Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.
[Photo: Aubrie Pick]
Park Tavern is the sparkling Washington Square Park-bordering restaurant opened by the fine ladies of Marlowe, Anna Weinberg and chef Jennifer Puccio, exactly one year ago. Chron critic Michael Bauer embraced the restaurant early on (He loved the chicken.), and the general public seemed to follow, packing the bar and communal tables up at the front of the restaurant on a nightly basis. Eater recently chatted with the owners about the secrets to their success, the stumbling blocks (there weren't many, apparently), and what's in store for the year ahead.
One year in, did things turn out how you expected?
Anna Weinberg: Better. You know what's funny? You go into these things really excited, but a little bit blindly. Of course we hope that all the people that had been super loyal and loved us at Marlowe would come across town and somehow multiply. What I didn't realize was how underserved this neighborhood was—[it] especially [needed] a big bar. There wasn't really a gathering place for the residents. I also heard that North Beach was a tough neighborhood, so I was surprised by how kind and embracing our neighbors were. I've done a lot of openings and I've had some nightmare openings, and this was as good as an opening gets.
How would you say it compares running a restaurant here and in SoMa?
Jenn Puccio: I think the main difference between the two restaurants isn't the clientele or the business, it's just the size of the two restaurants.
AW: That's so funny, because I was going to say the clientele, but from your side of the fence, it would be the size. For me, it's staff that's so much more challenging with a big restaurant. I know who my clients are at Marlowe every single day. We get a lot more tourists here. I think Marlowe is truly a neighborhood restaurant for SoMa.
What was the biggest surprise this year? Any curveballs?
AW: How busy we are!
JP: I was going to say that we just keep getting busier. I kind of thought that when we first opened, and then we got the review, and we started to get progressively busier and busier, that it would stop.
AW: I've been surprised at how many regulars we've had for a restaurant this big. My delight is the amount of regulars that come three times a week. So it gives a bit of that same intimate feeling I have with Marlowe. I love the salty old North Beach bachelors. I thrive on regulars, as a restaurateur.
How about the menu? Most restaurants have major tweaks in the beginning. How was that for you guys?
JP: It's a constant evolution. And it's really about catering to the diners we have and the regulars as we start to make them, and seeing what sells consisently.
AW: We added a lot of seafood and fish, that would be a significant thing from the beginning. We're the little butcher shop at Marlowe. We've got a lot more ladies that lunch here and we realize that we need more fish, and now it's quite fish heavy. When you're a bigger restaurant, you know, it's just the two of us so we're in a little bubble, and we'll both like something, but then 500 people will be like, you guys suck! What we thought would go down great: quite a lot of the times we're right, some of the time we're not.
What are some of the things you can't take off your menu?
JP: The chicken, the deviled eggs, the brussels sprout chips. We keep opening new meal periods, and if those don't somehow appear on the new menus, we're going to hear it.
AW: [Laughing] Jennifer keeps telling me when we open a new restaurant, I'm not having deviled eggs on the menu.
They're great from a cost standpoint thought, right?
AW: Ours our fancy. But it's not filet mignon. People come in here for brunch, and I personally can't think of anything more gross for breakfast than a deviled egg. I love them but I don't want them first thing in the morning. You just don't know what people are going to want in droves.
What did you have to get rid of?
AW: It's not really a charcuterie crowd. We had charcuterie on here for a while, and eh, it sold ok. You know, the ladies that lunch don't really do that. There's a real restaurant culture of charcuterie, but not quite with this crowd. Every other category, people responded well to. It was tweaking rather than changing.
What's your average clientele like?
AW: I feel like we get three different kind of clients. You know we're not close enough to the Financial District to get a super super suity afterwork crowd, but we get the neighbors after work. And then in the middle we really do have kind of everybody, it's a little bit sceney. Not so many of the younger hipster types we tend to get at Marlowe. You know, we're nowhere near the Mission.
JP: Right and a lot of it is tech people at Marlowe.
AW: We have all the tech movers and shakers in here at Park Tavern. You know, we have Marlowe's clientele's bosses in here. That's what we have.
Would you ever open a restaurant in the Mission?
AW: I would never say never to anything. Jen and I probably would have said we would never have opened a restaurant in North Beach. We fell in love with the space. I turned around and looked at the park and all the other things about North Beach went away. I was like, are you kidding me? It's gorgeous. And she was like, I love it! Also I never really spent much time in this neighborhood and it has a great feeling. It reminds me of when I lived in New York, you have your neighborhood. People are proud of this neighborhood. I live in SoMa and I don't feel neighborhoody in SoMa.
How is your interaction with other restaurants in the area?
AW: We have a great relationship with the Duggans over at Original Joe's. We love their family. They're adorable. Especially since we opened around the same time and were going through a lot of the same things. Tony is great. He comes in here all the time.
JP: Don Pistos.
AW: There's carnitas upstairs from Don Pistos right now. We'll go there after a crazy night.
JP: Yeah, the kitchen is really hooked on Tony's pizza. We'll get it after a bad shift. Also Sotto Mare.
AW: The sand dabs! Sotto Mare has great sand dabs. When we opened, we ate a lot of pizza from Tony's when we had no kitchen. I mean really it was an everyday thing. I don't think I can do it anymore. This whole place smelled like Tony's.
Were you aware when the critics were in?
JP: We were here every day for the first four months.
What was your plan of attack?
AW: Don't fuck it up. Seriously don't fuck it up, and don't have anybody working here that might fuck it up. You have to be here every single day. Training. Everything is training. Don't think you can do it alone. Your little soldiers have to be really well trained.
How do you keep your staff together and unified?
AW: Try to minimize turnover. Try to keep your management staff happy and well-paid. Energetic. Feeling like there's room for them to grow. I'm so happy with our management team right now. They're young, and they're really invested, and they're proud. You have to find people that want to be in this industry. They're probably all crazy and want to open their own restaurant.
Jenn, what about the kitchen?
JP: It takes a little while to build a good team in the kitchen. When you first open a restaurant and you get random people that happen to walk by or see your add on Craigslist; and then to put them together into a team that works well together is almost impossible. What you need to do is cut the people that don't work and over time you build a culture of people that know what they're doing and care about the food and understand the taste. After a year in, I can say I'm completely happy with my kitchen team. I'm very proud of them.
AW: We've had the same three main cooks—that we actually just promoted—that we've had since day one in the kitchen. Jenn creates a great culture.
I've heard some men say they like to work with women in the kitchen. Do you have any opinion about the balance or battle of the sexes in the kitchen?
JP: I like to keep it about 50/50. I think the testosterone levels get kept in check if there are females around. I think it evens the playing field, keeps things calm. I think it's important to have both. The way I like to run my kitchen is very calm, very respectful, not a lot of bullshit and joking around. I have a couple strong women around and it's an evening factor.
You two seem to compliment each other well as business owners. How did you guys meet?
AW: A friend of ours took my husband and I to a birthday dinner at Cortez, and we had this fucking unbelievable meal. A week later I heard that it closed, and I was getting ready to shut South down and retool with Marlowe and I thought about meeting her to feel her out. It literally took me so long to find her. When a restaurant shuts, people disappear. Eventually I reached her through someone at the Adagio, and I asked if she would want to come work with me for a couple months as we were winding down South and see if we gelled. On one meal, it was a pretty big leap, but it was a fucking good meal. I knew the flavor sensibility was what I was going for.
How do you stay inspired through all the chaos?
AW: We're in a great position now. Restauraters that I admire have always told me we have to do this, and I was never able, but we just took a trip to London for six days and it was fucking amazing. I think you have to get out of your comfort zone and eating together. You know, I love going out to eat with my husband, but it's different going out with Jenn because we treat it like a really intensive workshop. It's different from going out in your own home town. You've got to get away, and far enough away that you can't go back to the restaurant. We have trouble getting time together, so that's how we do it.
What do you have on tap for year two?
AW: God knows. There's definitely the sophomore year where you've got to keep it really tight. We've got to keep working with our team. Right now, every day there's always room for improvement.
JP: Keep tightening it up, making better food, making service better.
AW: We're trying to grow our events business. We'd like to start doing special little dinners at Marlowe. In fact, we've got one coming up with Donkey and Goat.
JP: Now that we've got great teams, it allows us to do more things, to step out of the day-to-day and make it more exciting.
AW: Like lunch, for example, Jen takes the kitchen staff to the farmers market every Thursday in Marin now and we do a special Friday lunch menu. They're learning so much.
JP: It's fun for them to meet the purveyors. We also bring our bar manager and he gets ingredients too for the seasonal martinis.
Where's your next trip?
AW: Chicago or LA. I think LA. Neither one of us have spent a huge amount of time there. If we go back to London, we'll need to rob a bank.
· All Park Tavern Coverage [~ ESF ~]