These decades-old, family-run dining establishments keep the flames burning
Gourmet Haus Staudt & BiergartenFor the past 46 years at Redwood City’s Gourmet Haus Staudt & Biergarten, husband-and-wife founders Lothar and Lucie Staudt have been adored fixtures at this charmingly patchwork German grocery store and specialty restaurant.
Even after retiring in 2009, and turning the reins over to son Volker and daughter-in-law Maryann, they couldn’t tear themselves away. Lothar, 88, would drop by to sweep up fallen leaves, while Lucie, 86, would insist on working the register two days a week — without pay. After successfully steering this unique business through lean times and fickle tastes, they weren’t about to let something called COVID banish them.
Until their son put his foot down.
“I told my mom that it wasn’t a good idea for her to work inside here,” Volker says. “She got upset that I was firing her. She threatened to go get a job at a stationery store instead. Then, she realized how few stationery stores there are now.”
Email and texting may have done in stationery stores, but it’s the pandemic that launched a full-scale assault on restaurants. Since last March, hundreds have closed permanently. The San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward region recorded an 11.4 percent drop in restaurant openings in the second quarter of 2021 as compared to prepandemic 2019, according to a Yelp economic report. Even now, with dining restrictions loosened, the Bay Area saw 1.8 times the number of restaurant closures as openings through the first half of 2021, according to the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.
Yet some restaurants that have lasted generations, like Gourmet Haus Staudt, have managed to beat the odds. Maybe it’s serendipity. Or an extremely loyal clientele. Or the foresight by owners like the Staudts to have purchased their building decades ago, shielding them from the whims of a landlord. Or simply the undeniable fact that each has etched an indelible mark on its community.
Gourmet Haus Staudt certainly has. Over the years, it’s hosted many weddings and memorials, including a recent tribute to a Redwood City firefighter who lost his battle with cancer.
During the pandemic, it closed only three weeks before opening up again to offer hundreds of German beers, juicy bratwurst and Haribo candies of every sort, as usual.
Lucie still bakes German cheesecakes weekly that sell out immediately. But she has finally ceded her counter job. Instead, she and her husband indulge in Stammtisch — the German tradition of joining friends for food and drink — every Saturday at the restaurant, at the same time every week.
The pandemic also prompted Volker, 63, and Maryann, 58, to take a step back to allow their eldest son Grant, 32, to oversee more operations. “My parents put so much of their life blood into this place. To see it evaporate would have broken their hearts,” Volker says. “They are super proud that we pulled through, and so happy that it’s going to the third generation.”
Tommy’s Mexican RestaurantPatrons of Tommy’s Mexican couldn’t be more relieved that the 56-yearold, family-owned San Francisco restaurant and bar survived the pandemic. When its doors opened for indoor dining again this year, one regular went so far as to hug the bar.
“Tommy’s has always been a part of my family and a part of who I am. When you walk in, we know you and we treat you like family.” — Elmy Adriana Bermejo
After all, the margarita is king here — and a source of pride, always made with freshsqueezed lime juice and premium 100 percent agave tequila. There are hundreds of tequilas to choose from, comprising the most extensive collection outside of Mexico. It’s what put this Outer Richmond watering hole on the map of the World’s 50 Best Bars and anointed Julio Bermejo, son of Mexican immigrant founders Tommy and Elmy Wilma Bermejo, an eminent tequila expert who consults worldwide.
It’s no surprise then that Tommy’s pandemic salvation came when the state relaxed regulations to allow restaurants to sell liquor and cocktails to go — with the purchase of food. “We started getting people who wanted one bag of chips and four pitchers of margaritas to go,” says eldest daughter Elmy Adriana Bermejo, who adds with a chuckle: “Hey, we don’t judge.”
One San Francisco tech company, which for years had bought out Tommy’s for its holiday party, instead had the restaurant create tequila baskets for 70 of its employees last year, which included a Zoom tasting led by Julio. The restaurant also prepared to-go orders of Yucatan dishes for 20 of the company’s employees. The entire Bermejo family was enlisted to drive all over the Bay Area to hand-deliver the goods.
This is a family that’s used to pulling together. All five children grew up peeling potatoes and wiping off tables at the restaurant. When Tommy passed away in 2011 at age 79, they all stepped up to keep the place going, even as they managed other careers.
“Tommy’s has always been a part of my family and a part of who I am,” says Elmy Adriana. “When you walk in, we know you and we treat you like family.”
Dragon WellMaybe it was fate that brought Minnesota-born Christina and New York-New Jersey-Saudi Arabia-reared Gary Tan together. The couple not only met as students at the University of California, Berkeley, but their parents all attended the same school in Taiwan and, unbeknownst until decades later, immigrated to the United States aboard the same airplane.
Dissatisfied with the humdrum Chinese food they found elsewhere, Gary, 54, and Christina, 52, decided to chance opening their own restaurant to improve upon that landscape. Dragon Well debuted in San Francisco’s Marina District in 1998. Gary opened each day and Christina closed at night, while their baby daughter, Madge, snoozed atop sacks of rice.
“We had to make sure every customer left happy, so they would pass the word on to another.” — Gary Tan
There was no advertising budget and the narrow storefront was hardly prominent. “We had to make sure every customer left happy, so they would pass the word on to another,” Gary recalls. From the start, the Tans insisted the wrappers for pot stickers, pancakes for mu shu, buns for teasmoked duck and barbecue pork for fried rice all be handmade in-house. Slowly, the restaurant gained a following, building a base of customers who dine multiple times a week and even call in orders from the airport after landing home.
Still, the Tans were petrified as March 2020 unfolded. “We never closed for one day,” Gary says. “We felt like we had no choice. We were just trying to survive.” Their customers responded with open arms.
Takeout, which once comprised 25 percent of orders, has soared to 50 percent. When the restaurant opened for Christmas last year — the first time ever — it was flooded with so many to-go orders that its delivery apps had to be disabled.
With greater optimism now, the Tans are excited to launch new menu items such as curry beef puffs made with prized Wagyu from Fossil Creek Ranch in San Luis Obispo.
“We look at each other sometimes and say, ‘This is exhausting. Maybe we should do something else,’” Christina says. “But we haven’t gotten there yet.”