There’s a topic beloved among avid restaurant-goers, one that can reliably elicit horror stories, cringey memories, or otherwise surprisingly strong opinions. It’s not menu or decor, but restaurant bathrooms, of course. In extreme cases, a restaurant’s bathroom can dramatically detract from an otherwise good experience — who wants to eat somewhere you wouldn’t want to use the restroom? (Dive bars excluded.) At the other end of the spectrum, a good bathroom can be indicative of thoughtfulness and good judgment on the part of the owners.
Now, for the eager bathroom-judgers among us, a new Bay Area-centric award will honor the best. With “the Best Toilet Award of the Bay,” brothers Justin and Jonathan Hoong are on a quest to recognize the area’s best toilet spaces in food and hospitality, and they’re taking it seriously. If it sounds silly, the brothers don’t see it that way. Justin Hoong says the refreshingly earnest awards aim to recognize “all the toilet spaces of our community, that have always been one of the most important parts of a hospitality setting.”
“Especially in the current rise of hygienic awareness, toilet spaces are no longer just for flushing away the waste but are the lungs of a restaurant, a hotel, and any commercial setting that keep the entire structures rejuvenating,” Hoong says. And while the goal of the award is, essentially, to promote good bathrooms, it’s also about the people behind them. “The ultimate goal is to raise public awareness on hygiene and to appreciate the hospitality community of the Bay Area” — Hoong specifically mentions those who work in “inns, community centers, and public parks,” in addition to restaurants and bars.
The brothers live in Napa Valley, where they work on their separate but related nonprofit, Open Restaurant Help Lives, and are students in culinary school. In their short time in Napa, Hoong says they’ve grown very fond of the community, particularly “the people that continuously provide a warm, welcoming service for so many.”
That fondness is part of the inspiration behind the award. Hoong says they feel an award recognizing special toilet spaces would help the community — “Not only to recognize the spaces themselves but to help the public be more aware of all that goes into maintaining the toilet space.” They were also inspired by their own experience in food service, Hoong says, and their desire to see more people engage with or enter the industry. “We hope that the award can serve a little part in bringing more people to the culinary field and creating more opportunities for them,” Hoong says.
Residents and visitors can nominate restrooms and washrooms in restaurants, hotels, and other commercial settings in the Bay Area — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, Sonoma, and San Francisco counties — through December 5, 2021; and those who submit nominations are automatically entered for a chance to win prizes. A volunteer committee will then select 12 finalists — a committee, Hoong says, that’s made up of mostly retirees “who are also passionate about service in the Bay Area” and have backgrounds in either hospitality or public health. From there, the public will vote on winners in six categories: Best Cleanliness, Best Creativity, Best Family-Friendly, Best of 5 Senses, Best Positivity, and Best of Napa Valley.
For the categories, the brothers picked traits they feel “defines a toilet space the most,” Hoong says, like cleanliness and design, but also “the essence of the space, including accessibility, all five senses, and overall positivity,” which is Hoong’s personal favorite category.
All funds generated from sponsorships or otherwise will go to the brothers’ nonprofit, Open Restaurant Help Lives, Hoong says, which they started in August. The goal is to open an “educational restaurant” that hires retirees and students, a restaurant Hoong says they are in the early stages of developing. In recent years, Hoong says he and his brother have met students who were interested and talented in culinary arts but faced “challenges or doubts” in their education and career, as well as “retirees who love to share their signature dishes.” That’s why they want to create a professional, full-service restaurant where food industry retirees and students can work together — and earn salaries.
“I personally care about the feeling of stepping into a restroom or a washroom, the reminder to spend some time taking care of myself,” Hoong says. “The comfort of a space knowing that anyone, regardless of age or ability, can enjoy its hygienic and safe environment.” Doesn’t sound so silly anymore, does it?
To submit your nomination for best toilet in the Bay Area, see here.