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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Interview With Original Joe's John Duggan: How to Build a Phoenix

Posted By on Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge The wall of photos at the rebuilt Original Joe's. - LARA HATA
  • Lara Hata
  • The wall of photos at the rebuilt Original Joe's.

John Duggan, who owns Original Joe's with his sister Elena, are the grandchildren of the 75-year-old restaurant's founder, Ante (Tony) Rodin. The Duggans managed a feat practically unheard of in the restaurant business. After Original Joe's original Taylor Street location suffered a major fire in 2007, it was closed for almost five years -- and then reopened in a different neighborhood, to immediate success. In preparation for my restaurant review of Original Joe's, published this week, I spoke to John.

SFoodie: How did you decide to move the restaurant rather than reopen the Taylor Street location?

There was a division among the family. I was thinking about the move while the building was burning, but my mom was intent on staying at the original location. It was two years after the fire before we committed to leave. Insurance issues, and everything that goes with that, held us up from deciding anything for a while.

How did you decide on North Beach?

After 70 years on Taylor Street, I thought it was important to go to a neighborhood with a lot of character and connection to San Francisco history. North Beach has the city aspect and the Italian aspect. It's a dynamic area, and it was only a matter of time before it was turning around. I wanted to be there for the transformation and not come afterward.

Tony's [Pizza Napoletana] gave me the confidence to do what I did. I saw the volume of people walking into his restaurant every day, and knew that they would come to North Beach.

How much of the décor were you able to bring over from the old place?

We were vigilant about saving everything we possibly could: the counter stools, the bar stools, the dropped-wood ceiling from our bar, the door handles, the mermaids. The bricks from the foundation of the bar -- we turned them into a fireplace. The mural of the martini above the bar entrance. There are a lot of details that Joe's customers will recognize.

How much of the menu did you end up changing, or was it more the provenance of the ingredients?

The menu's very similar to the menu we've always had. A little smaller, really, because with everything that goes with a reopening, we wanted to make sure we weren't taking on too much. We wanted to nail down our classics before we branched out. But it's 90 percent the same.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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