SF restaurateurs head south to suburban $$

SF restaurateurs head south to suburban $$ – restaurant consulting; San Francisco, California

Alan Liddle

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — At first glance the remodeled dining room might seem like the biggest change at newly reopened Club XIX at the Lodge at Pebble Beach.

On closer inspection, however, the squiggly addendum at the bottom of the restaurant’s signage informs knowledgeable diners that the repositioning is more involved. It reads “Inspired by Hubert Keller.” During the past few months, Keller, chef and co-owner of San Francisco’s highly acclaimed Fleur de Lys, has helped Lodge management reshape the fine-dining restaurant in exchange for an upfront fee and a percentage of the take. He will continue to visit the site regularly to meet with guests and work with executive chef Lisa Magadini to refine the menu and foster a style of preparation reflective of Fleur de Lys.

And while Keller’s connection to Club XIX is represented in small type on signs, his involvement in the Central Coast operation is part of a larger ongoing trend that finds noted San Francisco operators moving south to affluent suburbs in search of new opportunities.

Among the veteran players who have followed the southern migratory route in recent months:

* Chef Bradley Ogden and Michael Dellar, proprietors of One Market Restaurant in San Francisco and the Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, Calif. The two recently opened a second Lark Creek Cafe in San Mateo, Calif., a suburb about 20 minutes’ drive by car from San Francisco.

The first Lark Creek Cafe, which opened in July 1995 in Walnut Creek, Calif., seats about 110 people and generated first-year sales exceeding $3 million, Dellar said.

* John Cunin, managing partner and creator of Cypress Club and 2223 in San Francisco and Gate Five in Sausalito, Calif. His new management company recently began construction in Palo Alto, Calif., on a “high-quality neighborhood bar-bistro” with the working name Lexi.

Scheduled to open in October, the new restaurant will seat about 130 people, and its American menu will be priced to generate average checks of about $25 at dinner, Cunin said.

* Keith Belling, Tim Harmon and Jon Swanson, the lead investor-operators behind partnerships with Paragon Bar & Grill units in San Francisco and Seattle. The three men and other partners, including Peter Royce, are projecting first-year sales of $1.8 million or better at their 10-month-old Tavern Grill in Burlingame, Calif.

Tavern Grill and Paragon Bar & Grill feature bars with live reggae, jazz, rock and blues music Sunday through Wednesday and small dinner-only restaurants serving eclectic menus of foods such as venison-and-mozzarella-topped pizza, $9; grilled rare ahi sandwich with wasabi aioli, $11.50; and oven-roasted pork chops with creamed corn, smothered escarole, roasted apple and pan juices, $13.50.

* Fazol “Faz” Poursohi, a Lettuce Entertain You and Spectrum Foods alumnus who struck out on his own in the mid-’80s and now owns five Mediterranean restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. He opened his newest outlet late last year adjacent to the Four Points Hotel by Sheraton in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Other San Francisco operators who have successfully wielded secondary suburban concepts in other parts of the Bay Area said they are looking for sites along the peninsula south of the city. Among them is Roland Passot of San Francisco’s La Folie, who, with partner Ed Levine, two years ago opened a casual French concept called Left Bank in Larkspur, a suburb north of San Francisco.

Passot said he and Levine are ready to clone high-volume Left Bank — a lunch-and-dinner concept with a full-day average check of about $23 — and they are quite interested in the peninsula.

“When you go to Palo Alto or Menlo Park, you get a feeling of a neighborhood,” Passot said of two affluent peninsula cities. “Locals seem to want to support restaurants and have the money to do it. There is a strong sense of family, and we had the idea from the start to make Left Bank a family-oriented restaurant.”

Belling of the Tavern Grill said he likes being situated in Burlingame because it lies between two recognized dining destinations: San Francisco and Palo Alto.

“It was a large market area underserved by people doing what we do,” Belling remarked. “People in the area who wanted the sort of experience we provide previously had to drive all the way to Palo Alto or San Francisco.”

Cunin said Palo Alto called to him as “a high-quality market that can absorb [Lexi] … a market not served in the niche I’m proposing to occupy.”

However, not all San Francisco concepts have held up well on the trip south.

Reed Hearon, a creative force behind the wildly popular Restaurant LuLu, Cafe Marimba and Rose Pistola — all in San Francisco — recently sold a clone of Cafe Marimba located in Burlingame. And further south, in Palo Alto — the home of Stanford University and arguably the hottest peninsula restaurant market — a licensed version of Jeremiah Tower’s Stars has had its ups and downs.

Nonetheless, operators, continue to look to the south. Keller said he was lured to Pebble Beach by an old associate: Pebble Beach Resorts president John Chadwell, who was in management at a Brazilian hotel where Keller worked in the early ’80s. The chef-restaurateur said that apart from presenting him with an opportunity to work again with Chadwell, who is known to be passionate about good food and wine and willing to commit the resources needed to deliver them, the Pebble Beach deal was of interest because Club XIX is situated a desirable distance from San Francisco amid some of California’s most scenic coastline.

Fleur de Lys and Club XIX “are not close enough to compete with each other,” Keller explained. “But if there is a problem, or they need me there for any reason, I can drive down in two and a half hours. That means I can be there and back at Fleur de Lys the same day.”

“The last thing I wanted,” Keller stressed, “was a venture that would pull me away too often or for too long from Fleur de Lys.”

Chadwell, in a move that makes him look smarter by the day, last year convinced East-West specialist Roy Yamaguchi to license a branch of his international Roy’s chain to another Pebble Beach property, the Inn at Spanish Bay. The Pebble Beach Roy’s has become quite popular with diners, some local competitors reported.

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