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'It's Like Getting Hit With a Tsunami': The State Bird Provisions Chef Has Some Advice for Al’s Place

Stuart Brioza tells his fellow Bon Appétit Best Restaurant winner how to handle his new notoriety.

 

You can’t get a table at Al’s Place. Not anymore. On Tuesday, the small Mission eatery won the No. 1 spot on Bon Appétit’s annual Hot 10 list of the best new restaurants in the United States. Frenzied foodies wasted no time in booking the 46-seat restaurant solid for the next two and a half months. Look for a reservation online, and OpenTable just laughs at you and says, “Yeah, right.”

Thirty-two-year-old chef Aaron London isn’t the first restaurant owner in San Francisco to be propelled with slingshot speed to the highest tier of the national dining scene. Back in 2012, State Bird Provisions snagged the top honor on the same Bon Appétit Hot 10 list. Chef–owners Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski have been in high demand ever since, having gone on to nab the James Beard Award for best new restaurant the following year.

Today, London finds himself in a situation very much like the one Brioza and Krasinski navigated three years ago. Like State Bird at the time, Al’s Place has been open for less than a year, and seats fewer than 50 diners at once (State Bird seated 48 when it first opened). Which makes Brioza and Krasinski the ideal guides for London as he adjusts to the sound of his constantly ringing phone. In fact, that’s the exact thought London had when he learned he was in the running for the award, and he called Brioza seeking advice. The two chefs, who have known each other for years, bonded over the blessing—and the puzzle—of hard-won success that suddenly shows up overnight.

We called up Brioza to ask what it takes not only to make it big, but to make it last. The answers that follow, distilled into four key ingredients, have been edited and condensed.

1. Don’t overthink the success. It’s a gift. Accept it, be very proud, and that’s it.

“It’s like getting hit with a tsunami. No matter how prepared you think you are, it’s still a tsunami. The moment [the list] was released, our phone didn’t stop ringing for days. Every time you hung up the phone, it would ring. It was pretty intense. We were instantly booked up every day straight.

“Honestly, at some point you try to get up and ride it, ride the wave. We tried to figure out any which way to ride that wave, and not be daunted by the size of it.”

2. Hire a receptionist.

“What it really took for us was we hired like three or four of our friends to come in and help navigate. We hired someone to help with wine, a friend to help in office—and she still works with us and is an integral part of the team—we hired cooks. At the end of the day, you can only cook for so many people. Your restaurant is only so big. But it definitely takes people, and good people.”

3, Do something amazing with your community.

“Leverage that gift of success and in time, it takes a little bit of time, but once you get your bearings use it as an opportunity to enhance your community. Whether its charity, education, you know, promote the community. I feel like that is one of the best things that we’ve been able to do. Enhance other artisans and promote them, whether they are artists or farmers.”

4. Stick with your mission statement.

“[London’s] got an affordable menu and he has his vision in it. If he sticks with that he’ll be great. Don’t make changes to cater to what you think people want, just do what you do.”


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