Bay Area Bites: What has been the biggest surprise for you and Nicole with the restaurant expansion?
Brioza: How much time it takes (laughs). No matter how planned out you think you and your group are, you knock down a wall and you never know what will be in between the wall. The biggest surprise is what you don’t know.
Bay Area Bites: With the construction and restaurant closure, are you cooking in your home kitchen or other restaurant kitchens?
Brioza: We’re doing a little bit of that for sure. Believe it or not just because we’re closed, it’s still a tremendous feat managing everything and a lot of what we’ve been doing is related to administrative work to get ahead. In the last year and a half, we’ve been such a small and busy restaurant, all the ideas we had, we never had time to do them.
So it’s been a nice chance to write recipes, restructure the front of the house, and set goals and timelines. That’s been a fun, evolutionary part of business. Then it’s more, “Hey let’s think about the food.” We have been cooking at home and have had time to think about the upcoming menu. It’s gonna be a surprise for you all.
Bay Area Bites Do you have any business mentors?
Brioza: We have a good core group with a business manager and office manager. We just hired a GM named Ryan Anderson from Austin. A GM is a new role for us and we’re excited. He’s helping to define what we are as a restaurant even more.
Bay Area Bites: You are doing a Sandwich Invitational event in Portland and then back in San Francisco for the Taste America James Beard Foundation dinner early in October. What’s it like doing these events?
Brioza: We try to not do too many things because this has been the quietest time we’ve had in a year and a half.
For Portland, we don’t really make sandwiches. We’re doing a panwich–of course (laughs). It’s an open pancake-wich, made with a pancake, and a little pork belly, sweet corn, Romesco sauce and a pile of greens. Then you fold it.
Bay Area Bites: Are there any dishes you are more excited about getting back to or bringing to the menu? And are there some dishes you would rather take off the menu?
Brioza: I am excited about the State Bird Provisions dish. I love that dish. There’s only a few dishes we can’t touch and one is the quail. The other is the garlic bread with the burrata. It’s almost an untouchable dish. I still really like it.
Bay Area Bites: Where do you get your inspiration from—books, people, places, websites?
Brioza: The question of inspiration is an interesting one and arises from different areas. I think that now more so than ever I get inspiration from paying attention to my surroundings and people. Inspiration and creativity is really quite powerful. Years ago I got inspired from books and dining out—that was also an impressionable time for me. Then I think something happened and I’m in this new place where I’m more inspired by the stories the food tells than the actual dishes themselves. I’m kind of on my own little path and don’t find a lot of inspiration coming from books. The stories that come from books are really quite fascinating. For me, paying attention is where the inspiration is: being in the markets, talking to your staff and other chefs, that’s kind of where it comes from. Gone are the days where I could go cover to cover in a cookbook.
Bay Area Bites: After work, are there any spots you like to go to?
Brioza: Nopa is great and it’s not far away and open late. Nearby, Sheba Lounge is a cool little spot and on some nights they’ll play music really late. It’s pretty rare that I go. I think every restaurant has to have a local bar, that place you don’t have to get in a cab to, and you can just walk there.
Bay Area Bites: What are the worst and best parts of your job?
Brioza: The best honestly is just walking through the door every day. I really like working with the staff every day. I created a process with the staff for when we open the doors. It’s a rush, and pretty powerful. Everyone feels good and is welcoming guests.
The worst is the not knowing. You’re not ready for the toilet backing up. You’re never really ready for that, no matter how much you plan for it, no matter who you are. Or having someone cut themselves–pretty much anything that detracts from the mission is the worst.
Bay Area Bites: During your time off, what do you do?
Brioza: We’re not bored with what we do yet. It’s still an important topic. I love to go car camping and the simple things like sitting around the campfire. We’re always looking for new parks within an hour of us. You’re taken outside of your world and still an hour away from your home.
Bay Area Bites: Anything we can expect in the future—books, travel, food, products?
Brioza: There’s always that conversation of a cookbook. We’re not there yet. Obviously we’ve got a whole new restaurant that we’re working on. That’ll be within the year. I think we’ve got enough on our plate. We’re still riding that wave. It’s the best place to be for us.