TULLY’S COFFEE has closed, leaving the corner of Fillmore and Jackson without a coffeehouse for the first time in decades. Filmmaker Erika Tetur chronicles the final days.
NICK NICKOLAS got his first restaurant job in Oakland in 1955 at a very fine restaurant called Villa de la Paix. He went on to a six-decade career in which he opened more than 30 restaurants nationwide — most notably his Nick’s Fishmarkets in Honolulu, Beverly Hills, Chicago, Miami and other cities. Then he came home to the Bay Area and retired.
Or so he thought.
“So I’m back in the Bay Area,” says Nickolas, “and my nephew asks me to come over and take a look at his operation,” Dino & Santino’s, the neighborhood pizza joint at Fillmore and California owned by longtime local Dino Stavrakikis. “Before I realize it, three years have passed and I’m still coming over.”
Uncle Nick, as he’s become known to Dino’s regulars, has brought a touch of the big-time to the neighborhood, with his flashy clothes, toothy smile and smooth manner.
“Sometimes you can’t get enough of this business,” he says. “When it becomes a big part of your life it’s no longer work, but a way for you to express a love of hospitality.”
Family-friendly Dino’s is a considerable contrast to the high-flying restaurants Nickolas ran for most of his career.
“My restaurants were mainly white tablecloth with tuxedoed waiters — fancy and expensive,” he says. “But price doesn’t change hospitality. If you spend $10 or $10,000, the hospitality should not change.”
Dino was already in the process of remodeling and upgrading his corner spot at the heart of the neighborhood, and his Uncle Nick helped him up his game.
“There’s a new menu and new decor,” says Nickolas, “but the same good food and the same attitude. Dino and Santino’s fits into the Fillmore in a unique way — and it’s one of the few remaining family-run businesses.”
He adds: “Food is not what the guests remember, but the way they were treated. A good waiter can save a mediocre meal, but bad hospitality can sink the entire experience altogether. Were you greeted properly? Were you seated in a timely fashion? Were you thanked on the way out? If you were, the food tasted better — period.”
Dino is not the only old friend Nickolas has reconnected with since he came back home to the Bay Area. Through Facebook, he also got back in touch with Judy Steinberg, a friend he met for the first time in 1968. Their initial romance turned into a friendship that lasted on and off for 45 years. Now it’s back on again, and they are engaged — and working together on a website and a new book they’re calling Sexy at 70: It’s Never Too Late! (The Judy and Nick Story).
Read more: “Sexy at 70”
By Chris Barnett
SMITTEN, a made-to-order ice cream venture that opened its first shop in a converted shipping container in Hayes Valley, is scooping up the small space recently vacated by Copynet at 2404 California Street.
Copynet relocated to 2174 Sutter Street at the end of September as its 20-year lease was about to expire and the rent was to increase by $4,000 a month.
Selling just four to six flavors of ice cream at any one time, Smitten’s founder, Robyn Sue Fisher, is in the final stages of signing a lease with the landlord, Russell Flynn of Flynn Investments. The longtime San Francisco property investor owns the venerable Preston Apartments on the corner of Fillmore and California, which includes six street-level storefronts.
Flynn hoped to rent the 960-square-foot storefront on California Street to Wells Fargo Bank as a limited service branch filled with automated teller machines. Wells Fargo, which theoretically could easily pay the $10 to $12 per square foot asking price for monthly rent, is in a dispute with the city over claims its two ATMs embedded in the exterior wall of the bank building facing California Street violate local disability codes because the sidewalk is too steep.
But the deal fell through.
Flynn said he approached First Republic, his longtime bank, with a similar offer but was turned down.
SALOONS | CHRIS BARNETT
A fresh wave of happiness is flooding Fillmore as boulevard bars and restaurants are pouring newly discounted drinks and offering bargain-priced appetizers during afternoon happy hours. Some thirst parlors are more generous than others.
By Chris Barnett
DID YOU HEAR the one about the architect in a cab on Union Street who realized he was short of money? “Pull over at Perry’s; they’ll cash a check,” he told the cabbie. “Wait here,” he said to his date. “I’ll be right out.”
As he walked in, barkeep Michael McCourt yelled “Hey Russ, the usual?” and poured him a stiff one. Another regular came over. “Hey Russ, good to see you. Let me buy you a drink.” Another pal waved from down the bar. “Next one’s on me.”
Ten years later, the architect, Russell Gifford, was perched on his favorite stool at Perry’s and his date from that night walked in the door. He saw her in the backbar mirror, turned around and cracked: “I thought I told you to wait in the cab.”
The top bartenders in town — who worked at Perry’s at some point in their careers — are still telling that one. Yet this month on the 45th anniversary of the Union Street thirst parlor and restaurant bearing his name, you would never hear that tale told by the proprietor, Perry Butler. He’s too much of a gentleman.
In a city where barrooms have morphed from brawling whiskey and beer joints in canvas tents to temples staffed by high priests of the shot glass who dub themselves cocktailians and mixologists, Perry’s on Union stands alone as San Francisco’s last great saloon.
PLANS HAVE BEEN UNVEILED to demolish the Shell station at 2501 California Street and replace it with a new high-end convenience store called Loop.
“Loop is the next evolution in service station retail,” said Nick Goyal, one of California’s largest operators of Shell service stations, who now controls the local station and more than 100 others. During the past year he has opened six Loop stores at Shell stations in the Bay Area, with more on the way.
Loop stores offer groceries and fresh foods along with wine, espresso, smoothies, frozen yogurt, sushi and a soup and salad bar. “It will change your expectation of what you can purchase at your next fill-up,” Goyal said.
Shell Auto Repair would be eliminated and the fuel pumps reconfigured and rebuilt, if the project is approved by the city.
EARLIER: “50 years at the Shell station“
FIRST PERSON | Arthur Stone
ROAMING THE NEIGHBORHOOD as a boy in the 1940s, I searched for small critters to join the ranks of the quacking, barking and croaking things my mother barely tolerated in her home.
Today my nose leads the way as I wander about gathering things for our evening meal. My wife marvels at her good fortune to have a husband who cooks — who actually loves to cook. Even the postal carrier has been spotted at the door slot, enjoying an olfactory break.
Before Spice Ace moved in around the corner at 1821 Steiner Street, I was more of a beans and weenies guy, but always wanting a tastier meal. (I did manage to get my wife’s attention with my mother’s salmon croquettes, however.) An enticing sign finally led me in the direction of the new neighborhood spice shop.
The go-to guy there, Ed, loves Mexican flavors; I want the oxtail dishes of my childhood. Out of that discussion came the idea of oxtail chili. My first attempt was too salty. Ed suggested I throw in a potato. Bingo — it worked.
I’ve gone into the shop several times to ask technical cooking questions. Spice Ace owner Olivia has explained how to use canola oil safely. Aces Louise and Susan seem to read my mind as I enter the store, handing me just the spices I need.
Dinnertime is the best time of the day in our home. My wife is a sucker for salmon, and I am still a sucker for oxtail chili. Do we still have beans and weenies? You bet. But these days, I add a neighborhood touch: Spice Ace’s barbecue seasoning.
EARLIER: “Marco Polo comes to the Fillmore”
By Laura Werlin
WHEN THEY CREATED the Cowgirl Creamery in 1997, Sue Conley and Peggy Smith sold their cheeses exclusively at farmers markets and out of their barn in Point Reyes Station. But their focus at the time on making fresh cheeses with inherently short shelf lives — fromage blanc, quark, crème fraîche and cottage cheese — meant they had to sell them quickly, a tricky prospect given their remote location.
They knew most chefs would not make the foray out to Point Reyes to taste cheese, and soon realized they’d have to bring the cheese to the chefs. So they decided to open a store in San Francisco — and in October 1999 they opened Artisan Cheese just off Fillmore Street at 2413 California, in what had long been the California Street Creamery.
In doing so, they made a connection that would extend from West Marin and Sonoma County into San Francisco and far beyond.
“The Fillmore was such a great neighborhood,” says Peggy Smith. “It was such a crossroads of people. The California Street Creamery was there, and we thought, ‘Well, this could be a good place.’ ”
Smith and Conley had recruited respected San Francisco restaurant public relations professional Eleanor Bertino and native San Francisco food writer Peggy Knickerbocker to help them search for a San Francisco location for a cheese shop. The Fillmore got their unanimous vote.
They converted the tiny 400-square-foot space into Artisan Cheese, a well-stocked but intimate space. With enough room for just two employees and a little space for customers, buying cheese there was a personal experience. Customers were invariably offered tastes of cheeses before buying, were educated about the cheeses’ provenance and gained exposure to a lot of cheeses they hadn’t known. A bonus for some — and maybe a little off-putting to the uninitiated — was the co-mingling of cheese aromas, the inevitable byproduct of the riot of cheeses on the counter and in the case.
For Peggy Smith, it provided an invaluable education.
“It was the best job I ever had,” she says. “It was fun talking with people, having them taste. I got really close to the cheeses we sold. It was a learning opportunity for me as well as the customers.”
In 2005 their California Street lease was up and a significant rent raise was in the offing. By then, the newly revamped Ferry Building was thriving, as was the Cowgirl Creamery outpost they had opened there — among the first four businesses to sign up, along with Acme Bread, Peet’s Coffee and McEvoy Olive Oil. So they decided to close Artisan Cheese and concentrate on the Ferry Building.
A visit to the Ferry Building confirms their business decision. For Fillmore turophiles, though, their departure was bittersweet. But even if the one-on-one buying experience and the cheese aromas in their tiny California Street shop are long gone, many of the Cowgirl Creamery cheeses are still available just down the block at Mollie Stone’s.
Laura Werlin, a neighborhood resident, is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on cheese and the author of six books on the subject, including The All American Cheese and Wine Book and Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials.
Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, owners of Cowgirl Creamery, will return to the neighborhood to talk about cheesemaking and their new book, Cowgirl Creamery Cooks — and to offer a guided cheese tasting — on February 25 at 7 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center at 3200 California Street.
Appearing with them will be Albert Straus, president and owner of the Straus Family Creamery in Point Reyes Station, whose organic milk the cowgirls use to make many of their cheeses.
WHAT BEGAN as a brainstorming session among bar room buddies about what the neighborhood needed most has just come to life: its newest eatery, Presidio Pizza Co.
Chef Frank Bumbalo recently partnered with Kevin Kynoch and John Miles, who own the Fishbowl, the popular watering hole two doors south, to transform the former Frankie’s Bohemian Cafe on the corner of Divisadero and Pine.
“We’re here every day. We live and work here. We know what the neighborhood needs: a casual place where people can get a good slice,” says Bumbalo, who lives and manages a building just blocks away from the new pizza parlor.
“We really love the neighborhood and the people here,” he adds, “but it’s not always a family-friendly place.” Bumbalo wants to change that by creating a place where parents can have a beer or a glass of wine alongside kids having their birthday parties.
Story & Photograph by Susie Biehler
THE NEIGHBORHOOD has a classy and intimate new spot for dinner at 3228 Sacramento Street: Nico, a restaurant that reflects the renaissance currently happening in Paris, where high profile chefs are taking a step to the side and opening accessible bistros.
The restaurant is named for classically French trained chef Nicolas Delaroque, who fell in love with San Francisco while vacationing here several years ago. Originally from Rueil-Malmaison, a town on the outskirts of Paris, he developed his passion for cooking as a teenager. He credits his mother as a major influence and also honed his food skills at a family friend’s butcher shop in Paris. And his pedigree includes working with such Bay Area masters as Dominique Crenn at Luce and David Kinch of Manresa.
Delaroque and his wife Andrea spent 18 months traveling through Europe gathering ideas for the restaurant. She put her law practice on hold so the couple could launch their new venture together. She manages the business side and can also be seen at the restaurant nightly, expediting and greeting customers.
“My wife is the planner. I am the visual one,” says Nicolas. “I go to the walk-in daily and stare at the goods and decide what will be on the menu that night. I have to see it to create it.”