SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — The San Francisco restaurant industry is facing multiple challenges these days between soaring rents and the difficulty of finding staff who can afford the city.
A famed dining spot in Cole Valley is preparing for a major change but this one has a happy ending.
Zazie is the beloved neighborhood bistro with a global reputation, and not just for the always long wait to get a table for brunch during the weekend. The restaurant has bucked a number of trends over the years, but there were some concerns of what would happen when the owner started thinking about moving on.
“You reach a point when you feel like you’ve given the restaurant all that you can and made all the changes that you wanted to make,” explained Zazie co-owner Jennifer Bennett.
After 20 years as manager and owner, Bennett knew it was time to move on from Zazie. But she wasn’t entirely sure how.
“I was approached by many people that wanted to franchise the business, and they would offer me insane amounts of money,” explained Bennett.
And she turned them all down, once again deciding to go a different direction.
“I feel like Zazie and the staff and the neighborhood, everyone deserves someone with a fresh view; deserves people with energy,” said Bennett.
She decided to sell her the famed bistro to her server, her cook and her host. The three new co-owners have a combined 50 years experience working at the restaurant.
“I’ve been working for about 20 years, running the door, managing, and all the duties that I do,” said new co-owner Mario Rojas.
“This is a dream,” said co-owner Francisco Romero. “I’ve always wanted to own a restaurant after working here 17 years.”
“I think a lot of people who work in restaurants sometimes dream about opening a restaurant,” said third co-owner Megan Cornelius.
Despite the many years they have worked at Zazie, the change in ownership has given the trio a renewed energy about coming to work.
“I’m excited. I woke up at 5:45 and I said, “Wow, this is new!'” said Rojas. “Different feelings, different thoughts and goals now.”
“This is the first time that I’ve had this type of pressure or importance of people are really relying on you,” said Cornelius.
Along with “excited,” all three also used the word “nervous.” This is, of course, a famously trying time for San Francisco restaurants.
“Yes, a lot of restaurants don’t make it. But most restaurants are not working the way we do,” said outgoing owner Bennett. “They’re not respecting their staff, including them in day-to-day activities and in the revenue shares.”
Bennett has long championed the employee-first approach by including revenue sharing and health care benefits for her staff. She says it is exactly why Zazie has succeeded while many others have failed.
So, the in-house sale — for which she is also providing the loan — is really just an extension of that philosophy, passed down a little bit like an old recipe.
“We are a different style of a restaurant. So I’m not worried about us moving forward as long as we stay on this path,” said Bennett.
“We want to continue that, and make it better,” said Rojas.
“Just the opportunity to be able to carry on his legacy is incredible,” said Cornelius.