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Jul 30, 2010 09:01 PM

Nopa Customer Service

Anyone catch Willie Brown's column last week:

"I went over to Nopa on Divisadero the other night for a great meal and a real lesson in celebrity.

We pull up and the place is packed.

I walk in. I have no reservations, and first thing the young host says is the wait is an hour and 45 minutes.

Then his co-worker steps up and says, "Mayor Brown, your table is ready. How many did you say?"

The owner sees me and personally walks us to our table.

As he seats us, he says, "Mayor Brown, so nice of you to join us. Now tell me, where the hell have you been for the past 4 1/2 years?""


One of the things I have treasured about San Francisco since moving here from NYC twenty years ago is the absence of "celebrity status" in the restaurants. In NYC, I usually ate in what the good restaurants refer to as "Siberia." When I came to San Francisco, it was amazing to see celebrities not being shown to tables in front of everyone else and to be able to ask for a table not under the stairwell or next to the kitchen doors.

Brown's report shows that some restaurants don't want to be San Francisco restaurants. I wrote Nopa as soon as the online version appeared (Tuesday I think) and explained that I would stop eating at the restaurant and recommending it. It has long been one of my favorites.

The response from Nopa: NOTHING. Clearly Nopa doesn't care about ordinary diners in SanFrancisco, no matter how much they love food and great cooking. Celebrities are important to them, and that's their prerogative, but, as the feedback on the Chronicle site shows, many people are pretty resentful of a restaurant with two classes, "you" and "important people."

Oh well, there's still plenty of restaurants that treat people equally, a San Francisco tradition.

560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

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  1. It's a sad fact: for a business owner, currying the favor of people who have influence is always a smarter choice than treating customers equally. Building that network is more valuable than satisfying customers who may or may not be tourists who never eat there again.

    I'm not excusing it -- there is no denying that seating a walk in celebrity over an every day person who's been playing by the rules and waiting for their turn is clearly rude. But I'm not shocked. Disappointed, perhaps.

    I wonder if snubbed customers received a comped dish or bottle of wine to compensate for being skipped over? That gesture could go a very long way.

    1. Get real! San Francisco restaurants have always given certain customers preferential treatment. Always have and always will. And it's not usually based on celebrity status. If you're an investor, a "friend of the restaurant", a friend of the owner, the GM, or a manager, in the restaurant industry, or sometimes just a popular regular, you may get preferential treatment. In addition to seating considerations, it may involve comped dishes or drinks, or sometimes taking extra care to add a little extra to a dish. For the latter, some restaurants even have code words for the communication between the server and the kitchen, such as "Elvis order" and "star ticket." If you have been under the impression that restaurants in SF "treat people equally," you have been seriously misinformed.

      Now, what I don't understand about the whole episode is why Willie Brown decided to brag about a fairly routine thing in a newspaper column and name the restaurant, thereby needlessly making some people feel pissed off with both him and the restaurant.

      2 Replies
      1. re: nocharge

        Hmm, I just decided to put this place on my massive list of to tries for SF after reading a very positive recent report here. It hadn't made the so-called short list because I thought they didn't take reservations for some reason (this drives me crazy). The only restaurant I know of that doesn't give priority to celebrities is Vij's in Vancouver. Even Hollywood types have to wait in line there :-).

        1. re: nocharge

          >>And it's not usually based on celebrity status.

          That's totally different. That's not about a random celebrity walking in and being put to the front of the line.

        2. You probably wouldn't have liked Jack's on Sacramento.

          1. Two things.

            First, I like Willie as a san francisco fixture. I'm going to give NOPA *one* pass on this. Its the first time he went there, and he should get out of Boulevard and his usual haunts. I'd have trouble turning Willie away in that situation - he's kind of the Herb of today.

            Second, I'm not going to a restaurant with a 1 hr 45 minute wait anyway!

            1 Reply
            1. re: bbulkow

              Your mention of Boulevard reminds me of something that happened on a visit hubby and I made there several years ago: we had arranged to meet in the Boulevard bar prior to our reservation for dinner, since he was driving and I was coming from work on BART. He decided to use the valet, and had just pulled in, valet had opened the door for him, but then said, 'oh, I'm sorry, sir, you will have to wait a minute for your (claim) ticket', or some such....and then disappeared. hubby couldn't figure out what was going on till he saw Willie Brown coming out of the restaurant: there was only one valet on duty and he was darn well going to get Willie's car before taking care of hubby!

              That was hubby's first visit to Boulevard, and oddly enough, it didn't turn him off. He got a bit of a kick out of it as an introduction to the restaurant. To each his own, I guess.

            2. My husband and I are the farthest thing in the world from celebrities, but we always received "special" treatment at Mill Valley's Buckeye Roadhouse, which is generally packed. Why? Because for about a year, we had dinner there every Friday night, like clockwork. After about a month or two, they kept a standing res. for us and I only called if we were not going that particular Friday evening. We rarely had to wait for our favorite booth in the bar, were more than once comp'd dessert or drinks and Peter the co-owner/manager always stopped by to chat. While we no longer go nearly as often, I always still feel "special" at the Buckeye. I've got to think that reliably regular customers at other resto's also receive "special" treatment, sometimes at the expense of a few who are not.

              Buckeye Roadhouse
              15 Shoreline Highway, Mill Valley, CA 94941