Use Explorer  for a better display of this Website 

Sausalito Working Waterfront Business

Bob Freeman

Owner, Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco, Water Street Grille in Sausalito

I started out working in hotels right out of high school. I went to Dickinson College for a couple of years and decided I wanted to go into the hotel and restaurant business. So I applied to the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. While there, I worked summers at the Virgin Island Hilton and as a flight steward for Pan American Airlines.

I got in the Navy and graduated from Officerís Candidate School. The orders I received were to manage the Officerís Club at the Naval Air Base in Rota Spain. I had already learned the best hospitality management training and then I got the Navy version, which you get in one month. But these were fabulous orders; I was very lucky. You know in the 60ís Spain was a real treat.

After the Navy, I was rehired by Pan American Airlines as a flight service supervisor. I flew out of New York for one year and worked flights around the world. One day, I returned from a trip to Africa and my boss asked if I wanted to transfer to San Francisco. I said yes.

It was a management job, I rode along and reported on the flight, checked the food and service. That went on until I hooked with a couple of my old Cornell buddies, Dick Bradley and Peter Lee. Dick was with Merrill Lynch and transferred to San Francisco right about the time I came out with Pan Am. And Peter was in New York working for Sky Chef.

We all thought it was kind of funny, one of us selling stocks, Iím flying around the world on an airline yet we were trained in the hotel and restaurant business. We talked about the pubs in New York and thought something like that would work in San Francisco. I spent my spare time looking for a site and came across 50 Broadway, the corner of Embarcadero and Broadway in San Francisco, underneath the Embarcadero Freeway. Thatís how Victoria Station got started.

Victoria Station was named after Victoria Station in London. I was buying British railroad lamps to furnish the restaurant from contacts with British Rail and flying them back using my 50% Pan Am discount. My boss asked me what was I doing with 200 railroad lanterns and I said Iím building a restaurant. He let it pass.

We opened December 19, 1969, building the place in 89 days! Iíve since built over 110 restaurants and Iíve never been able to match that. I was still with Pan Am, doing things like looking for stoneware for the china to use in the restaurant. I was living in Sausalito at the time, at the Ebb Tide Apartments. Don Olson, whose office is still right beside the Water Street Grille, was the architect for Victoria Station. Don kept saying, why donít you use stoneware from Heath Ceramics down at the other end of Sausalito? I could see the shop from my apartment, but I had no clue as to what he was talking about. So I kept on flying to places like Japan, getting drivers and translators to go looking at all these different pottery plants. In the end, donít you know it, we bought all the stoneware right here in Sausalito.

I left Victoria Station when it had 86 restaurants. It went up to 104. I moved from Sausalito to the City for a little while but came back and bought a house here in Sausalito on the top of the hill on Channing Way. Then I moved to Kentfield, and it was back again to Sausalito about 3 years ago where I live with my fiancťe.

I guess you could say that Iím a serial restaurateur because before long I started a new company called California Cafe. The idea was to work on 4 or 5 restaurants and if we got one that we could expand, weíd do it. Thatís exactly what happened. The fifth one was the California Cafe in Mill Valley. Pretty soon we had California Cafes, Napa Valley Grills and Alcatraz Brewing Companies in Minnesota, Denver, New Jersey and one up in Yountville, as well as many other locations around the United States.

Iím still on the Board of Directors, but Iím out of the day-to-day now. I bought the Water Street Grille and the Buena Vista Cafť with just a few friends as a personal labor of love. The Water Street Grille is on the water in Sausalito, very near to where I live. Itís the old Houlihanís. I hope one day to renovate it and make it a little bit different, but right now I am very happy with the way it is. Weíve added entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays and thatís done very well for us and I have a good crew. So itís kind of a coming home for me.

My friends sometimes ask me, why do you keep doing it? I answer, why does the bear go over the mountain? Itís because itís there. With me, what I do is restaurants. I love the operations, putting them together, making them viable. Thatís what I do. Thatís who I am. 

Letters to the Editor 
Ferries to the Rescue: Disaster Relief in New York
Are You Okay?
Bay Area Tourism on the Ropes
Inside Story
Bay Crossings Journal
Bay Crossings Riders of the Tides
Working Waterfront
Marin Section
Sausalito Business Profile
Sausalito-Good Eats and Great Views
Benicia Makes itís Case for Ferries
Checkiní Out Sausalito
Bay Crossings Round up
San Francisco Ferry Terminal Project Lurching to the Finish Line
On the Waterfront: Fish Is What Makes Fishermanís Wharf What It Is!
Bay Environment: Marine Highways-The Next Traffic Jam?
Bay Area To Welcome High-Speed Ferry For Alameda This Month
A Picaresque History of the Port of Oakland
WTA Section-Marina B. Secchitano
Reader of the Month
A Distilled Guide to San Francisco Bay Ferries