San Francisco is no easy place to open or run a restaurant, a notion that Eater has chronicled in recent years. Now as current industry players begin to grow up, there’s been a bit of an exodus as chefs look for less expensive living, and better quality of life.
Married couple Bill Niles, former co-chef of Tartine Manufactory, and Sarah Niles, manager and wine director of Outerlands, have joined of the growing number of chefs and industry folk who’ve decided to decamp to greener pastures outside the city: They’ve moved to Livermore to open a restaurant and retail space called Range Life.
“Why do it [in SF] and struggle to make things work instead of going where you can have a life?” said Niles, who moved with his wife and two-year-old daughter from a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco into a roomier house in Livermore.
Along with another married couple, Waine Longwell, of Brooklyn bar Alameda, and Lauren Heanes, a commercial set designer and Livermore native, they’re planning a neighborhood spot in an historic firehouse in the center of a thriving wine region. It’s a four-pronged approach: Bill Niles will create the menu, Sarah Niles will manage the wine list, Longwell will make cocktails, and Heanes will design the restaurant and retail component.
“I think if you’re at a point in your career where you want to be the sole person behind [a restaurant], it’s very hard in San Francisco,” said Niles. “To open and operate a restaurant, you’re going to start to rely on people who have some agenda or you’re reliant on what you can find and then everything is based off that. That’s true of most industries.”
Niles says the food will focus on seasonality, and the relationships that he’s formed with producers after years of cooking at Bay Area restaurants like St. Vincent (now closed), Kronnerburger, and Tartine Manufactory. That means vegetable-forward dishes — his creative, texturally magnificent salads were on display at Tartine Manufactory most recently — alongside comforting roasted and grilled meats.
Range Life will be a mostly all-day affair, with lunch, dinner, and bakery items. Don’t go expecting a Tartine-scale breadth of bread, though; Niles says he’s not equipped for a large-scale bakery production like his former employer.
It’ll seat 50 inside with a long bistro-style bar for drinking craft cocktails. The market portion will sell local wines, cocktail materials like bitters, and home goods curated by Heanes. There’s also an outdoor space, which Niles says will be used for smoking, grilling, and dining during the warmer months.
“This feels fresh, even though it’s an old, historic town that has things that people already enjoy,” said Niles. “They don’t need us to be here to change their lives, but there’s an opportunity here.”
Right now the team is planning an opening in February 2018; stay tuned for more details.