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Original Joe's John Duggan: On Senators, VIPS, & Vegans

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This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of San Francisco's hottest tables.

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[Photo: Aubrie Pick]

San Francisco mourned the loss of 75-year-old Original Joe's for five years before it made a comeback in January of this year. Founded in 1937, the vestige from the past has a sexy, yet stately new look at its current address on the corner of Washington Square Park, but it's still run by the original founder's grandchildren. One of them, John Duggan is the cool and collected face at the host stand on almost every night of the week. Going on month five, the joint has quickly become a regular hang-out for Mayoral types like Ed Lee and Willie Brown, and the critics have swooned, calling it a "reinvented classic," and "quintessential San Francisco." We recently asked Duggan what it's like getting a table these days.

7:30 p.m. on a Sat. night, what's the wait for a table? The weekends are crazy!!! 7:30 on a Saturday night, the wait is around 90 minutes!!

Is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter? As new 49er Randy Moss would say..."straight cash homie."

What's the longest wait you've ever seen? The longest wait, besides us taking 4 and a half years to reopen...would be around 2 and a half hours....the first few weekends we had so many old customers coming back at once, it was a like a really big family party. We poured a lot of champange to patient and understanding customers. It was very humbling.

How would you describe your clientele? What makes Joe's so unique is our clientele—no doubt the most diverse, loyal, and unpredictable in the City. Now, more than ever, every night brings a surprise...one night it could be a United States Senator, the next night it could be the Hells Angels. That is what makes us who we are.

As the new hot shot in North Beach, you've surely been offered gifts or cash in exchange for reservations or a table. What have people tried? You dont want to know!!

Tell us about your favorite customers. Favorite customers is a tough one! We have counter customers, bar customers, dinner and lunch...each area and service has its own characters and legends. Diane and Brian Campbell from The Candy Store in San Francisco are in the conversation for sure—loyal to the end, carry overs from Taylor St. They named us their favorite restaurant in the City in numerous publications...total rock stars...and can cure any sugar jones one might have.

Who are your VIPS, and how do you deal with them when there are no tables to give? All of our customers are VIPS...but when you bring your own security detail, we always think that is fun. Mayor Ed Lee is our number 1 at the moment. I always think the City is in good hands when the Mayor is being fueled by liver and onions and a Joe's Special. Former Mayor Willie Brown is another one. His energy and personality always electrifies the dining room. Mary Etta Moose, North Beach legend, can also light up the restaurant with her conversation and laughter—a truly delightful lady.

What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've ever had to accomodate? A non alcohol drinking, gluten-free Vegan with a hostile attitude....its happened and its scary!!

Where are you eating when you're not at Original Joe's? At the moment, there is no time away from the restaurant, but I dream of Taiwain Restaurant on 6th and Clement. The won ton soup and homemade pot stickers are total comfort on a foggy day in San Francisco.

Were there any reviews or write-ups that led to significant bump in service, or a change in type of clientele? San Francisco is such a foodie town, so every review and blog counts, and each one bring new customers to the restaurant, which can
lead to intense and pressure-filled nights. It is much like a basketball game, where every move counts. Sometimes you are on defense, sometimes on offense, but always trying to win the service.

At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to get your job done? There is not one tool, but a combination of confidence, patience, preparation, and humor. Working the door is a daily chess game: an essential aspect of ensuring guest satisfaction, and not to be done hungover.

Last but not least, what's the must-order thing on the menu right now? If you have not tried our cheeseburger, you are missing out on a true San Francisco treasure. It's been made the same way for 75 years.

· All Original Joe's Coverage [~ ESF ~]

Original Joe's

601 Union Street, San Francisco, CA

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