spending account money at the end of the year: "So here’s the problem. I’m paying $850,000 a year to insure Tacolicious employees. I promise you that not $100,000 of that money will be used. My average employee is 26 years old and drinks enough on a nightly basis to kill any bacteria in their system... The city went on a witch hunt, basically because the government wanted money."
- Joe Hargrave, owner of Tacolicious
On the complications surrounding minimum wage mandates, and wage discrepancies: "It’s not that paying the dishwasher $19 is going to bankrupt you. It’s if you pay him $19, what are you going to pay the sous chef? That’s the part that people forget about."
- Andrew Hoffman, co-owner of Comal and The Advocate in Berkeley, where the city council has discussed raising the minimum wage to $19
Regarding how hard it is to hold on to staff right now: "I’ve had three hostesses stolen; they’re being paid $85,000 a year to be receptionists at tech companies that shall go unnamed. And by the way, I can’t tell them not to do it the lifestyle is so much better.”
-Anna Weinberg of Big Night Restaurant Group (Marlowe, Park Tavern, The Cavalier, Leo's Oyster Bar)
Regarding fast-casual concepts and the rise of delivery apps: "If we have a team of cooks prepping an order for 100, they can serve them with less labor hours than three employees at the register can serve 100 people. It’s not glamorous, but it’s an adjustment. If you’re a restaurateur today and not using the hundreds of apps available to you, then, for many reasons, you’re behind."
- Matt Semmelhack, co-owner of AQ and Bon Marché, and the upcoming fast-casual FiDi pita bar, Sababa.
On how East Coast restaurateurs are all suddenly clamoring to expand here: "From the national-press standpoint, San Francisco looks like the gold rush again. People want to get in. But I don’t think they’ve done the due diligence for how expensive it is to operate in a city like this."
- Dennis Leary
More on why your dinners are just going to keep getting more expensive: "[Customers are] going to have to stop asking us to subsidize their lifestyle. You’re going to have to pay double for your steak if you want to live in this fabulous city. I can’t absorb it anymore."
- Anna Weinberg
On still being hopeful that you can make it as a first-time restaurateur: "The fact that I’m opening a tasting menu-style restaurant with no tipping scares the hell out of me. Not because I don’t think we’ll be amazing, but will I be able to fill my restaurant every night, or will someone bill me as a special-occasion place? Should I just open a burger-and-pizza joint and have roast chicken on the menu?... [But] I want to experience owning my own restaurant in San Francisco. For me, the struggle’s worth it."
- Kim Alter, former Haven and Plum chef, who's set to open her first SF restaurant Nightbird in Hayes Valley any month now