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
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.