RUNNING A RESTAURANT — even an intimate space like Curbside Cafe at 2417 California Street, just off Fillmore — is a tall order.
And Olivier Perrier has been doing it all — from greeting and seating customers, detailing the daily specials and overseeing the kitchen — since he shifted gears two years ago from merely managing the place to owning it with his wife, Gwyneth.
“We serve breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week,” notes Perrier. “As a one-man show, it’s too much to do.”
Now he has help: Francisco Alas, an alumni of the French bistro South Park Cafe, has signed on as Curbside’s chef.
The two forged a friendship a dozen years ago while working at the restaurant Zaré in the Financial District before both moved on to spots focusing on French fare.
“But always, we stayed in touch,” says Perrier. “We celebrate Christmas together. He came over to Curbside to eat. And when I took over as owner, I knew I wanted him on my team.”
Perrier says adding Alas as a partner will free him to concentrate on running the business and planning special events, such as a mid-November Nouveau Beaujolais party.
“I’m not working less, but in a different way,” he says.
“Instead of fixing things, I’m working on improving things — a new menu, new items, lighter food, more of what my guests want.”
He’s also free to focus on doing what he loves most: engaging in tête-à-têtes with the diners.
“I want to be more available for my guests,” Perrier says in his lilting French accent. “Most people come in expecting more than a good meal — they look for conversation. I’ve been here over eight years, so I know the regulars. I’ve seen many phases of their lives. They like to come by when I’m on duty.”
He adds: “Francisco is better in the kitchen — but like any good chef, he doesn’t like to be surrounded with people.”
After only a month on the job, Alas says he already feels at home at Curbside.
“I like that it’s small and cozy,” Alas says. “I like the paintings, the colors. It looks so nice in here — and I want to be part of it. It’s small, but small places are little gold mines.”
Alas worked at South Park Cafe under chef and owner Ward Little’s wing for nearly a decade. “I would say that’s where I found my calling — the kitchen,” he says. “In the kitchen, there’s always something new to try and do.”
So he jumped at the chance to run his own restaurant kitchen, with his trusted pal Perrier at the helm. “Life is always about accepting a challenge,” Alas says philosophically. “And one like this doesn’t come every day.”
Alas says his biggest hurdle so far is coordinating the staff to work together in Curbside’s small kitchen. “But when you work as a team, like the Giants, you can be a winner,” he says.
Alas is passionate about scouting out seasonal food for the restaurant from various purveyors. “Everywhere I go, I’m thinking food, food, food,” he says.
Upcoming offerings will likely include rack of lamb. “It’s in my head. I can’t wait to try it,” Alas says. “And I want to add a bigger variety of fish to show people we don’t just sell salmon,” he says. “The sea is big.”
Already he has made some changes to Curbside’s menu, which concentrates on American comfort food with a French twist, made from fresh and free range ingredients. New offerings include apple pie a la mode, Bosq pears poached in Pinot Grigio, more roasted and sauteed vegetables, a lighter Hollandaise sauce on the signature Eggs Benedict, a change of potato to fried and mashed, chicken pan-seared and sauteed in tarragon sauce he proudly notes has sold out every day.
“People are finishing their plates,” Alas says. “I like to see that, because I watch the plates as they come back to the kitchen. It’s my way of doing a Yelp review.”
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