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Side Dish 

Flash in the Pan, One Hand Clapping, Open and Shut, The Wading Pool

Wednesday, Oct 20 1999
Flash in the Pan
Has San Francisco finally reached restaurant saturation point? I mean, you can only spend so much of your money and time on food and the dining experience, right? This last week saw the premature and unexpected closing of not one, but two new restaurant projects -- Restaurant Marais and the Gramercy Grill. Each spot had its own cross to bear: Marais was roundly spanked by the critics for its lackluster food, while Gramercy, despite great reviews, just couldn't fulfill the promise of another era, when Vanessi's was in its location. But neither restaurant should have folded just because of a few setbacks.

Sure, it's fun to dish about some brand new business venture going flat before it even rolls, but this spate of failures should make working restaurateurs -- and the seemingly thousands of wannabes who crowd our bars -- check themselves before taking that next step. Of the plenitude of dining rooms in our fair city, how many are actually making money? How many are full on a Tuesday night? How many rely primarily on tourists to fill their seats? And how many restaurants are enough restaurants?

One Hand Clapping
School's back in session and the Sony Playground is showing signs of strain. The oh-so-modern Montage was practically empty when I lunched there last week, and the arcades echoed with the sounds of silence. Staffing in the food court has also been pared back...

Open and Shut
Venerable and consistently "okay" Fillmore breakfast spot Pauli's closed a few weeks back with nary a squeak. Regular customers strolled down for their usual omelets and O.J. and discovered a locked door and an interior in a state of disarray.

Meanwhile, Pinxtos, the designer Spanish house on Valencia, is now open for lunch Tuesday through Sunday. Drop in for some afternoon paella and rioja delight.

The Wading Pool
Everyone in the business looked up from the Sunday paper and said "Amen" a few weeks back when they saw Patricia Unterman's incisive article in the Ex Mag about the lack of good kitchen workers in the city. Seems she struck a vein of truth with her observation that the insane cost of living in San Francisco has caused an exodus of blue collar workers, including (no surprise) those in the food industry.

Mary "Tante Marie" Risley expanded on the subject in a later Chronicle article: "The educated-kids-going-into-kitchens isn't happening anymore. They realize they can't make money. There's a whole generation of youngsters... who don't know that the wine glass goes over here and the bread and butter plate there."

Well, the same 10-inch Wusthof cuts through the front of the house too, where you've got a bunch of artists or whatnots working the bar and tables, very few of whom would define themselves as "restaurant professionals," or the preferred term, "lifers." They are in most cases making a whole lot of relatively easy cash with a minimum of responsibility (and, to be fair, a decided lack of security as well). As a result, the management pool, mostly a group of ex-waiters and hopeful owners, is left to run herd on what is basically a crew of temp workers -- generally while making less money than the employees and working far longer hours. Understandably, the management pool in the city's restaurants is a shallow one, and every time a new shop opens up, it dries up a little more.

I don't have the answers, but... may I please talk to your manager?

Know something Harry doesn't? E-mail and sweep the dirt out from under the rug.

About The Author

Harry Coverte


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