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Goats on West Portal

Goat Hill Pizza
Goat Hill Pizza’s West Portal location turns five

Forty-two years ago in Potrero Hill Goat Hill Pizza became a San Francisco neighborhood favorite and this summer their location at 170 West Portal Avenue turns five. For the big celebration, owner Phillip DeAndrade does not expect any extravagance."Five years is no longer anything in our mind," says DeAndrade in a phone interview. "It's just a start, a commitment to West Portal. I don't think we're going to party-hardy, maybe just celebrate with a little cake or something."

Perhaps having pie would be too cliche.

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What began as a shoestring operation, the Potrero Hill location is the oldest restaurant in the area nearly a half-decade later. Their homemade, signature sourdough pizza crust immediately set them apart from any competition."

DeAndrade says ten years ago is when Goat Hill "started growing." With the opening of their South of Market location (171 Stillman Street), delivery to the eastern side of San Francisco became more accessible.

West Portal was the perfect combination of what Goat Hill wanted for their third location, says DeAndrade.

"The neighborhood is respectable, hospitable and hungry for delivery," adds the 72 year old. "We wanted a little business district to support counter service and take-out. The business has been growing ever since."

Pipping hot Pizza!

The West Portal location, a "cafeteria style" eatery with eight dining tables and an ordering counter, has no serving staff like those in SOMA and Potrero Hill. On a wall covered with goat drawings, through an open doorway, the kitchen looks nearly double the size of the lobby. Cooks, cashiers and delivery men move-about in the skylit workspace.

Established in the fall of 1975, a time where there were few places to eat in the neighborhood, Goat Hill Pizza quickly became a Potrero Hill favorite. With the help of four Potrero Hill residents, DeAndrade and the team each kicked in some borrowed money to take over an old hamburger shop at the corner of 18th and Connecticut Street. The name "Goat Hill Pizza" was inspired by photographs of post-earthquake Potrero Hill. In the photos, goats roamed the rocky outcroppings among tents and temporary housing that were homes to Irish and eastern European settlers.

Manager Alexander Dombrovski

What began as a shoestring operation, the Potrero Hill location (300 Connecticut Street) is the oldest restaurant in the area nearly a half-decade later. Their homemade, signature sourdough pizza crust immediately set them apart from any competition. Also on the menu are fresh salads and soups.

"Hilda's Favorite is probably our most popular pizza," says Alexander B., a supervisor at the West Portal location. The pie's ingredients, goat cheese, house-made pesto and fresh tomatoes, were inspired by the pizzerias moniker.

Enjoying Goat Hill Pizza for the first time together, Valentina Daggett and her family drove from South San Francisco to West Portal.

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Salads fly out of the kitchen

"I don't normally eat pizza," admits Daggett, "but when my office ordered it, I ate three pieces. The sourdough crust is different and I really liked it. I had to bring my son and husband."

When asked how Goat Hill ranks on his scale of delicious pizza, the youngest Daggett, Lorenzo says, "eight out of 10.""I really like the goat [artwork] on the wall," the 10-year-old adds.

For our interview, DeAndrade calls Westside Observer from his home on a houseboat near Mission Creek next to the Giants stadium. He says he loves living near the Potrero Hill location where it all started.

"However, I have to confess," he adds with a laugh, "I'm a 72-year old man who doesn't enjoy sticking his head into the oven anymore. I like to get involved, but not as regularly as I used to."

The boisterous entrepreneur adds that the Goat Hill team is "thrilled about the West Portal anniversary."

Tony Taylor is a San Francisco reporter.

June 2017

Landmarking Closer for Iconic El Rey Theater

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Will the El Rey Theater get Landmark status?

Ocean Avenue's former El Rey Theater was designed in the Art Deco style by master architect Timothy Pflueger and opened in 1931. Designation as an historic landmark was initiated by unanimous vote of the Historic Preservation Commission at its meeting on January 18. The 1,800seat El Rey is one of San Francisco's only Art Deco movie theaters and the biggest in the West of Twin Peaks area. Soaring above the low-rise development of the surrounding Oceanview/Merced Heights/Ingleside (OMI) district, the stepped, 150 foot tower was originally capped by an aircraft beacon. It ceased being a theater in 1977.

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Architect Timothy Pflueger is one of San Francisco's top 20th century architects. He designed and remodeled approximately 10 movie theaters in Northern California between 1922 and 1933, including the Castro, Alhambra, Royal, El Rey, and New Mission Theaters.”

The building is individually eligible for Article 10 Landmark designation as a 1930s era neighborhood theater that embodies the distinctive characteristics of its type, period, and method of construction. It was built by San Francisco movie theater impresario Samuel H. Levin, and named El Rey – "The King." The former theater has been in use as a church since 1978, and continues to be the neighborhood's foremost visual landmark. advert for El Rey

Architect Timothy Pflueger is one of San Francisco's top 20th century architects. He designed and remodeled approximately 10 movie theaters in Northern California between 1922 and 1933, including the Castro, Alhambra, Royal, El Rey, and New Mission Theaters. He practiced within the "Mayan Deco" style, but El Rey is one of only three in the city that retains its original Pflueger-designed auditorium – the others being the Castro and the Alhambra.

At the hearing for the designation, Alex Mullaney, publisher of the Ingleside Light, told the commission that the El Rey "is the linchpin for revitalizing Ocean Avenue."

John Goldman of Goldman Architects spoke for the new owners, a joint venture between Ricci Ventures and Green Point Land Co., both Marin investment groups. Although plans for the building are not yet firm, Goldman assured the commission that he is a "huge Pflueger fan," and that his goal, "along with the owners," is to "restore the building." Using "original Pflueger drawings, which all exist," he said. "A lot of the original detail still exists, it has been covered over by the really bad renovations, and the storefronts are not the way they should be, the marquee is gone, the tower—all the coolest art deco and moderne details have either been hidden or removed." He hopes to restore the building to "the way it was in 1931—to the extent possible." He further ensured the commission that "I love the building, the owners love the building and we are going to do right by this building."

Rumors that the new owners, who paid only $1.06 million for the property, had expressed interest in demolishing the place to build apartments were not expressed at the public hearing.

If all goes as planned, the El Rey will be confirmed in a Landmark Designation in about six months by the Commission, then it will go to the Board of Supervisors for final confirmation. See also: Remember When

February 2017

Rebirth of Manor Coffee Shop Defies Recent Trends

Manor outside
Manor has been located at 321 West Portal Avenue since 1967

For over 45 years Manor Coffee Shop has been a neighborhood haven along West Portal's intimate shopping strip, and as small businesses become real estate bait for big development companies, Chef Michael Gonzales plans to keep the local diner alive.

A San Francisco native, Gonzales has been eating at Manor since his childhood and he credits the “old school vibes” to a lack of gentrification.

“The area hasn’t been ‘techified’,” he says. “Diners are a lost breed and Manor is a neighborhood fixture.”

The process of taking over Manor from its former owner, Raymond Jeung, began in July 2015. After shadowing Jeung for nearly six months, Gonzales’ became the official owner of Manor Cafe on Christmas Day of that same year.

“I thought it was important to keep certain things the same, but I also wanted to make it mine,” Gonzales says.

It took Gonzales five months to rejuvenate the restaurant with new floors and paint. In addition to refurbishing the original 1960’s cash register, the bar stools with hat clips on back, and reupholstering the dining booths, he says he has spent hundreds of dollars to maintain the iconic sign outside.

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… the same staples like milkshakes, burgers, and pancakes … the “Kitchen Sink” omelette, which is a choose-your-own ingredients style menu option. Known for its pies, Manor’s famous custard pie has been updated with a Parisian twist.”

The cafe’s clients are locals who have lived in the area for years, and just like Gonzales is getting used to them, they are getting used to him, too.

As West Portal residents of 51 years, Bruce and Jean Brugmann have always patronized Manor. They were trepidatious about returning with new, unfamiliar ownership, but they were delighted to find that Gonzales had retained the original atmosphere.

Manor diners enjoying Chef Michael Gonzales’ reimagined BLT sandwich for lunch

“The configuration of the counter and booths is the same and the buttermilk pancakes are as good as ever,” Mr. Brugmann says. “Manor was right out of a small town and we have always felt at home here.”

Kathy Goegger, a resident of West Portal since 1972, likes the new look. “It brightens the place and brings it up-to-date,” she says.

“It’s nice to see they have one of the same chefs, too,” Goegger adds referring to Tom, a quiet, tenured chef assistant who has been making breakfast there for 30 years.

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Chef Michael Gonzales shares a moment with longtime Manor customer Kathy Gouger

“Michael is very nice,” Goegger says after chatting with Gonzales. “I think he has a lot of understanding about food and he wants to expand the menu. It looks like things are going to be moving forward with more than just breakfast and lunch.”

While he continues to update the restaurant’s offerings based on sales and customer feedback, Gonzales has kept the same staples like milkshakes, burgers, and pancakes. He has also kept the “Kitchen Sink” omelette, which is a choose-your-own ingredients style menu option. Known for its pies, Manor’s famous custard pie has been updated with a Parisian twist.

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Server Maria Villafuerte has been working at Manor since it reopened in June

He plans to remain a coffee only establishment, and has no interest in incorporating espresso and latte drinks. Gonzales partnered with long-time friends and Java Beach Cafe owners Buffy and Patrick Maguire to serve their Oakland roasted Carville Coffee beans.

Gonzales comes from a Mexican heritage and grew up cooking at home with his mother. He added a Mexican Breakfast to the menu, which includes slow-roasted pork, refried black beans, fresh tortillas, and cojita cheese. He says it is important to honor his roots.

His 71-year-old mother, who does the baking, was hesitant to take on the workload. “She didn’t know if she would be able to keep up,” he says. Mom’s Chocolate Devil’s Food Bundt Cake is the first item listed on the dessert menu. There is also a Devil’s Food Cake Shake for those warm San Francisco afternoons.

As a first time business owner, Gonzales graduated top of his class from a culinary school in Paris and he stayed in France until his work Visa expired.

“You need to get kicked around in the kitchen a bit in order to really learn how to cook,” Gonzales says. “You can only learn so much in a classroom setting.”

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Maria Villafuerte serving brunch to customers on a busy Saturday afternoon

He spent 12 years as a private chef before he developed the taste for entrepreneurship.

The rising costs of San Francisco real estate is not lost on Gonzales. He has gotten feedback from disappointed customers over his new pricing structure, but he insists the quality of the food has improved under his ownership. For Manor’s classic BLT sandwich, he “really focused on the bun and the amazing bacon.” He also incorporated a green goddess dressing, dried Sonoma jack cheese, and butter lettuce.

Another reason for an influx in pricing: the upcoming minimum wage increase. Gonzales, a first time business owner, signed a new five-year lease when he was unable to keep the same rate Jeung paid.

This being his first time crafting American food, he says the challenge is making simple things interesting. He incorporated his love of beets into the salad menu and he favors his simple chili made with lamb, pork, and beef. He has added local beers from Magnolia Brewery and Anchor Steam to the menu, as well as Sonoma Valley wines.

“I’m still learning everyday,” Gonzales says. “And making mistakes, too.”

One lesson he has learned is to take customer criticism with a grain of salt. One particular critique has been of Manor’s branded t-shirts which have earned mixed reviews. The frontside of the shirt is an image of Manor’s classic street sign image and on the back, in bright orange letters, reads “the customer is always wrong.”

“Everyone always says the customer is always right, but that’s not true,” Gonzales laughs. The t-shirts, meant as a joke, were his wife’s idea.

“I’ve already sold about 50 of them,” he adds. “I have a lot of great, happy customers, but you can’t please the world.”

Manor Cafe is located at 321 West Portal Avenue with daily service from 7:30am to 8pm and is closed on Mondays.

Tony Taylor is a San Francisco journalist.

July 2016

The wait is over – Joe’s is Back!

Joe's sign.

The wait is over! After a two-plus year hiatus, the “new” and completely remodeled “Original Joe’s of Westlake” officially opened on Wednesday, February 24th. Owners John and Elena Duggan hosted a large gathering of Daly City and San Francisco luminaries for a ceremonial ribbon cutting before opening for the lunch crowd at 11 AM.

An institution since 1956, “Joe’s of Westlake” was closed in January 2014 when Melinda Scatena, daughter of founder Bruno Scatena, decided to sell the landmark restaurant. When looking for a buyer, she reached out to the brother-sister team of John and Elena Duggan, whose grandfather had opened the original, “Original Joe’s “on Taylor Street in San Francisco in 1937, and had been a business partner with her father before he branched out to open the restaurant in the newly-developed Westlake district in 1956.

Original Joes

Long-time customers have been anticipating the re-opening of the “New” Joe’s since the door closed in 2014, and were on hand for the opening night. The line stretched out the door, and every seat in the lounge was filled with people...”

An agreement was reached and the restaurant closed to begin a period of renovation and freshening up. The renovation was longer and more involved than anyone expected, but the resulting remodel is top notch, blending the mid-century retro-modern look of Westlake and developer Henry Doelger, with the new sleek design of the counter, the bar, and the lighter and more open Garden and Cascade rooms.

Customers celebrate the ribbon-cutting

Long-time customers have been anticipating the re-opening of the “New” Joe’s since the door closed in 2014, and were on hand for the opening night. The line stretched out the door, and every seat in the lounge was filled with people either watching the Warriors game, or having conversations about the new look. The staff did a great job both setting the expectations (“It’s a 2 hour wait for parties of two”), and making sure that everyone was seated when an opening came up. For the opening evening, the two-hour wait was pretty much on the mark, but few seemed to mind. Old “regulars” and new patrons told stories, spun yarns and marveled at the photos on the walls.

The service and food also measured up. While the menu leans heavily on the menu of the owners’ San Francisco Original Joe’s location in North Beach, Westlake favorites like “Steak a-la-Bruno” and Veal Parmagiana, still dot the menu, along with the house-made spaghetti and ravioli with the classic “Joe’s” sauce. Even with the “standing room only” start to the evening, the management, servers and kitchen staff did a great job.

I admit to being a past patron and fan of “Joe’s of Westlake” and think that the new incarnation of this classic is improved and refreshed in almost every way. Even some of the former staff members have returned to usher in the new era of the landmark. Yes, the prices are somewhat higher, but that’s to be expected. The food was very good, the service was great, and the crowds were enthusiastic. Part restaurant- part museum, the Duggans have done a masterful job of bringing this Joe’s into the 21st century while tipping their caps and paying homage to our collective dreams and memories from the past. Welcome back!

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The kitchen and counter

Original Joe’s is at 11 Glenwood Ave, Daly City. Phone (650) 755-7400. Open Daily 11am–11pm.

March 2016

Trattoria Marks Milestone

Trattoria Da Vittorio
Trattoria Da Vittorio

Vittorio D’Urzo opened his trattoria a little more than a year ago. And a location that once sullied the avenue is making people smile.

“They're on it,” said a customer about the restaurant’s service. “Shining” is what she says about D’Urzo and his team.

The location at 150 West Portal Avenue was once home to a successful Cafe for All Seasons, owned by Frank and Donna Katzl. When the Katzl’s sold the business, cleanliness was a problem for the site.

All that seems to have changed. Business is booming, according to D’Urzo. And visits to the trattoria reveal a bright, shiny space. D’Urzo says it was a great first year.

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Business is booming, according to D’Urzo. And visits to the trattoria reveal a bright, shiny space. D’Urzo says it was a great first year. ”

“It met my expectations — even more,” he said. He credits his team for the success. “We’ve built a great big family here.”

And by here, D’Urzo means the Trattoria Da Vittorio, his first restaurant and a place for food from Italy’s south. His mother’s recipes grace the menu. She visited from Italy before the store opened to check for authenticity. D’Urzo said she’ll be back at Christmas.

Keith Burbank is a San Francisco Journalist.

September 2014


Chiropractic Care without Twists and Pops

Dr. Meakim and Kaya - SF Family Spine Clinic
Dr. Meakim and Kaya - SF Family Spine Clinic

It may sound funny, NUCCA that is, but it is a method of chiropractic treatment that is completely different from anything you know about traditional chiropractic care. There are no drop tables, tilting tables, or techniques involving twisting or popping the vertebra. In fact it’s so gentle you wonder how it works, but work it does.

N.U.C.C.A. is an acronym for Neuro-Upper-Cervical-Chiropractic Association, and it’s the trained doctors of this association that have transformed the way that chiropractic care is performed. Dr. Christina Meakim has been treating patients using NUCCA for 10 years and explained how NUCCA works.

The doctor explained a benefit of periodic adjustments, “Chiropractic is not just something you do when you are in pain. To optimize and maintain your health and well being it really pays to be adjusted on a regular basis, and not just when your body is in crisis. Regular adjustments and sessions can keep your spinal, muscle and nerve systems in tune, and help to avoid more serious problems down the road. Prevention is the key to optimal health.”

SF Family Spine Center is located at 505 Beach Street. Mon–Fri from 9am to 8pm, Sat from 9am -1pm. 415.771.7071

December 2013



staff at Massage Envy
Staff at Massage Envy

It is a commonly known fact that most small businesses fail within the first several years, with the overall success rate being very small. For Angeline Sebastian-Stafford and Michael Stafford, their Massage Envy clinic in Westlake Shopping Center has not only succeeded, but has flourished. As they recently celebrated their 5th year in business, they were also named as the recipient of a top award from their parent organization.

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The proven benefits of routine massage include improved circulation, joint flexibility and posture, relief from pain and swelling caused by arthritis, reduced blood pressure, fatigue, migraine pain and stress, as well as improved sleep, concentration and overall sense of well-being”

Massage Envy Spa, the largest employer of Massage therapists and Estheticians in the United States, honored the franchise owners with their Million Dollar Club award for 2nd year in a row. Stafford’s clinic in the Westlake Center has also been a multiple award winner of Top Therapist of the Year and Sales Associate of the Year for 4 consecutive years, since its opening in September 2008. The proud winners of the 2012 awards from Massage Envy Spa in Daly City are Dolley Lee, Regional Massage Therapist of the year for 2012, and Ariana Bailey, one of four National Esthetician of the Year winners at Massage Envy Spa’s Annual Franchise Conference in Phoenix, Arizona in 2013.

The Regional Therapist of the Year program is an annual award recognizing best-in-class service across the network’s more than 880 clinics nationwide. Each year, winners are chosen for their high level of professionalism, client service, and contributions to healing through therapeutic touch.

“We extend our gratitude and congratulations to Dolley and Ariana, as well as our managers, Priscilla Pedroza and Nick Golding, for their outstanding contributions,” said Angeline. “It’s because of their passion and dedication to our brand, vision and mission, that Massage Envy Spa in Daly City can continue to provide a pathway to wellness, well-being and worth through professional, convenient, and affordable massage therapy and spa services.”

Massage Envy Spa at Westlake is a top-performing Spa across the Massage Envy network in Northern California and is one the top 10% in the nation. Employees like Dolley, Ariana and the managers have been with the Spa since it opened, and their loyalty has been instrumental in growing and retaining a large member base, who in turn are able to reap the benefits of their therapeutic talents. “In recognition of our 5th anniversary, we encourage all our members and new guests to take advantage of our Member Rewards program – where members can earn points for FREE services and upgrades!” said Sebastian-Stafford.

The Westlake location has 50 employees servicing thousands of members and guests to achieve their relaxation, skincare, and wellness goals. Massage Therapy has provided life-saving benefits for many of our members, including cancer and arthritis patients. It offers a variety of massage treatments including Swedish, Trigger Point, Deep Tissue, Sports, Prenatal, Reflexology, Lymphatic Drainage, Geriatric, or Customized massage. The proven benefits of routine massage include improved circulation, joint flexibility and posture, relief from pain and swelling caused by arthritis, reduced blood pressure, fatigue, migraine pain and stress, as well as improved sleep, concentration and overall sense of well-being. Additionally, the clinic offers facials designed by Dr. Murad, the leader in skincare science. Customers can choose from four different Murad® Healthy Skin facials including Environmental Shield® Vitamin C, Clarifying Enzyme Acne, Anti-Aging, and Sensitive Skin to customize their sessions.

Massage Envy / Westlake Center is located at 239 Lake Merced Boulevard in the Westlake Center. They are open from 8AM -10PM Monday –Friday; 8AM -8PM on Saturdays and from 10AM – 8PM on Sundays. For more information, please visit their website at, or call them at 650.757.3689 to make an appointment.

The 17th Street Chiropractic Center is located at 3705 17th Street. It is open Monday –Friday from 9AM to 8PM, Saturday from 9AM -1PM and on Sunday’s by appointment. To book an appointment, call the center at 415.404.9349, or email them at: The website for the center is:

October 2013

Framing West Portal

Owner Chris Honeysett
Owner Chris Honeysett

Last month a new business opened in West Portal, leasing a space that was vacant for only a short period of time. Marin Frames, which has 25-plus years of experience in the custom framing business, opened its second location on August 10th at 29 West Portal Avenue. Co-owners John Murphy and Christopher Scott are looking to use their expertise as artists and framers to help clients and art patrons choose the best way to conserve and display their artwork.

"Chris and I are both photographers," Murphy said. Each brings his artistic skills to the business and to client designs. He "hopes that with Marin Frames' help, the West Portal clients can raise their artwork to a whole new level of presentation and elegance, as they have done in San Rafael."

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He "hopes that with Marin Frames' help, the West Portal clients can raise their artwork to a whole new level of presentation and elegance, as they have done in San Rafael."

An August wine and cheese event served as the grand opening for their new retail establishment. The business was open the previous week to greet the neighborhood. Murphy said people have expressed a lot of interest in the store during the first couple of weeks, commenting especially on how great the store looks. "People like that there is new energy here."

Maryo Mogannam, president of the West Portal Merchant's Association, said it's nice to have someone lease the space so quickly. And it's nice to have another retailer in the neighborhood. "I wish them luck."

Murphy, who recently joined Scott as co-owner of Marin Frames, is a native of the West Portal area. "I grew up here," Murphy said. "West Portal was my stomping grounds." Murphy said he saw movies with friends in West Portal, shopped in at least one toy store in the neighborhood and took Muni to high school and downtown. Christopher Scott is a native San Franciscan, having grown up in both the Inner Sunset and Richmond districts. He trained as a framer with Frame of Mind in the mid-1980s.

Murphy said the choice of West Portal was one of timing, and most importantly, location. The two want customers to know they are glad to be in the neighborhood.

As at their San Rafael store, Marin Frames offers artists the ability to have original works scanned professionally, then have exhibition quality prints made to order. The company would like to expand that side of the business in West Portal. Besides the ability to create prints, the company specializes in shadowbox framing, hand gilding and traditional framing, as well as installation and white glove delivery. At Marin Frames, conservation is key; the company only uses conservation grade materials in all its frames.

According to Murphy, there is always a solution to a customer's needs and they are always up for a challenge. "We're very creative with our solutions."

Murphy and Scott are especially proud of work they have done for Cavallo Point, the prestigious spa, resort and restaurant just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. The company recently scanned, interpreted, printed and framed a 30-piece show for Gilles St. Martin of the America's Cup for a show currently on view at the Mercantile Gallery in Cavallo Point.

The West Portal store is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday; Friday, the store is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m; and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Marin Frames is closed Monday. For more information see

September 2013


Join The Cliff House in Celebrating its 150 Anniversary

Perched on a rocky bluff standing as a sentry to the comings and going on San Francisco's western most overlook, the world famous Cliff House has reached a milestone, the 150th anniversary of its founding.

Cliff House in the 1890s
"Cliff House in the 1890s

Like the phoenix emboldened upon the flag of the City of San Francisco, the restaurant has survived earthquakes, numerous fires, as well as the rough Pacific Ocean waters, and even ship explosions. The Cliff House has remained strong and resilient through three renovations. Constructed in 1863, the year of the Battle of Gettysburg, the first U.S. military draft and the creation of the first breakfast cereal, the Cliff House is among a small group of U.S. restaurants that are successfully still in operation.

General Manager Ralph Burgin, and proprietors Dan and Mary Hountalas, have successfully run the eco-friendly landmark for the last 40 years. Recycling, avid composting, buying locally and when possible, organic, the trio have proven that the Cliff House may be 150 years old but is still on top of its game. "Dan and I are honored to be stewards of such an important landmark in San Francisco history. We hope that Cliff House will far outlive us as it continues to thrive into new centuries," Mary Hountalas commented.

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The National Park Service bought the landmark and surrounding properties in 1977, while partnering with the Hountalas family to create the Cliff House we have today. An extensive restoration in 2003-04 brought the structure back to its' 1909 neo-classic elegance.”

A History Lesson

The first Cliff House was a modest structure built in 1863 by Senator John Buckley and C.C. Butler. It was purchased in 1881 by Adolph Sutro, later mayor of San Francisco. A fire in 1896 destroyed the original structure, and Sutro rebuilt the restaurant as a majestic gothic Victorian structure. Following Sutro's death in 1898 his daughter, Dr. Emma Sutro Merritt continued as owner. A fire during remodeling brought the "gothic" Cliff House to ruin in 1907. In 1909 the neo-classic Cliff House was opened, designed by the same architects that designed the Palace Hotel in downtown San Francisco. Later remodeled during subsequent decades, the Cliff House operation was passed to Dan and Mary Hountalas in 1973 from George Whitney, Jr. of "Playland" fame.

Cliff House in the 20s
Cliff House in the 20s

The National Park Service bought the landmark and surrounding properties in 1977, while partnering with the Hountalas family to create the Cliff House we have today. An extensive restoration in 2003-04 brought the structure back to its' 1909 neo-classic elegance.

As the crown jewel of the Golden Gate National Recreation area the Cliff House is part of the largest urban national park west of the Mississippi. The Cliff House, in conjunction with the National Park Service, has installed a wind turbine working towards the parks overall sustainability plan. Complying with SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) regulations, the wind turbine is expected to produce 9433 k-W-hours per year amounting to Green House Gas savings of 13,408 kg per year.

With more than 150 years of history to work with, Co-owner Mary Hountalas, a historian in her own right, has collected countless artifacts associated with the historic Cliff House. With over four decades of research Mary has turned her collection into a stunning tour of this captivating San Francisco landmark in her recent book The San Francisco Cliff House.

Week Long Celebratory Activities Planned

The Cliff House plans to highlight its history the week of July 13 – 19. On Wednesday and Thursday, July 17th and 18th, the Terrace Room will be transformed into an historical museum with local historians, seminars and collectors being present with antiquities and stories of the past. It will be open from 1:30 pm to 8:30 pm with free admission. For more detail on history exhibits, refer to The week will culminate with a grand celebration on Friday, July 19, from 7pm to 11pm in the Terrace Room with a ticket price of $18.63 per person, (the year the Cliff House was first built) and will include tastings and dancing. Tickets may be purchased at

Restaurant Specials throughout the year

Both restaurants will offer daily dining specials that celebrate the long and rich culinary history of the Cliff House. There will be a daily lunch entrée in Sutro's and a daily dinner entrée in the Bistro, both offered at $18.63 in honor of the 1863 Cliff House. A $150 pre-fixe dinner for two with commemorative favors in Sutro's will be offered several times through the end of the year. Editor's Note: If you haven't experienced a Bloody Mary at the Cliff House or one of their famous popovers you are in for a treat!

The Cliff House is located at 1090 Point Lobos, the western-most point of the GGNRA's historic Sutro Heights District. It is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Bistro and at Sutro's, for lunch and dinner. A Champagne Brunch Buffet is offered every Sunday in the Terrace Room, which is also available for private functions. Guests may shop for historical treasures and gift items at the Cliff House Gift shop open daily. Complimentary parking on street is available or nearby in the El Camino del Mar and Merrie Way parking lots. Valet parking is available at night. The Cliff House is operated by Peanut Wagon, Inc. and is a concessionaire of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area."

For Information on special offerings or for reservations, visit or call (415) 386-3330.

July 2013

Greek Restaurant, Orexi, Opens with Passion

exterior Orexi Restaurant
Exterior Orexi Restaurant.

Jon and Effie Loufas opened Orexi, a Greek restaurant, at 243 West Portal Avenue September 25. Since then, business has been good, the couple said, with customers returning each week and Jon sharing his passion for food.

“We have customers that haven’t missed a week,” Jon said. “That’s a good sign,” Effie added.

Jon has had the idea for the business since college, and he is so passionate about the idea he sold a house to finance the enterprise, he said.

Each day Jon buys fresh produce, and each night there are two to four new specials to keep customers excited about the menu. “I like doing that,” Jon said of creating the new menu items. “What can I come up with?” he asked. There are changes to the menu each week.

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Many of the recipes have come from his mother and grandmother, which Jon has been gathering for the past two to three years. The flavor of the food comes from the southern part of Greece, an area known as Peloponnese. ”

Jon said he has been in business all his life. For 20 years he and Effie operated a health food store in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. Prior to that, Jon spent 10 years in the restaurant industry, which is his passion.

crew of orexi
Crew of Orexi

Loufas said he has lived up the street from the restaurant for the past 21 years, and when they decided to open a restaurant, West Portal was their first choice.

“I love it here,” he said. “The people are beautiful. We have great neighbors. It’s got it all,” he said of West Portal. “It’s a hidden village inside the city.”

Jon said it took seven and a half months to do the work necessary to open Orexi, which means appetite in Greek. “And we get really good feedback,” he said.

Many of the recipes have come from his mother and grandmother, which Jon has been gathering for the past two to three years. The flavor of the food comes from the southern part of Greece, an area known as Peloponnese.

Orexi ovens
Orexi ovens

Popular dishes include: moussaka, a traditional dish of eggplant, ground lamb, ground beef and bechamel; paidakia, seasoned lamb chops, grilled and served with Greek potatoes; and an appetizer, arnisia plevrakia, grilled lamb riblets with a house dressing.

Orexi uses spices found traditionally in Greek food, such as Greek oregano, sea salt, ground pepper, garlic and lots of lemon. Also, Loufas uses extra virgin olive oil from the Kalamata region of Greece, rather than butter and other fats. The Kalamata region is known for olives by that name, Jon said.

Inside the restaurant are wooden tables, each with a flower and candle. The floor is stone, and an iron chandelier hangs from the center of the ceiling. On one wall hangs a honeycomb-shaped sculpture, and the bar is covered in brass.

The restaurant takes reservations for tables of six or more. Otherwise, no reservations are needed. Orexi is open from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday. The restaurant is closed Monday, though people can rent the space for private parties, Jon said. Also, Orexi hosts luncheons for companies and families.

The restaurant is open only for dinner to allow the couple to concentrate on the quality of food as the restaurant gets on its feet. After the New Year, Jon said they may try lunch. The couple does not have any plans for more locations at this time.

The restaurant seats perhaps 40 people. The bar seats four.

At 4:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, the staff was busy getting ready to open. The rotisserie was loaded and one person was shining the bar.

“I have a great team working for us,” Jon said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

December 2012

Goats on West Portal?

Phil DeAndrade
Phil DeAndrade

Goat Hill Pizza had a grand opening on August 27 at the former bakery at 170 West Portal.

With two other locations in the City, Goat Hill Pizza owner Phillip DeAndrade brings the long-established neighborhood camaraderie that has made his Potrero Hill pizzeria the central meeting spot to eat, drink and enjoy an afternoon or evening.

Established in 1975, Goat Hill Pizza has been an anchor, gathering a loyal following that appreciates the 100% homemade dishes. With its signature sourdough pizza crust, fresh salads and soups and its “all you can eat” Monday nights, the oldest restaurant on Potrero Hill, Goat Hill Pizza has been a favorite for more than 30 years. He hopes to build that same longevity and following in West Portal. “West Portal is a happening place,” he said, “I look forward to meeting new friends, I know they are going to love the food.” The etched glass graffiti incident could not dampen his enthusiasm for the neighborhood. “There is plenty of business here for everyone, we just concentrate on making the best pizzas and pasta — the rest will take care of itself.”

inside Goat Hill Pizza on West Portal
Interior of Goat Hill Pizza on West Portal

The bright, clean interior, with crisp red and black trim against warm gray walls is as inviting as the menu, which promises more than pizza. “We will be introducing specials and unique dishes designed just for our West Portal location,” said general manager Elena Nuestadt. She emphasized that—with everything being homemade—Goat Hill staff are eager to create special calzones and salads, aimed at pleasing the West Portal neighborhood.“We are excited to be a part of West Portal and so far we have been getting lots of good feed-back from local clientele who are happy we are moving in.”

Exterior of Goat Hill Pizza on West Portal
Exterior of Goat Hill Pizza on West Portal

Right next to the public parking lot, Goat Hill Pizza is filling an empty spot. The current economic recession has caused closures in just about every neighborhood. While Goat Hill might create some competition for other eateries like the Village Grill just a few doors away, to have the empty space filled by a locally-owned franchise is a welcomed sight, especially to West Portal residents like author Joe Sutton who treasure West Portal as a community. “I’m thrilled that Goat Hill Pizza has opened another establishment in my West Portal neighborhood,” said Sutton. “Being a huge pizza lover, I don’t have to travel across town anymore to enjoy their fabulous sourdough pizza.”

Graffiti at Goat Hill Pizza on West Portal
Welcome to the neighborhood! In spite of the ugly etched glass graffiti welcome, a plate glass replacement expense, undetered customers swarm in to try the new neighborhood treat.

Nuestadt said “Our West Portal location will be ‘cafeteria style’ with 12 tables for people to order and sit at. No serving staff, that is only for our Potrero Hill location. Yet as we get more situated, we will introduce specials offered only at West Portal,” said Nuestadt. And they offer a gluten-free crust as well as vegan Dayia cheese option, so everyone can enjoy the food.

Goat Hill Pizza

170 West Portal Avenue

415 242-GOAT

Jonathan Farrel is a free-lance San Francisco Journalist Feedback

September 2012


Roberts Espresso

Robert Ayanian
Robert Ayanian

West Portal holds many happy memories for Robert Ayanian, who recently returned to San Francisco after living many years in Southern California. This past February 15th he opened Robert’s Espresso on Irving Street.

Filling the storefront that had once been the long-established Alvin’s Scrumptious Coffee and Teas, between 18th and 19th Avenues, is a challenge, especially with Starbuck’s only a block away. Yet Ayanian is confident he can be a success. (Photo: Robert pours another cup)

quote marks

My parents still live in the house I grew up in on Pacheco and Dewey,” said Ayanian. He attended West Portal Elementary, Notre Dame des Victoires, St. Ignatius Prep, and got his degree at USF. ”

Ayanian was busy making “Haykakan surc” when he chatted with the Westside Observer. He explained that the coffee is a specialty that has been served in the Mediterranean and Middle East for centuries. Its rich, thick, and frothy texture is poured into a demitasse cup and often accompanies a pastry like baklava or nazook, another Armenian delight.

“My parents still live in the house I grew up in on Pacheco and Dewey,” said Ayanian. He attended West Portal Elementary, Notre Dame des Victoires, St. Ignatius Prep, and got his degree at USF.

Robert Ayanian’s father Zevan Ayanian stands outside the new Robert’s Expresso at 1708 Irving Street
Robert Ayanian’s father Zevan Ayanian stands outside the new Robert’s Expresso at 1708 Irving Street

Ayanian recalled many happy memories, like going to the movies at the Empire Cinema, ice cream at Baskin Robbins, and ending with candy at Shaw’s—all on West Portal Ave. He is pleased that the neighborhood still retains its small town charm after all these years.

From that upbringing in West Portal he ventured to Hollywood to pursue a career in broadcasting and media. He hosted his own TV show called “The Best List.” (Photo: Robert Ayanian’s father Zevan Ayanian stands outside the new Robert’s Expresso at 1708 Irving Street)

“Actually, it was originally to be called ‘The B List,’ as in how movies are often described,” said Sonia Keshishian.

She is Ayanian’s cousin and staunch supporter. Some of her artworks and photographs currently adorn the walls of the cafe. “Robert is like a brother to me, so yes, I am partial,” she said.

Yet she was emphatic as she said, “I can testify that whatever Robert does, he does with commitment and dedication,” She explained that, even though the TV show Ayanian had hosted was on the local cable TV service and budgets were tight, “Robert stuck to it. He sought out local talent and businesses in the Los Angeles, West Hollywood and even Beverly Hills area.”

“I know,” she said, “because I was a guest on that show, twice!”

She mentioned that Ayanian had also hosted the pilot episodes of two local TV game shows. The work in Hollywood was exciting but very competitive. In between television endeavors, Ayanian supported his TV work as a a realtor. After five years of TV hosting, Ayanian decided to follow another career path. “My parents both encouraged me to go back to school and do well at something I love.” For Ayanian, it was cooking. After he completed the program at Los Angeles Culinary Institute in Encino, he established his own catering business in Palm Springs.

“I was so glad that Robert returned to his roots,” said Keshishian, “because he always amazed us with his holiday dinners — he cooks up an outstanding turkey with all the fixings,” she said. And with his flair for entertaining, Ayanian’s catering as “Chef Robert’s Culinary Experience” was doing well until the economic downturn in 2008. “Suddenly all went bust,” Ayanian said. “Business dried up and people were not throwing parties or catering events as much.”

Just as he thought another career venture had ended, he got word about the empty storefront on Irving. “It’s like going full circle,” he said, “I used to work at Caravansary on Sutter Street while in college.”

“Caravansary (closed in 1999) was a coffee, tea and café spot on Sutter, (back in the 1970’s and ’80’s) and Robert was a ‘barista’ there, doing just what he is now, serving up great coffee and Espresso,” said Keshishian.

To wish him well in his endeavor, Candy Injaian, who was his boss at Caravansary, dropped by on opening day. “Robert has got the gift of serving the people with his culinary expertise,” said Keshishian and he has a real genuine good feeling for everyone that makes what he does special.”

Open 7-days a week, from 7: AM to 6: PM, Robert’s Espresso is located at 1708 Irving Street, between 18th and 19th Ave. For details visit web site at: or call 415-213-5779.

April 2012

“Resizing” Your Home? - Meet Paula Bailey…

Paula Bailey
Paula Bailey

As many of us are now “empty-nesters” with the kids launched into their own lives, there comes a time when we look at the family home and wonder, would it be easier to take care of something that is a little smaller? Or, are you starting out with a growing family where you could use more space as the kids are growing? Whatever your reason for change, a call to Coldwell Banker realtor Paula Bailey may be in order as she is someone who specializes in “resizing.”

A native San Franciscan with over 20 years of banking and financial expertise, Bailey brings a comprehensive and professional background to the real estate transaction. A former lender, she knows what it takes to get through the current banking labyrinth of paperwork and processes. In her words, “I am a One-stop Realtor for Resizing, both up or down. With my financial experience and comprehensive approach to real estate I strive to help every client in a courteous and professional manner.” Working with a team of professionals, Bailey knows full well that buying or selling a home is a very personal matter and in many cases success is tied to the trust that both agent and client establish during the business relationship.

If “resizing” is on you horizon, take the time to give Paula a call at 415.812.2257, or email her at: Her website is at:

February 2012

Infrared Sauna Comes to West Portal at Dimitra’s

Most of us are familiar with the process of how a “sauna” works. In an enclosed wooden structure, water is heated into steam by either pouring it over a heating element. The steam and high temperature of a wet sauna is used to draw toxins and oils out of the body through our ability to sweat. A “dry sauna” works in the same manner only using very hot dry air instead of steam.

A new type of heating process using infrared light has been developed and has resulted in a completely new kind of sauna experience. This new technology is now on West Portal Avenue at Dimitra’s Medi Spa. The sauna, manufactured by the corporation Sunlighten, uses the near, mid and far spectrums of infrared light to provide a much more effective method of detoxification, skin rejuvenation, relaxation and muscle therapy than other traditional saunas. In fact, the patented solocarbon-heating element has been proven to be over 7 times more effective than a traditional sauna for heating the body core, which is necessary for detoxification.

The company is dedicated to health restoration and stress that in their stated company purpose, “to perpetuate the shift away from disease treatment and towards disease prevention.”

Give the friendly staff at Dimitra’s a call to book some time in the new sauna and experience what the infrared revolution is all about.

Dimitra’s Medi-Spa is located at 324 West Portal Avenue. For more information visit their website at:, or call them at 415.731.8080.

February 2012

City Sites Open To Collect Gift-Filled Shoe Boxes

Haitian Child
Haitian Child

Nov 14–21 Volunteers Working to Collect Over 4,800 Gifts While many San Francisco families are busy with holiday activities, a group of local volunteers is focused on filling empty shoe boxes with school supplies, toys, hygiene items and notes of encouragement for needy kids overseas. San Francisco families are participating in the world's largest Christmas project of its kind—Operation Christmas Child—an effort that has hand-delivered 86 million gifts to kids worldwide since 1993.

This year-round project of Samaritan's Purse is coming to its peak, as local businesses, churches and schools prepare to collect gift-filled shoe boxes during National Collection Week, Nov. 14-21. Volunteers can drop off their shoe box gifts at the bustling locations in the area to help kids in 100 countries know they are loved and not forgotten.

Operation Christmas Child, a project of international Christian relief and evangelism organization Samaritan's Purse, uses whatever means necessary to reach suffering children around the world with these gifts of hope, including sea containers, trucks, trains, airplanes, boats, camels and dog sleds. Tracking technology also allows donors to "follow" their box to the destination country where it will be hand-delivered to a child in need. To register shoe box gifts and find out the destination country, use the Follow Your Box donation form found at

Operation Haiti Chil

Local Collection Sites:

Sunset Church

3638 Lawton Street

San Francisco, CA, 94122

Operating Hours: Mon: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tues: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Wed: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Thurs: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Fri: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sat: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sun: 1 p.m. - 5 p.m. Mon: Not Collecting

Mariner's Community Church

225 S Cabrillo Highway 101C

Half Moon Bay, CA, 94019

Operating Hours: Mon: 9 a.m. - 11 a.m. Tues: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Wed: 9 a.m. - 8 p.m. Thurs: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Fri: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sat: 5 p.m. - 8 p.m. Sun: 8 a.m. - 12 p.m. Mon: 9 a.m. - 11 a.m.

November 2011


Healthy Pets Veterinary Hospital – the total holistic approach to pet care

Dr. Adam Piaseczny and the staff at Healthy Pets Veterinary Hospital
Dr. Adam Piaseczny and the staff at Healthy Pets Veterinary Hospital

Since its opening in September of 2010, the Healthy Pets Veterinary Hospital has been quietly growing and expanding as local pet owners are embracing the clinic for the holistic-based methods of treatment offered by Dr. Adam Piaseczny and his staff.

Located at 373 West Portal Avenue, "Healthy Pets" offers a convenient, centrally located facility that is easy to access from the Westside of the city, the Castro and the Mission. Parking is available on West Portal Avenue (metered) and in the surrounding neighborhoods within an easy walk. Metered parking lots are also a convenient stroll away.

I sat down with Dr. Piaseczny to discuss the challenges of dealing with patients who don't communicate in our spoken language and how the practice of holistic veterinary medicine is different that most other facilities that assist us when our pets need medical attention.

Westside Observer (WSO): What are the biggest challenges you face and where do you start with a pet diagnosis?

Dr. Adam: When I am evaluating a new client, I like to start with a discussion of food and the diet of the patient. Our animals are pretty much just like us humans. Pets have hearts, kidneys, livers, brains, circulatory systems, nervous systems, etc. just like we do. It makes sense that they would require a variety of healthy foods, vitamins and minerals to keep them healthy and their bodies functioning at a healthy level.

It's sometimes a challenge to change a pet owners perception about "human food" in a pet diet. Cats are carnivores, and require a diet high in protein, while dogs are omnivores and can enjoys diets with protein as well as vegetables, etc. With the ease that canned and dry pet foods offer, it's easy to keep feeding your pets the same type of food each day with little or no changes. If we were forced to eat the same thing each day, we would get bored, so it's perfectly acceptable to vary the diet by adding small amounts of chicken, beef, fish, rice, carrots and other vegetables to your pets' diet. Even "human" foods like yogurt and cooked eggs can be good for your pet. We have even put some of our clients on a raw diet in cases of advanced inflammatory problems. Of course, your pet may not like certain foods either in taste, texture or smell.

WSO: Tell us how "Chinese Medicine Therapy is used in your practice.

Dr. Adam: There are five aspects of traditional Chinese Medicine and we use all five to treat our pet patients. The most well known is Acupuncture which is used both for pain management and to help correct imbalances in the central nervous system, just as it is used in human patients. The other aspects are TuiNa (massage), Food Therapy, Herbal supplements, and Chi Gong, a form of yoga. We also have a pet chiropractor that works with us to help our clients that need chiropractic adjustments. These therapies have been developed over thousands of years, and are very beneficial in treating many of the allergies and inflammatory problems that pets (like humans) can develop.

WSO: What sets "Healthy Pets" apart from other clinics?

Dr. Adam: I think we are different in two ways. With our full spectrum of treatments we take a unique approach to preventative care. We rely less of vaccinations (although we do use them as necessary) and more on nutrition and the tenets of the Chinese Medicine I discussed above. We strive to keep the body in balance and try to maintain a long-term "tuning" of the (pet) patients for a total wellness result, instead of just using a shot, or pill to fix a specific clinical problem.

Secondly, we conduct a thorough follow-up with our clients. Since our patients do not speak our (human) language it is very important for our doctors, our technicians and our staff members to follow up right after the treatment and for several days as veterinary medicine is not an exact science and we may have to adjust treatments or prescriptions based on changed behaviors, responses, etc.

WSO: How has the clinic (as a new business) fared in its first year?

Dr. Adam: It has been a very successful launch as this location, in San Francisco, is a very good fit. Many San Franciscans are pet owners and have responded well to our services and our open houses. We are getting very good reviews online at Yelp, we have had great personal references, and we are having clients who found us by "word of mouth," and our newspaper ads.

We have also conducted several open houses, and they have been well attended; in fact, our next Open House is scheduled for September 24th from 4 pm- 8 pm. We will be sponsoring a band, and having Hors D'oeurves and wine. Mark your calendars now.

Overall our breakdown is: 75% cats and 25% dogs with an occasional pocket pet thrown in. (pocket pets are: hamsters, gerbils, chinchillas, etc. with a few reptiles).

WSO: What would you like to tell clients and prospective clients?

Dr. Adam: Come to our Open House on September 24th to see what we're all about. We have 2 doctors, 4 technicians and 3 receptionists that are dedicated to keeping your pet healthy and fit.

Healthy Pets Veterinary Hospital is located at 373 West Portal Avenue. The clinic is open Monday through Friday from 8 Am to 6 PM and on Saturdays from 9 Am to 2 PM. Their services include: Exams and Vaccinations; Surgery and Dentistry; Traditional Chinese Medicine; Herbs and Nutritional Supplements and Food Therapy. For more information visit their website at:, or call them at 415.742.5961.

September 2011

Hard Copy Still King at Bookshop West Portal

Joe Sutton with his book at Bookshop, West Portal
Joe Sutton with his book at Bookshop, West Portal

Bookshop West Portal is a locally owned, independent bookstore in the heart of the West Portal, just a block down from the MUNI tunnel.

"People like coming in, we get lots of foot traffic," said store manager Kevin Atkin.

It is because of the steady flow of foot traffic that local author Joseph Sutton was eager to sell his most recent book at the shop: The Year the Giants Won The Series. "Sales are going very well," he said.

Drawn from his personal journal, Sutton's observations of the Giants' 2010 World Series victory remind us again that a bunch of ragtag ballplayers became champions of the world—against all odds.

"I'm a Giants fan," said Atkin, "from the days they were at Candlestick Park."

Atkin has been Bookshop West Portal's manager since it opened in 2007, "It's hard not to like Joe's little book, especially if you're a baseball or Giants fan. It's a home run."

"We're not breaking any records here," said Atkin, noting the shift in bookselling and publishing since the advent of electronic book formats like Kindle and Nook, as well as other wireless electronic reading devices.

"We're fighting the good fight," said Atkin, making reference to the digital revolution's impact.

"It's really all about the neighborhood," he went on. "We are here because the people of West Portal wanted us here. It's a very special neighborhood." The constant stream of customers walking into the shop that afternoon was testimony to that. More than a dozen people walked in to browse in less than 10 minutes. Some asked for particular books or had a question about a favorite author.

"When will your next book be coming out, Joe?" asked one customer. "Next year," replied Sutton, the author of seven books. His eighth book, Highway Sailor: A Rollicking American Journey, will be out in 2012.

Sutton's titles are also available in electronic format. "My book, The Year the Giants Won The Series, makes for a great Father's Day gift because it's not only about the Giants' World Series year, but it's interspersed with my reflections on coaching my son's Little League team twenty years ago. It shows how my son and I bonded through the game of baseball."

Atkin said, "At some point soon we'll be offering digital book products, but old-fashioned hard copy is still king around here."

Atkin pointed out that the aesthetics of a book in print are still very appealing. "The look, the feel, the texture and smell of the pages; a real book to hold in your hands is still portable," said Atkin.

"Yet," said Sutton, "for students or people who must do a lot of studying and research, having all the books on one device is a way to save on paper and printing costs. It's more convenient without all the extra bulk and weight to carry around."

"We like helping people get what they want," said Atkin. He and shop owner Neal Sofman strive to ensure quality customer service.

Sutton, like many residents of the West Portal and Parkside Area, are pleased that Book Shop West Portal is their neighborhood bookstore. "It establishes an important presence along the merchant corridor of West Portal," he said. "It adds to the ease and convenience of shopping and spending time in West Portal."

"The Year the Giants Won The Series" is now on sale at Bookshop West Portal. Info: or call 415-564-8080.

July-August 2011

TRUE SOUND…a resourceful store for your hearing

Staff at True Sound
Staff at True Sound

TRUE SOUND is a dynamic new store in the Lakeshore Plaza Shopping Center that can deliver a big change in your life. Most of us have exceptional hearing when we are in our youth, but the daily noise can slowly cause damage that erodes our ability to hear as clearly. Many of us have been to concerts where we were too close to the speakers, or worked in areas where repetitive noise (like jackhammers, car engines, etc.) is the daily norm.

The question is: How many of us have ever thought about having a hearing evaluation (unless we have a family member who is telling us that we need to)? The answer is probably very few, as the typical response is, "My hearing is fine!"

Owner Robert Gilligan and the team at TRUE SOUND have created an easy, non-threatening way to see how your hearing stacks up. When you walk into the studio, it's not like a typical medical facility that deals with hearing related issues, instead, the green and silver interior and electronic equipment are very hands on and self-service oriented to encourage the taking of a self administered hearing check. No appointments are needed for testing; it's an interactive approach where one can just walk in, put headphones on and, using the touch screen do a simple test to evaluate where your hearing level is.

This casual approach to testing makes TRUE SOUND different than 99% of other hearing testing and device related stores. The layout and makeup of the operation is "lifestyle oriented" so that if it is determined that a hearing accessory is needed, you can work with the audiologist (in the store) to determine the best type to fit your lifestyle and needs. Unlike a "one size fits all" approach, different types of hearing aids are matched to each individual client. They range from devices for "simple needs" to ones for those that have moderate or high need levels. There are stylish devices that are almost imperceptible.

The lifestyle aspect of hearing plays a large part in the way that the staff at TRUE SOUND approaches its work. Owner Gilligan explains, "People with hearing loss will change their lifestyle due to the impact that it makes in their lives. Many are reluctant to go to restaurants, or movies, where those with hearing loss have a very difficult time either hearing the movie, or dealing with the echoing of multiple conversations. As a result, many people decide that it's too difficult, so they stay home. The new technologies can help to restore the ability to enjoy conversation, movies, concerts and restaurants as many new advances have been made in how hearing assist devices can now differentiate multiple conversations and where the 'primary' conversation is coming from. This is an important improvement over the general single direction microphones that were used in the past."

I was led through a demonstration by Dr. Heather Little, a Doctor of Audiology, who evaluates and assists clients with more specialized testing to ensure the best result for each person looking to improve their hearing. I learned that hearing loss could result from a single episode, or from a lifetime of loud noises that damage our hearing in a cumulative way. The studio has a sound testing room on site with acoustically foam-lined walls where private hearing tests can be conducted. A window in the wall ensures that the clients don't feel "closed in" and helps to contribute to a more comfortable, interactive experience. Dr. Little grew up locally in Miraloma Park before attending Lowell High School, and eventually receiving her Audiology degrees at California State University, Sacramento and Salus University in Pennsylvania. She has worked in the field in both the US and in New Zealand and cites a major difference between the countries. "Here in the US, the testing and verification of the fitting of hearing aids is a bit different. In New Zealand the industry is much more stringent in the verification process and as a result the clients have a much better chance of receiving the best amplification for their individual needs," said the audiologist.

Both Gilligan and Little stress the importance of testing prior to working with a client to fit a device. "Without testing there can be no realistic outcome that can be predicted. We work with each client individually to set realistic expectations of what improvement can be expected," said Gilligan, who explained some of the challenges for people.

"It has been studied all around the world, and pretty much universally it takes a person 7 to 9 years from the time that they first think they may have a hearing problem before they do something about it. The problem is, that as hearing is damaged the ears get 'lazy,' the portion of the brain that processes sound also gets 'lazy' and the ability to understand or filter sound deteriorates. As a result, the person can be embarrassed to seek help, and their day-to-day lifestyle becomes more limited over years. We can change that and make a big change in the lives of those who have hearing loss."

The staff members at True Sound are excited to assist people with their hearing and it goes much further than just being a vocation; it is a business, but it's one where they get to help people and really make a difference. They almost become part of the "family" since they get to see them from time to time for tune ups, battery replacements, or when they just stop in to say hello.

True Sound is located at 1539 Sloat Blvd. (Lakeshore Plaza). Open Monday through Friday, 9 AM- 6PM, Saturday from 10 AM – 4 PM. For more information give them a call at 1-888-228-1378, or visit their website at

June 2011

Aaron Kahana, Manager
Aaron Kahana, Manager

Smooth Skin the Easy Way: EUROPEAN WAX CENTER

When you first walk through the front door at the European Wax Center in the Westlake Center, you immediately feel like you are at the entrance to an upscale European spa. Limestone tile, frosted glass, antique-looking exposed brick display cases welcome you to the center.

Only minutes from the freeway and the hustle and bustle of San Francisco, the center feels far from the stress of the everyday world and beckons you to try the skin smoothing advantages of waxing. Of course, many places have “waxing” services, but European Wax Center is different, both in the way they design their process, and in the level of customer service.

Owner Lynda Oliver, Manager Aaron Kahana and the staff are bringing the practice of waxing to a new level. Unlike most places that offer this type of service, the center uses a patented wax treatment in a 4-step process to provide a much higher degree of hygiene, skin protection and hair removal than their competitors. The four steps, Cleaning, Protecting, Waxing and Rejuvenating, are designed to keep skin irritation to a minimum and provide a premium result.

Kahana explained, “Many of our clients are first timers and they can be a little unsure of the process. Our process is very hygienic and as we are providing a treatment, we are checking in with the client during each process to make sure they are comfortable and at ease. The combination of the process and the service really makes this ‘The Ultimate Wax Experience’.”

Customers have started to find out about the Center as the business has been steadily growing since their mid-November opening. “When we started we were seeing almost 100 percent women, and many were first timers, but now men make up about 15 percent of our clientele. In fact, we have had to add some additional staff to handle the increased business,” said the manager.

The center has six rooms for waxing procedures, so it is best to pre-book and make an appointment for a treatment. Walk-ins are welcomed, but if you arrive at a busy time, with many of the rooms pre-booked you may have to wait for an opening. Another reason to pre-book is the Customer Rewards program that is offered at the center.

Each client receives “points” for items such as pre-booking appointments, booking on-line, enrolling in a pre-payment program, referring a guest, purchasing a gift card for services, or purchasing a retail product (e.g. lotions, moisturizers). When a person has collected 1000 points, it equates to a $10 discount on goods and services.

Some of the clients utilize the Pre-Paid program, where advanced payment is made for future blocks of treatments. Currently, first time clients receive 3 free treatments with the purchase of a Pre-Paid “Wax Pass” of 9 sessions.

Kahana explains why a “Wax Pass” makes sense. “Many of our clients are on a schedule where they schedule a treatment every 4-5 weeks, to keep their skin its smoothest. After 3-4 visits, the hair doesn’t grow back as fast, which makes the process easier.”

In addition, the European Wax Center is offering a free offer to new, first- time clients: for Women, a free bikini line, eyebrow, or under arm treatment; for Men, a free eyebrow, ear or nose treatment.

The company started in Florida as a single department within a family-run salon. The founders spent over 10 years developing and refining the concept. With 192 locations in 17 states, Oliver, Kahana and the team benefit from the marketing support and branding that comes with being part of a nationwide group, but in the end it’s all about the customer service and value. “We have to provide quality each and every time. Our motto for our clients is ‘Happy In and Happy Out.’ All of our estheticians are fully licensed and trained in our unique process so we can provide the ultimate waxing experience for our clients.”

European Wax Center is located at 518 Westlake Center. They are open Monday -Wednesday, 8:30 AM- 8:00PM; Thursday and Friday, 8:30AM – 8:30PM; Saturday, 8:30AM-7:00PM and on Sunday from 10:30AM – 6PM. To book a reservation: 650.991.9900, or

May 2011

You May Want to Mediate Your Dispute:

Why Businesses Like Mediation

Carol Kingsley Photo
Carol Kingsley Photo

Disputes are an inevitable part of doing business and most are resolved by the parties without any outside help. But there are those conflicts that reach a point and are of sufficient significance where one or more of the parties turn to the legal system for help. Litigation has long been the recourse for parties with difficult disputes. However, mediation is an increasingly popular alternative to deal with business disputes, especially attractive in the current challenging economy. Businesses are trying to control costs more than ever, and litigation is very expensive. Mediation offers disputing parties a way to resolve conflict at only a fraction of the cost of money and time typical of litigation.

Why Do Businesses Like Mediation? Here are a few reasons:

Mediation Saves You Money. Mediation costs a fraction of what it takes to litigate a matter. When a lawsuit is filed, usually the parties can expect to be dealing with the case for months or even years, incurring substantial expenses in lawyers’ fees and related costs including among things court fees, expert fees, and the costs of discovering the facts. In contrast, the mediation process allows the parties to resolve their conflict in a matter of hours or days.

Mediation Saves You Time. Time spent dealing with conflict means lost time conducting business. So business owners know that it is a mistake to let conflict fester and prefer to address the conflict as efficiently as possible. Mediation can be scheduled quickly at the convenience of the parties, and parties can reach resolution in a short period of time (over a matter of days or even hours) compared to lawyers working a case up to be heard by a judge, jury or arbitrator.

You Control the Resolution of the Dispute. You, not the mediator or another third party like a judge or arbitrator, control the outcome of the dispute using the mediation process. The mediator works with the disputing parties to help them communicate effectively and work towards settling their dispute. The risk of a negative decision by a judge, arbitrator or other third party that is present when a case is heard in court or arbitration is not present in mediation.

Mediation is Private and Confidential. Unlike cases filed in court, which become part of the public record, mediation is private and confidential. Parties in mediation and the mediator agree contractually and are required by law to keep the mediation proceedings confidential. This confidentiality allows the parties to feel comfortable to openly and freely talk to try to reach resolution without the fear that what is said is going to be used against them if the conflict does not settle and goes to court. What is said only within mediation cannot be used to later to show fault or liability.

You Have More Flexibility in Mediation. Mediation allows more creativity than the courts. The parties can explore options and work out a settlement that can include a resolution that would not be available if the dispute were decided by a judge, jury or arbitrator, who are restricted by parameters set by law. The flexibility of mediation allows parties to form more satisfying resolutions than otherwise would have been available.

Mediation Can Preserve the Relationships of the Parties. During mediation, each party’s point of view is heard and the final resolution is mutually agreeable to every party. By reaching a mutually satisfactory settlement, where no party has truly “lost”, ill will and bad feelings between the parties can often be avoided or at least minimized. It’s not uncommon for parties who resolve their conflict in mediation to resume their relationship with each other but with new understanding and respect.

The vast majority of cases that are filed in court settle and never go to trial. Settlement often happens “on the courthouse steps” on the eve of trial. These last minute settlements offer the parties great relief and savings on the expenses of going through the trial. Yet, at this point, the parties usually have already spent substantial hours and dollars and in many cases may also have endured significant stress and experienced health and other personal repercussions from the conflict. More often than not at this point, the relationship between the parties has suffered irreparable harm. So while mediation done late in the history of the conflict is better than not at all, the benefits of early mediation are significantly better.

Carol Kingsley is an attorney mediator specializing in the resolution of contract and business disputes, including real estate, construction, estate and trust conflicts. Please call Carol at Kingsley Mediation Services 415-681-4329 or visit for more information

November 2010

Dimitra’s Medi-Spa – helping people look their best for almost 30 years

Dimitras Spa
Dimitras Spa

It’s not uncommon in this day and age to see multiple storefronts in a block with the word “Spa” in their name. From hair salons, nail salons and to massage treatment centers it seems that everyone wants to be in the “Spa” business.

For the West of Twin Peaks area, Dimitra’s Skin Care and Medi-Spa, located at 324 West Portal Ave., pioneered the skin care business and has been helping clients look their best for three decades.

Dimitra Kokkalis Wagner, joined in business by her brother-in-law, Dr Andrew Wagner, MD, has been providing state of the art skin care at her West Portal salon since 1982. Born and raised on the Greek island of Corfu, Dimitra received her training in Athens, where esthetics (skin care science) is more closely aligned with the medical profession than it traditionally has been in the United States.

Dimitra’s ‘SkinCare & Electrolysis’ became a day spa, one of the first in San Francisco, and continued to evolve, now leading the way as Dimitra’s SkinCare & MediSpa. This local business has been described as “The Best of Both Worlds” in the skin care and medi-spa industry by continuing to provide leading edge services, enabling them to stay ahead of the curve…and their competitors.

With her education and experience, Dimitra is considered to be one of the leading experts in skincare, and frequently receives calls from other estheticians for advice and consultation. She personally trains each of the salon estheticians to ensure that every client is afforded the same high level of quality service. Wagner is passionate about providing ‘results orientated’ skin care, and her staff has the expertise to solve almost every type of skin care problem.

The expert staff members treat varying types of skin conditions for clients of all age groups. Treatments are provided for conditions ranging from acne to aging; services include microdermabrasion, peels, healing massage, Velashape (for cellulite reduction/body contouring), electrolysis, waxing and brow/lash tinting.

Dr. Andrew Wagner’s talents earned him Spa Weeks West Coast Luxi award for the best medical treatments. He specializes in Laser Hair Removal, plus the latest techniques for anti-aging and Skin Rejuvenation.

Wagner has been described as an ‘artist’ using both Botox and Juvederm. But a daily regimen is necessary to maintain healthy skin, and creating this regimen is easy when you consult the advice of a licensed professional. 

Dimitra’s has amassed an array of skincare products from around the world, plus as a MediSpa, has the advantage of being able to offer physician- strength retail products. Renowned for the compassion they show their clients, the salon has earned the devoted loyalty of their clients, often serving 2-3 generations of a family.

Just as important as the daily business of medical skin care, Dimitra’s desire is for her salon to support our local community through contributions of time, services, and money. The Wagners play an active role in the West Portal Merchants Association and are proud of having served thousands of people since opening 30+ years ago.

The staff members are friendly and courteous, a hallmark of customer service in an era where it can be difficult to find. We at the Westside Observer applaud the dedication of Dimitra and the Wagner family for their commitment to our community, and for providing a quality service.

When you are in the market for quality skin care services, or want to choose from a full line of professional skin care products, consider Dimitra’s SkinCare & MediSpa as your friendly neighborhood family salon.

Dimitra’s Skin Care and Medi-Spa is located at 324 West Portal Avenue. Business hours are: Monday –Thursday 10-7, Friday 9-6, and Saturdays from 9-4. To schedule an appointment or to request additional information please call them at (415) 731-8080 or via email at:

Sept 2010

Alma Via of San Francisco proves that “Home” is where the heart is and where Caring comes first

Alma Via Senior Living
Alma Via Senior Living

If asked, most people will have different ideas and memories when asked what constitutes the concept of “home” to them. From a Midwestern farmhouse to a bustling San Francisco neighborhood, all of us have experiences that help to define “home and family.” As we gain in maturity we will have another shared experience, aging and the way that we choose to live. Some of us will live with adult children while others will keep the “family home, or apartment” until the physical or financial upkeep becomes too much.

I had the pleasure of walking through AlmaVia of San Francisco and speaking with their Director of Community Services, Therese Myzwinski, about “home” and the AlmaVia community.

To start, what is AlmaVia? Alma Via of San Francisco is an “eldercare” community of adults who have chosen to live in “apartment-like” units where they can be as active as they wish. Located at One Thomas More Way the building and grounds are convenient to San Francisco and the greater Bay Area.

alma via interior photo
Alma Via interior photo

Unlike many senior communities, AlmaVia of San Francisco is part of the Elder Care Alliance, which is a non-profit organization that works with the residents to provide enrichment of their physical, emotional and spiritual well being as they age. One of seven facilities in the Elder Care Alliance, AlmaVia of San Francisco can accommodate up to 130 residents in units that range from a studio to a 2-bedroom apartment.

Although the community is “faith-centered” it is non-denominational and has residents whose religious backgrounds are diverse. The ‘spirituality” component truly sets this facility apart from other senior-care facilities. The ElderCare Alliance was formed, as a non-profit organization by several faith-based groups: the Mercy Retirement Community, the Sisters of Mercy, the Salem Lutheran Home, and the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Lutheran Congregation.

The memory care component is another of the ways that AlmaVia of SF is different from other care facilities. The staff can assist with up to 43 “memory care,” residents, those who have mild to severe symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In most care facilities, memory care patients have to be relocated to a specialized treatment facility. At Alma Via there are two levels of memory care that the staff can provide, which helps the residents stay in their familiar surroundings for as long as possible, which really helps their quality of life. Residents can better “Age in Place” and be as active as they are able, or want to be.

The garden at Alma Via
The garden at Alma Via

The residents truly are a community and many are actively involved in volunteer programs, “Adopt A Family” programs, and “Sages through the Ages” a program where some of the residents volunteer their time to visit residents in the memory-care unit within Alma Via. Currently, Myzwinski has 25 people doing this volunteering, which helps to remove barriers and provides much needed contact for the acute memory care residents.

As you would expect, AlmaVia has a full list of amenities and events for the residents. The pricing for the “month to month” residences includes 3 meals per day, a healthy menu designed and prepared by Executive Chef Martin Sanchez. Their special “Supper Club” events feature fine dining, wine and musical entertainment in an atmosphere where the attendees and their guests can dress up and enjoy a special evening, not out on the town, but in the comfortable surrounding of the AlmaVia community.

Other amenities include exercise rooms, bingo, bridge, art programs, calligraphy and Chinese drawing programs and movie nights. In addition, residents can serve on Resident Council, and on Peace and Social Justice discussion groups.

Mobility is a big plus at Alma Via as Transportation is available to the residents 5 days per week for shopping days, baseball games, medical appointments and other outside events. With the close proximity to San Francisco, 15 minutes to downtown and 15 minutes to the airport, the facility offers a great location and a neighborhood lifestyle.

Myzwinski, who has been at the facility for four years, put it best, “We try to never say ‘no’ to our residents, who are like a big family to us. All of us are very close to each of our resident members and their families. It’s a special environment where one can age in place with dignity.”

As I was leaving, I noticed a sentence painted on a wall which reads, ”Home is where your story begins.” From the friendly faces at the front desk, to the caring staff and support teams, to the community residents that I saw, the community of “AlmaVia of San Francisco” certainly provides both “home” and “community” to its’ residents. We should all be so fortunate.

AlmaVia/San Francisco is located at One Thomas More Way (off of Hwy 280 South immediately below Brotherhood Way). There are people on staff every day and they welcome visitors. To schedule a tour of the community or to request additional information please call Ms. Therese Myzwinski, Director of Community Relations at (415) 337-1339. Website:

May 2010

The West Portal Community Business District

Now’s the Time to Get Involved

West Portal Shops.
West Portal Shops

All of us associated with the West Portal community, merchants, customers, landlords, residents and visitors usually agree on one thing: West Portal Avenue is a special (albeit) hidden jewel within San Francisco.

Matt Rogers (Papenhousen Hardware) and several colleagues are working feverishly to create a West Portal Community Business District, or Community Benefits District (CBD) in city government speak.

A CBD is designed to improve and benefit properties within the commercial district by creating an enhanced visitor experience through improved streetscape (design and landscaping) and maintenance (think graffiti removal, street cleaning, and powerwashing sidewalks, etc.). CBD’s also can take advantage of specialized economic development activities and administrative/advocacy activities. The CBD is set up for a period of 15 years, and is governed by a board made up of property owners and merchants. Funding is derived from assessments on each property that usually are negotiated with and passed through to the merchant tenants.

Why do this? As the city coffers dwindle, it becomes less and less able to handle basic street maintenance like sweeping, gum removal and graffiti remediation. Niceties such as flowers, benches, murals, and even trees are almost impossible to install or maintain. The onus falls to the property owners and tenants anyway, but as individual owners and tenants, they usually pay more to have these types of services performed.

hanging flower basket
A hanging flower basket

If multiple owners and tenants embraced the idea for collective maintenance and streetscape, individual costs would fall and the “experience” would make the area better for everyone who owns property (increasing value), or leases space as a retailer (more attractive means a better shopping experience), or visits the street (an enhanced experience that wants to make a visitor stay longer / come back, or tell friends about the great place that is West Portal).

Many of the retail tenants and landlords are already in favor of the concept of the Community Business District, but more support is needed. Other areas in San Francisco such as Noe Valley, the Fillmore, and Ocean Avenue have already established CBD’s as a way to enhance the neighborhood experience for visitors and residents alike.

While no one relishes the idea of more fees and assessments, the overall benefit could bring results that dwarf the assessments to establish the CBD.

What can you do? If you are a landlord or property owner, take a look at the property, talk with your tenant and schedule a conversation with Matt or one of the other business people who are supporting the concept of a CBD. A cleaner, well-maintained shopping district with improved signage and visitors could be a benefit to everyone associated with West Portal Avenue. As I said at the beginning, West Portal is a special place which deserves to be maintained and nurtured. Anyone who has been to Noe Valley or the Fillmore Jazz District can see the results of what a CBD can bring to an area.

Take the time to get the facts and help turn West Portal Avenue back into one of the premier shopping (and living) districts in the Country.

Contact Matt Rogers (Papenhousen Hardware)

April 2010

Dr. Victoria Tobar: The Art of Personalized, Caring Dentistry

Dr Victoria Tobar and Staff
Dr Victoria Tobar and her Staff

Walking through the front door into the office to meet Dr. Victoria Tobar, D.M.D. I was struck by the sense of serenity and of light. No “muzak” filled the air, and the office was light and airy. Several certificates showing her accomplishments in practicing dentistry line the wall, as well as a framed “Mission Statement,” something I would expect to see in a “corporate lobby” but not something I usually expect to see in the office of a doctor or dentist. “Our office is committed to providing you the highest quality comprehensive dental care in a caring, comfortable and mutually respectful environment. We focus on excellent restorative and cosmetic dentistry with an emphasis on patient education and prevention.”

Victoria Tobar is dedicated to providing a “new style of practicing dentistry,” one that she described as putting the patient first, and taking the time to listen to each patient as an individual and to discuss treatments and answer questions.

She said that when she graduated from dental school she worked in various practices throughout San Francisco, from the Mission to the Marina and in Chinatown. “One of the things I learned was that as an Associate within a practice you have very little control over the time you can spend with patients. Previously she had limited time with her patients, “then it’s time to move to the next one after the assistant has completed the cleaning and prep work,” said Tobar.

“I wanted to do things different, so I opened my practice in January 2009 and I can set the time I want to spend with each patient. With most of my new patients, I spend at least an hour with each one going over their medical and dental histories,” she explained. “It really gives me the opportunity to get to know each patient on a personal level.”

Unlike larger clinics where teams of dental hygienists conduct much of the cleaning, Tobar runs a small office of three people, including a receptionist, located in the Sunset Dental Building. “My assistant does some cleaning and set up, but I personally handle the majority of treatment on each of my patients,” said the Bay Area native.

“Gum disease can cause serious damage to the body, as symptoms are few, like bleeding gums. The problem is that the body is continually fighting the disease and it helps to “use up” your immune system, and can cause serious complications in people with other conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.”

A full-service practice, Dr. Tobar provides a full range of dental treatments and services including porcelain crowns, bridges and veneers, metal-free tooth fillings and replacements, tooth implant services, dentures, root canal treatments, teeth whitening procedures, as well as the preventative cleaning and checkups that most people should do every 4-6 months. The office also uses digital X-ray technology, which results in a 70-90% reduction in the amount of radiation to which the patient is exposed.

“One of the trends is that people are taking better care of their teeth and I am seeing patients well into their 90’s who still have the majority of their teeth,” said the dentist. When I asked about flossing, she smiled and said, “Yes, it’s one of the most important things that you can do. It really helps to prevent cavities between the teeth, as well as periodontal (gum) disease.” Gum disease can cause serious damage to the body, as symptoms are few, like bleeding gums. The problem is that the body is continually fighting the disease and it helps to “use up” your immune system, and can cause serious complications in people with other conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.

A Bay area native, and the first in her family to attend college, Tobar grew up in Daly City and completed her university work at Santa Clara before going to dental school at Tufts University in Boston. She joked that “the day after graduating I was on a flight back to the Bay area,” citing the cold winters and the hot and humid summers. “Boston is a great place, but the winter and summer made me realize how special the Bay area is.”

Tobar and her husband Alex live adjacent to Mt. Davidson and enjoy time with their two year old daughter, Alexa.

For a limited time, she is offering a special to new patients who do not have dental insurance: for a fee of $99 she will conduct an exam, take x-rays and complete a cleaning.

In an era of “bigger is better” and assembly-line types of clinics, Dr. Tobar and her staff are providing the one-on-one type of personalized service that people describe in the “good old days.” And I almost forgot: free (non-metered) street parking seems to be plentiful in and around the office.

Dr. Victoria Tobar, DMD is located at 800 Santiago Street, Suite A (at the corner of Santiago and 19th Avenue) in the Sunset Dental Building. For further information please call the office at 415-566-2222, or visit the website: Se habla espanol.

March 2010

West Portal Merchants

FireFighters Toy Program Catches Fire

Toy Drive photo with Santa
Toy Drive photo with Santa

The magical music was catching their attention, and on top of that came the voice; sounding like an old carnival barker, urging them to come in closer and see what mysteries were in store for them. Like in the Pied Piper, all the kids, and their parents, were being led off of the streets and into BookShop Plaza. The only thing missing was the bright red fire truck and its bells and sirens, but that would come later.

This was the grand finale of West Portal’s own SF FireFighters Toy Program Drive & Raffle.

Both the young and “older” kids became a “captive” audience as “Kraynork the Magician,” Mark Kronar, plied them with his bag of tricks. “Abra Cadabra,” and another coin came out of the little girl’s ear. Gosh, how many scarves can come out of one of his pockets? Say, have you seen a pesky wabbit wun by here?

Toys for kids in Fire Truck
Toys for kids in Fire Truck

So, what could upstage an act like Mark’s? Well how about Erin, from the Dubliner, decked out as Santa, snowy white beard and all. (For her own Xmas gift, I offered her Free Laser Hair Removal from Dimitra’s…) Santa’s lap was open to all who wanted to read their Christmas wish lists. Santa even posed for a licking by two bull dogs (but made them buy extra raffle tickets). So how did Erin get recruited to be Santa for the day? It turned out that our “FireFighter” Santa fell off his sleigh with a cold nose, so the merchants were faced with a Santa suit but no one to fill it. Then Erin McLaughlin, manager & bartender at the Dubliner, stuffed a pillow into the suit, took on the challenge and won the day!

Martial arts were featured — with a flurry of kicks and flying fists, students from Jill Doherty’s Tat Wong Kung Fu Academy put on a mighty awesome demonstration of why nobody ever picks on these kids: strength, discipline, and respect.

In the finale, the firefighters made their grand entrance, zooming up the Avenue on the bright red fire truck from Portola Station #39. Big grins broke out on the kid’s faces as they were lifted up onto the fire truck and allowed to ring the bell. Guess what happened next? You know the trouble about being all dressed up and supposedly nowhere to go: A FIRE! So, with sirens blaring, the firemen jumped onto their truck and raced off to put the fire out. Oh well, picking the winning raffle tickets would just have to be put off till later.

Behind all this frivolity was something very serious, the joy of helping 25,000 disadvantaged children that might never have felt the love and joy of receiving a Christmas present this year if it were not for the San Francisco Firefighters and their Toy Program, the City’s largest and the nation’s oldest program of its kind. Besides helping individual families in need, the Toy Program also serves many community organizations, including shelters for abused women and children, inner-city schools, neighborhood groups, children’s cancer wards, and pediatric AIDS units.

In spite of the hard economic times this year, with generosity such as ours in West Portal and in other districts throughout the City they were able to rack up some amazing numbers: by playing Santa with a sleigh filled with 40,000 toys, it meant that over 25,000 of our SF children were smiling and happy when they received some toys on Christmas morning.

It hasn’t always been this way; For years, Dimitra’s has had a FireFighters Toy Barrel outside the front door of the salon, guarded by 2 colorful six-foot tall Nutcracker Soldiers. But they were forlorn, because no one came to Dimitra’s (the Greek) bearing gifts. It was decided to switch our strategies. Four years ago, we set a “Donation Jar” on our front desk, with a sign announcing that Dimitra’s would match whatever money our clients gave.

In 2008, Dimitra’s was able to buy over $700 worth of toys. Seeing this as a good idea, I decided to let all of West Portal join in this year, by holding a huge Toy Program Raffle: 81 prizes worth over $4K from 31 merchants. Now, all we had to do was sell tickets. It’s a well known secret, if you really want something from someone, bribe them! So the gauntlet was thrown down: Dimitra’s would give two pieces of homemade Baklava for each $10 worth of tickets, and $20 would get a 10 minute chair massage. Taking up the challenge, Ron, the owner of the Dubliner, offered up drink tokens, 1 for $10, 3 for $20. Dimitra’s edged out a victory, but together we sold 75% of all the raffle tickets.

As promised, all of the Raffle ticket money was spent in West Portal, as our own economic stimulus package. Through everyone’s efforts the West Portal /SF FireFighters Toy Program Raffle was able to purchase over 350 toys, books and games, with the help of generous discounts from BookShop West Portal, Just Awesome Board Games, Growing Up Toys, Ambassador Toys and Walgreens.

It’s not easy to put on an event of this magnitude. Many thanks and kudos: to my staff, for the boundless energy and excessive time devoted to this project; to the Dubliner for making it competitive; and to Maryo of Postal Chase, for his generosity in copying all the posters plastered on our West Portal lamp posts and merchant windows. A special thanks for the free performance by our Premiere Magician, Mark Kronar, who can be contacted at (415-868-4904). In addition, I would like to give a big Thank You! to our Supervisor, Sean Elsbernd, for his donation of our grand prizes: (2) Tickets, plus parking, to the ‘49er 2010 Season Game of Their Choice (won by Sharon Udovich), as well as (2) Tickets to the Nov 2010 Charles Schwab Golf Championship at Harding Park (Vicky Potthoff).

Finally, we could not have succeeded without all the donations by our own West Portal Merchants, and especially, the SF FireFighters for their never-ending time and devotion to a great program .

As every good optimist would say, “The fire truck was ½ full of toys.” So, next year, when its time to buy 2010 Raffle Tickets, remember “Buy Big, Win Big.” For the West Portal merchants, take note that there is nothing quite as rewarding as having your customers come back in, bragging and telling everyone about all the prizes they won from the Raffle Ticket that they bought at the local store. Thank you to everyone who contributed in both large and small measures.

** The West Portal / SF FireFighters Toy Program photos and a complete listing of the merchant raffle prize donations and ticket sellers, are available on the merchants’ website:

Elliot Wagner, his wife Dimitra, plus brother Dr Andrew Wagner, have operated Dimitra’s SkinCare & Medi-Spa on West Portal Avenue for over 30 years. Elliot is also serving as the new President of the West Portal Ave Merchant Association, as well as being a VP on the SF Council of District Merchants. His other annual WP raffle, held in May during Small Business Week, sponsors Dimitra’s “WP Boobies & the Beast” Team in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day 60-Mile Breast Cancer Walk.

February 2010

Shop SF and Support the Local Economy

West Portal at Sunrise
West Portal at Sunrise

Happy Holiday’s ! As the holiday shopping season is now upon us and retail “Black Friday” is behind us, everyone is gearing up for the last minute push to complete their holiday shopping lists. At a time when the economy is still sputtering and coughing, now more important than ever, support our local merchants — SHOP SF.

The “West of Twin Peaks“ area of San Francisco is fortunate to have a diverse mix of nationally and locally owned retail shops, restaurants and service providers within walking distance of our neighborhoods. West Portal Avenue, Taraval Street, Ocean Avenue, and 19th Avenue provide many opportunities to support our stores and restaurants. Stonestown Mall and even Union Square are a shot hop away by Muni or car. Many of these stores are small businesses, owned by people we know, or can connect with. They value their businesses and help to form the fabric of living in San Francisco.

When shopping or dining at these smaller establishments, we are most often dealing directly with the owners (or family members) working in the shops. They are knowledgeable of their products and provide helpful and personal service that the large box retail locations cannot match. A common complaint is that the small stores are more expensive than the “big box” because they cannot buy in the same volume. In some cases this is true, but when one looks at the true cost of retail, the pricing equation is not as clear.

When we shop at the larger “chain” stores, the stores are often part of a larger corporation that doesn’t generally use local service providers such as architects, planners, suppliers, display professionals, etc. They are “cloned” from cookie cutter designs and the profits generated are almost always exported to out of state headquarters. Of course, if the stores are headquartered in California (such as The Gap, Ross, Old Navy, Apple, Williams-Sonoma, Pacific Sunwear, etc.) the profits do help the California economy with a portion reinvested back into the local communities.

Most of our local merchants are “sole proprietorships”, and rely on local buyers to stay successful. These “independent” stores and restaurants typically spend most of their profits locally for goods and services such as accountants, temporary help, display fixtures, lighting, advertising agencies, newspapers, and other service providers. In fact a 2007 study in San Francisco by Civic Economics detailed that the dollars spent at local independent businesses yielded three times the local economic benefit and created approximately 80% more employment than the dollars spent at chain store competitors.

Our merchants and restaurant owners have invested much in our neighborhoods, and as a result, we have unique dining and shopping districts that are festive, fun, and convenient. If we value the ability to walk to a local store or restaurant and treasure the “retail” portion of our “village within the City” we should make it a point to drop in to see what Papenhousen Hardware, Ambassador Toys, Baby Street, Just Because, Sunset Pet Supply, or the White Rose Boutique have for the holidays. Or pamper yourself or a loved one with a mini getaway to Dimitra’s Day Spa, Fruition, or West Portal Spa. Maybe travel is in your future. Ethan Allan, or Quinn Travel can set up a long distance getaway. The exotic dishes at Roti, Bursa Kebob, Clay Oven, Paradise Pizza, Spiazzo and our other restaurants help to make everyday feel like a little escape to a foreign locale.

The Mayor’s office and the Small Business Commission have launched a “SHOP SF” campaign for the holidays to not only encourage local shopping, but to encourage our friends and neighbors down the peninsula and across the bridges to “come on in” and shop in “The City”.

As a further benefit, our local West Portal Merchants are sponsoring a raffle with store related bargains and discounts to help the SF Firefighters in their annual “Toys for Tots” holiday toy drive. Please make the effort to check out their specials and purchase a few tickets. In supporting “Toys for Tots” we all make the holiday’s a little more special.

December 2009

Que Syrah – Bringing the wines of the world to the neighborhood

Stephanie McCardell
Stephanie McCardell

Imagine a place where soft lighting beckons you to step out of the mist and into a small store where the aroma of fine wines and cheeses wafts through the air. Inside, the seating is comfortable and inviting. As you look at the tasting selection menu there are wines from all over the world produced by some of the finest “small batch” wineries. Is it a dream? No, it is Que Syrah, a terrific “neighborhood destination” just down the block, located at 230 West Portal Avenue.

Owners Stephanie and Keith McCardell have created a friendly, sophisticated wine tasting venue where fine wines (from small wineries) can be sampled with wonderful cheeses, meats, olives …and assorted chocolate truffles. “We have tried to make Que Syrah unique in that we feature wines from “small batch” wineries; those winemakers that produce limited quantities each year. In small batches there is an emphasis on quality, not just who can make the most cases,” said Stephanie Mc Cardell.

With wine tasting and sales being such a big business in the Bay Area, there are a multitude of tasting rooms and wine bars but Que Syrah provides a most varied (and constantly changing) wine experience.

Many places feature wines “by the glass,” but Que Syrah features 15 in a tasting list that is reasonably priced from $6.50 to $13. In addition, McCardell changes the selections every two weeks so that between the “by the glass” menu and the “weekly featured flights” over 50 different wines can be sampled each month.

The geographic spread of the wineries featured reads like a Rand McNally atlas. Wines from Austria, Australia, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Chile, New Zealand and Portugal are listed along with those from less “familiar” wine producing countries such as Hungary, Greece, Croatia, and Slovania…Slovania??

Of course, the tasting and retail menus feature an extensive assortment of California wineries, from Mendocino to Santa Barbara, and an equally varied assortment of varietals, including little known grapes such as “Charbono,” which is grown on less than 100 acres worldwide. Sprinkle in a smattering of selected vintages from Oregon and Washington and it’s easy to imagine a wine lover spending many a foggy (or clear) night at the tasting bar.

Not resting on their laurels to provide a quality wine drinking experience, the owners also feature 8 kinds of cheeses (from all over the world), house-marinated olives, almonds and a selection of cured meats to enjoy with your favorite glass of wine….or beer, as they also feature 5 different beers. Pilsner, Lager, Ale, Hefeweizen and Stout are all on the list. There are non-alcoholic water and spritzers available for those who prefer an alcohol-free experience.

After tasting and noshing there’s more. For those with a sweet tooth, there is a featured “Dessert Wine Pairing” featuring 3 award winning Australian dessert wines paired with three different hand-made chocolate truffles. If you are just looking for a “sweet wine,” relax, there are 11 other dessert wines you can sample.

Que Syrah also serves as a retail sales establishment, with over 125 different wines for sale by the bottle. Prices are reasonable and this portion of the business is growing. Mc Cardell explained, “The retail portion of our business is probably about 10% but we think it will continue to grow as we continue our focus on exposing our customers and friends to these “small batch” vineyards and the lesser known grape varietals. You can’t easily find many of the wines that we feature.”

An example is “Mounts Family Winery,” a winery that will be featured in a winemaker’s event in mid-November. “Mounts ” is a small, quality operation located in the Dry Creek area of Sonoma County. Known for their reds, the event on November 14th, from 5-8 PM, will feature their new releases. Que Syrah was the first San Francisco wine bar to carry the label.

Mc Cardell summed up her feelings about being in the wine business by relating to the neighborhood, “We really enjoy what we do. We’ve been open for 3 and ½ years and continually meet really great people from the neighborhood. We love the area and are local owners (Miraloma Park). Our goal is to keep rotating and changing the wines we feature, so that every time you visit, there will be something new.”

Que Syrah is also available to book for hosting birthday parties, wedding showers, corporate events and the like, holding up to 35 guests comfortably, with a maximum of 49.

In this era of “me too, copycat retail” few, if any, wine tasting bars can match the variety and quality of the varietals featured at Que Syrah. If you love wine, or know someone that does, it’s a great place to pass some time, learn about wines from faraway places, or to buy a great holiday gift. Check our their “neighborhood happy hour” on Tuesday evenings from 4 – 8 PM with discounts on tastings.

Que Syrah is located at 230 West Portal Avenue. The hours of operation are: Tuesday through Thursday 4PM – 10 PM; Friday, Saturday and Sunday 3:30 PM – 11 PM ; closed on Monday. Contact them at 415-731-7000 for details.

November 2009

Dr. L. Bruce Mebine O.D. and Associates

Safeguarding your vision for almost 60 Years!

Dr Mebine and Dr Polsinelli
Dr Mebine and Dr Polsinelli

Most people would agree that the ability to see, hear and speak are the three most important senses and tools that we possess. Yet, how often do most of us consider the impact that a loss or reduction in these abilities would have on our day-to-day lives? It seems that until there is a problem, we take these abilities for granted, usually without a second thought.

As a family vision practice, Dr. L Bruce Mebine and Associates have provided quality eyecare to several generations of San Franciscans. In fact, they have been diagnosing and treating patients in West Portal for almost 60 years, starting with Dr. Bruce Mebine’s father, Dr. Loran Mebine, who founded the practice.

I recently visited with Dr. Mebine and Dr. Elio Polsinelli to find out the “secret” of their ongoing successful vision clinic. “We provide personal care in a friendly environment. That’s what we do,” explained Mebine, who went on to explain that the goal has always been to provide the very highest quality of vision care for each patient. “Where as some places are only concerned with the lowest price, we treat each client as an individual with specific individual needs, and not as just a number,” continued the UC Berkeley trained Optometrist who has also been a clinical professor at the University’s School of Optometry since 1983.

Dr. Mebine and Dr. Polsinelli
Dr. Mebine and Dr. Polsinelli

Well respected within the “vision care community,” Mebine has served as the President of the SF Optometric Society, the Bay Area Optometric Council, and the California Optometric Association. Twice, he has been recognized and received the award as the “Optometrist of the Year”; in 1991 by the UC Berkeley School of Optometry, and in 1998 by the California Optometric Association.

His colleague, Dr. Polsinelli, earned his Doctor of Optometry degree from the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Optometry, subsequently training at the Oklahoma City Area Indian Health Service. While at the Oklahoma City clinic, he provided vision care management and services to patients with diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), glaucoma, dry eye, and cataracts. He completed his training at the Pediatric division of the SUNY College of Optometry where he gained knowledge in the diagnosis and treatment of children’s vision and eye health.

When asked about vision care for children, both specialists stressed the importance of having children examined early. “Ideally, we would like to have a child first examined at the age of 6 months. It may seem young, but we can diagnose and plan treatments for conditions such as “lazy eye,” or other congenital types of eye problems such as cataracts or glaucoma,” said Polsinelli. They both agreed that yearly check ups after the initial visit go a long way to ensure good eye health.

For most of us, vision problems can be caused by too much computer work (Computer Vision Syndrome) that can cause dry eyes, headaches, and other symptoms. Mebine explained that when we are looking at a monitor, we do not blink as often, which causes the eye to dry out. A method to avoid this is to follow the “20/20/20 rule” by taking a 20 second break, every 20 minutes to look away from the monitor at a distance of 20 feet away.

Once we reach a certain age (somewhere around 45) many people also lose the ability to close focus, resulting in reading glasses, bifocals, progressive lenses, or contact lenses. New types of progressive lenses can even integrate your visual behavior into your lenses.

While speaking with the doctor’s, I inquired about the eye disease “Macular Degeneration.” It seems that we never used to hear about it but now it is discussed on TV and written about much more frequently. I asked why, and Dr. Mebine explained that within the eye care field, Macular Degeneration, is not new, as they have been diagnosing it and treating it for many years. As more of the general populace age, and live longer, the incidence of this disease are more common. Although genetics plays a part in determining who will possibly develop the condition, eating a diet rich is dark, leafy green vegetables (Spinach, Kale, Broccoli) has been shown to possibly help in stalling the development of the vision robbing condition.

Mebine and Associates is a full-service vision care center, utilizing the newest equipment for examination and diagnosis and providing vision solutions such as glasses, contact lenses, as well as providing pre and post operative vision care management for laser and cataract surgery. Dr. Mebine and Polsinelli detailed a new therapy, Corneal Refractive Therapy, which uses a special “contact lens” worn only at night to “flatten” the cornea as an alternative to “laser” types of surgeries for near-sighted patients. It’s also completely reversible.

The well being of patients extends throughout the office. Assisting Drs. Mebine and Polsinelli are Marilyn Overbay, (a sister to Dr. Mebine) who has had a career as an optometric assistant/ office manager for over 40 years (19 with Dr. Mebine); Marc Milechman, an optician with over 30 years experience in the optical industry; and Joann Tawasha, an Optometric Assistant who has worked with the team for over 12 years.

With hundreds, (if not a thousand), designer frames, different types of contact lenses, a friendly, welcoming staff and the expertise of Drs. Mebine and Polsinelli, it’s easy to understand how the office has provided vision care solutions to the neighborhood for almost 60 years. That kind of track record shows the satisfaction and loyalty of their many patients.

If you want a vision care team that is easy to talk to, understanding of your needs, and one which takes the time to ensure that you understand everything about your vision, consider making a visit to Dr.L.Bruce Mebine, O.D. and Associates.

Dr. L.Bruce Mebine O.D. and Associates is located at 340 West Portal Avenue (between 14th and 15th Avenue on the North side of the street). The office is open Monday – Friday from 9 AM to 6 PM. Saturday appointments are also available upon request. You can also reach them at 415-664-3089.

October 2009

Sterling Salon and Spa – a sanctuary for you and your hair…

Maureen Sterling
Maureen Sterling

It has often been quoted that “You can never go home again”. Luckily for her clients, Bay-area native and master stylist Maureen Sterling made the decision to do just that.

As you walk through the front door into Sterling Salon and Spa you feel a sense of relaxation and calmness. Maybe it is the sea breeze that wafts in as you park your car, or the waterfall in the shop with the relaxing music in the background. Either way, Sterling has successfully created a “sanctuary by-the-sea” where she practices her masterful talents as a hair colorist and stylist supreme.

Raised in the Bay area, Sterling has been mastering the art of color and style for more than 25 years. Working in NY, and California, as well as internationally, she has worked in private salons, and as a stylist for hair, make-up and skin care in the advertising, magazine, high-fashion runway, television and motion picture industries, even garnering an Emmy award nomination as part of a television stylist team. She also has the experience of working as a stylist at the Grand Ole Opry (Nashville), and has provided customized styling services to professional athletes and business executives.

Sterling was introduced to the industry at an early age. Her mother was the coordinator for the Skyline College cosmetology department and Maureen was exposed to the world of competition hair design shows. By the age of 10, she was involved first-hand as a “hair model” working with her mother and the other stylist students. It was during this time that she got to meet the legendary stylist/teacher Yosh Toya, whose “Yosh for Hair” salons were the place for SF/Bay Area hair design for over 30 years. They remain friends to this day.

Her fascination with design and style is a major factor in the evaluation she undertakes with each client. “When I meet a client for the first time, I like to spend a good deal of time with the person, as I want to get a feel for what the person wants their hair to be, and how they want to be viewed by others”, said the stylist, who added, “It is important to look at the texture of the hair, the shape of the head, facial bone structure, and the patterns in which the hair grows on different sections of the scalp.”

She terms her styling as a “geometric framework cut” that takes all of the factors into account to create a style that is tailored to each individual client.

Recently moving back to the Bay Area from the East Coast, Sterling is excited about the opportunity to not only “run a business in the town I grew up in”, but to also be able to give back to the Bay Area community. She conducts workshops such as “Days of Beauty” for corporations, community organizations and in senior-based communities. She also mentors students at Skyline College where she teaches in the Cosmetology department.

Located within the Paul Strom Salon “just down the hill” at Rockaway Beach in Pacifica, she offers daily appointments as well as specialized appointments at normally “off” times for people that cannot be fitted into the normal schedule.

For a limited time, she is offering free color (an $80 value) with each haircut.

If you want to escape the ordinary, and work with a styling master, take the short, 20 minute, ride down the coast and experience the serenity of Sterling Salon and Spa.

Sterling Salon and Spa (at Paul Strom) is located in The Shops at Rockaway Beach in Pacifica, (450 Dondee Way). Maureen Sterling is available for appointments Monday through Friday and can be reached at 650-219-5776 or via email at:

September 2009

Ken Topping Home Improvements

Demo kitchen

Remodeling the Westside of SF for 55 years!

In this day and age, businesses come and go, and this is especially true in the Bay Area, where the cost of real estate has skyrocketed over the past 30 years or so. So when you find a business that is celebrating its’ 55th year in business you know it is one where the owners and staff concentrate on meeting the needs and expectations of their customers.

Ken Topping Home Improvements is a perfect example of a well-run business that puts their customer’s needs first. Run by Ken Topping and Kathy St. Clair, KTHI focuses on interior home remodeling, from kitchens and bathrooms, to family rooms, home offices and entertainment areas.

Topping started in business in 1953, building homes in San Francisco, but quickly was bored with the concept of just building houses from the ground up. “Ken was doing well building homes from start to finish, but really wanted to do something where every job was new and different, so he decided to concentrate on the remodeling business,” explains St. Clair, who works closely with Topping and manages the day to day operation of KTHI’s projects.

“Remodeling is different in that each homeowner has a different sense of taste and design values, so every project is unique and you don’t find yourself doing the same thing every day; houses that are built next door to each other with the same layout can end up being radically different due to the taste and scope of what the owner wants,” she added.

The team at KTHI have been “fixtures” in the neighborhood for many years, as Topping started out of his garage on 48th Avenue, then eventually opened a storefront showroom on 24th Street. In 1965 he moved to a larger location at 25th and Lawton (due to a fire in the 24th St. building) which he operated for 25 years. The business has been located at the current Vicente Street showroom for 19 years, since 1990.

Any business that has operated in a neighborhood for 55 years must rely on top-notch performance at a reasonable price, and KTHI is no exception. Their credo is that “Designs are only as good as the people who install them. Our success is based on Quality Workmanship, Design Expertise, and Personalized Service to each of our clients.”

St. Clair has known Topping for over 30 years, with the last 18 working with him at KTHI. She is a Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer, accredited by the National Kitchen and Bath Design Association. When I asked her about the “Master” designation, she explained that the designation is one she is proud of, “The certification comes from a testing board, after an 8 hour test, that measures knowledge and proficiency in all phases of design and installation, including foundations, mechanical and electrical systems, framing, as well as interior design experience and color rendering.” She went on to say that a designer has to have 7+ years of business prior to being tested, and a “Master” designer is someone who has over 10+ years of experience after initial certification. Currently, less than 1000 designers in the US have been certified as “Master Designers.”

Walking through the showroom with St. Clair, I asked about new trends in Home Improvement. “Green” remodeling is at the forefront, with new materials (such as “zodiac” quartz based counter top material), bamboo flooring, and even kitchen backsplashes that are “poured glass” made from recycled glass bottles. Granite flooring is still a natural alternative, although cork and a new type of linoleum manufactured from linseed oil and hemp is an example of a new alternative. There is even a countertop that is made from recycled paper products, called Richlite.

“Being “green” is now a huge part of our industry, from new flooring, countertops and cabinets, to energy-star rated appliances that use much less electricity and water. It’s really exciting to be involved in this industry at the present time,” said the master designer.

Projects completed by KTHI have been featured in several magazines and trade journals, such as Better Homes and Gardens, Women’s Day, Kitchen and Bath Magazine and Kitchens by Professional Designers.

Walking through the showroom, there is a myriad of choices and finishes, but one underlying fundamental is the same; Quality Materials, Personalized Service and a Commitment to Excellence for each and every client. It’s easy to understand why Ken Topping Home Improvements has been successfully bringing “affordable excellence” to SF homes for over 55 years.

Ken Topping Home Improvements is located at 3101 Vicente Street (at 42nd Ave.). The showroom is open Monday – Saturday from 9 AM to 4:30 PM. More info: 415-731-3930, or

July/August 2009

Baby Street…for Babies on the Go!

Owner Al Picache and daughter Alexis
Owner Al Picache and daughter Alexis

Sunlight and bright colors greet you as you walk into the door at Baby Street. The store, located at 207 West Portal Avenue has windows on 2 sides, which helps to create a bright, cheerful environment. The colorful baby/child accessories welcome you in. Baby Street is not a typical kids accessory store. “We are primarily a store that carries specialty baby carrier bags,” says Al Picache. The walls and tables are lines with bags that look like fashionable purses and shoulder bags, certainly not like the baby carrier or diaper bags that most of us grew up with.

A new product that is being featured is “The Sidekick,” an attractive shoulder bag that is a combination Baby Carrier and Diaper Bag, made by the Kemby Company. At first glance it just looks like a purse, but the straps swing around so that the shoulder strap becomes a waist strap that allows you to fold open the bag and turn it into a most effective baby carrier. Picache expects that to be a big seller as it is one of their newest products. It retails for $150, and is available in bright green, light blue or burgundy. Baby Street also guarantees to have the lowest prices for their customers.

“Our products are made for babies on the go, focusing on carriers and bags to move babies from home to work, to childcare, to the grocery store, etc.,” said the owner, who added “ In fact, we are expecting a new product that is a combination Baby Carrier and Car Booster Seat.” He then took the bag off of the front table and showed how it transforms itself from a bag to a carrier.

Another interesting garment is the “DiaperVest” from a company called “DADGear.” While it looks like a typical fleece vest, it has pockets/compartments large enough for a size 5 diapers; a place for diaper wipes; and even a cushioned changing pad built into the back. I almost forgot, it also has a pocket and grommet for your iPod and headset. It’s a very ingenious piece that is popular with local Dad’s. For the SF Giant’s fans there is even one in Orange and Black.

Al and Julie didn’t exactly get into the retail business in a traditional way by working in a store, etc. Al, a UC Davis grad, was formerly an instructor and educator, teaching at the College of Alameda and the University of the Pacific Dental School, focusing on ergonomics and patient management. Julie is also a UC Davis alum, with a background in Economics. Cutbacks in teaching programs caused him to look at a change in careers and the couple attended a Baby Products convention in Las Vegas, saw an opportunity and opened an online store last September.

The bricks and mortar retail location came a few months later. “We had started the online venture and it was going well, but in order to carry some of the product lines that we wanted, the manufacturers wanted to have a retail outlet where customers could see the products in person, so we started to look at sites on Union Street, and in the South Bay,” said Picache. “Then this location became available and the street and neighborhood looked like a good fit for us.” He went on to say, “ The customers have been great since the store opened. Even people who have come in and didn’t need bags or accessories are telling their friends and relatives who either come into the store or have ordered online from the website. The ‘word-of-mouth’ response has been great.”

They are also “customers” with three children, 10-year-old Alexis, 3-year-old Jayden, and 5-month-old Kai. Alexis joined her Dad to show off the Sidekick bag in the photo.

With products from companies with names like “DADGear” and Diaper Dudes” Baby Street carries bags, shoes, and accessories for both Mom’s and Dad’s with “Babies On The Go.” In fact, the store will be having a Fathers Day sale where everything is 10% off the listed price, including items currently on sale. They are also currently featuring a 10% off coupon for all customers who mention their ad in the Observer…

Baby Street is located at 207 West Portal Avenue, next to Zephyr Real Estate. They are open Monday - Saturday from 10 AM to 6 PM, and on Sunday from 11AM to 5 PM. You can also reach them at 415-564-4008, or on the web at

June 2009

Alfred’s — The Classic Steakhouse

Interior at Alfreds
Interior at Alfreds"

The word classy came into the English language in 1891 — slang — meaning “superior; high class.” Just 37 years after the Oxford English Dictionary recognized the word, Alfred’s Steakhouse opened in San Francisco. “Classy” was how people described it from the beginning. That was 1928. 81 years later, the word still fits. And there are reasons, according to how the word class is defined and redefined over the centuries, according to the O. E. D.

Back in 1928, a waiter everyone in the city liked, named Alfred Bacchini, wanted to have his own restaurant, and he knew just how he wanted it to be. He found an ornate Victorian on Broadway, high on the hill over North Beach, above the spot where the Broadway Tunnel is now. But there was no Broadway Tunnel then. The plans for the tunnel had been laid in 1863, but the city officials wrangled for 85 years, and it took a total of 87 years for construction to be finished. Meanwhile, Alfred’s stood proud on that steep hill while the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge were built. By the time you could drive through the Broadway Tunnel Alfred’s had been the classic steakhouse for 24 years, minus a brief time when the police shut it down, for a violation of Prohibition. The shut—down lasted barely more than a week, because the politicians couldn’t go long without those steaks, and those vibes — and no doubt those martinis.

interior 2 at Alfreds
Another interior at Alfreds.

Albert Bucchini presided over his restaurant for 45 years, until 1973, when he retired and sold it to another Italian family, Art Petri and his son, another Al, Al Petri. If you go in on a Thursday, when the lunch crowd is thinning, you’ll probably see Al and his wife Pat sitting down, at last, to enjoy lunch in each other’s company. Al’s sister Teri’s husband, Will Growney, might be the person who greets you: he’s also a partner in the family restaurant. The new Al and the Petri family have kept up the original Alfred’s tradition — adding their own delicious touches.

Now it’s not just the place where San Francisco dignitaries go for the comfort of a great martini, the best steak in town, and a sophisticated wine list, but the spot other restaurateurs and celebrity chefs go when they get a night off.

I first tasted that steak—like-no-other—steak when Alfred’s was still in that old house above the Broadway Tunnel. There were red leather banquettes so plush you wanted to cozy in and spend the night. The décor was so fancy it was decadent: chandeliers, red—flocked wallpaper, a sense of a time you wished you’d lived in. The steak was sizzled by fire to a thin crisp on the outside, bursting with juices when you bit in.

Then Alfred’s moved. This was twelve years ago — 1997. I was mad. I couldn’t imagine anything as good as the old place. The new place was in the Financial District — on Merchant Street, the little alley between the Transamerica Pyramid and Kearny, the site of a lifelong institution, The Blue Fox. Good, but not Alfred’s. I dug in my heels and couldn’t be dragged there. Except — some friends from the East had long heard and read about Alfred’s. They begged. I called upon my kind heart and gave in…for their sake.

And so we walk in.

My heavens. The air changes. There’s a hush — combined with an electrifying energy. The ceiling is midnight blue, lit not by stars or chandeliers but by repeating circles of inset golden globes. The drama of it stuns, because of the understatement. In a much more modern way, it’s plusher than the old place. In this light, the women are beautiful. The food is bright. The steaks glisten. The scampi glisten. The vegetables have all the color — and taste — that nature gave them. My favorite is the creamed spinach — green as green. It’s creamed, but with just a dream of cream. I tried to get the recipe for you but the chef said no. It’s a secret. And at Alfred’s the Caesar’s salad is the real thing — nothing like anything you’d have in a common restaurant.

Which brings us back to the word “classy” — or, to go back further, “classic.” That word started in Roman times, when people actually spoke Latin. The word then was classis, coined by Servius Tullius when he divided the Roman people into six orders, for the sake of taxing them. The word classic came into English (originally as classick) in 1656. By 1772 it had come to mean “the division of society according to status”; soon it came to mean “of the first rank and of acknowledged excellence.” Even more relevant to Alfred’s, a later definition of classic is “purity of art and design.” Alfred’s has kept its focus sharp. After all these years (81) — through Prohibition and the Beatniks and the hippies and the dot—coms, through fast food and slow food, through Julia Child and Alice Waters — through all these changes, Alfred’s has never tried to be anything but Alfred’s. The classic steakhouse.

Alfred’s Steakhouse, 659 Merchant Street (415) 781-7058. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 5:oo PM (cocktails) and 5:30 PM (Dinner). Alfred’s is also open for lunch on Thursday only from 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM. Reservations are recommended.

May 2009

Take a tour of India at Restaurant Roti

Exterior, Roti Indian Bistro
Exterior, Roti Indian Bistro

The aroma of exotic spices is the first wave that tickles your senses when you walk through the door into Restaurant Roti at 53 West Portal Avenue.

Walking through the front door feels as if you are being transported to another time and place as you enter a beautifully decorated space of dark wood, pillows, and marvelous photographs, with the smell of exotic Indian spices filling the air. Owner Rustom Swaleh and his staff have created a great place for dining; an attractive environment, friendly service, and best of all, a varied and enticing menu with something for everyone.

Most of us associate Indian cuisine with the many forms of curries and kabobs, and Roti features many delicious ones, but there is so much more. The restaurant prides itself on serving dishes from both Northern and Southern India. Northern Indian cuisine is represented by the Tandoori dishes cooked in the traditional way using a clay oven that is fired by mesquite charcoal, while the vegetarian dishes originate from the Southern end of the country. Seafood, rice dishes and many curries are also featured in the extensive menu.

Interior, Roti Indian Bistro
Interior, Roti Indian Bistro

My wife and I recently dined at Roti, and were struck by the large assortment of choices for appetizersand dinner. The helpful server assisted us in trying to narrow down choices to give us an overview of the cuisine. We decided to try something from both the North and South, and share the entrees.

Not only are there many choices, the volume of the portions is also very generous for the price. Our entrees were the Seekh Kabab ($16), (grilled portions of ground lamb, seasoned with cumin and cilantro ); and the Vegetarian Thali ($20), an assortment of Bengan Bharta (Tandoor-smoked eggplant sautéed with onions fresh tomatoes and ginger), Dal (yellow lentils sautéed with garlic, ginger and tumeric), Mixed Vegetables, Raita (a cucumber yogurt with caraway and cumin), Pulao (basmati rice cooked with saffron, cumin, cardamon and bay) and Kachumber (a mixture of fresh tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, herbs and lemon juice). On the side we had several kinds of Indian flat bread, Naan, and wine with dinner.

Although I am not normally a practiced aficionado of Indian cuisine, (due to several exposures to very spicy curry), I loved the dinner. The portions were large (we had leftovers), and the combinations of the curries, the spices, the tandoor cooking and the atmosphere were enough to make me a “Roti fan” for life. I admit, even as an avowed meat-eater, the vegetarian dishes were superb and I really enjoyed all of the components of the Thali. The kabab was also terrific and a large portion.

The restaurant website describes the restaurant: “Roti is about experiencing a feast – a celebration shared with family and friends in a warm modern setting; a place where authentic Indian cuisine is prepared using high quality local and organic ingredients, and served in a refined style.”

I can attest to the high quality, refined style and courteous service; I’ll take their word on the authenticity of the food. It’s a romantic, terrific place to share a meal with someone special, or just to treat yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

(A note: we dined at Roti incognito – no one at the restaurant was expecting us or knew about this article being written.) MB

Restaurant ROTI is located at 53 West Portal Avenue. The restaurant is open Sunday through Thursday from 5:00 – 10:30 PM, and on Friday and Saturdays from 5:00 -11:00 PM. To book a reservation, call them at 415.665 ROTI (7684). Reservations are highly recommended.

April 2009

Customized Massage for Everyone at MASSAGE ENVY

staff at Massage Envy
Staff at Massage Envy

Walking through the front door at Massage Envy in the Westlake Center, you immediately feel a sense of relaxation and calmness. A waterfall glistens within the wood and slate appointed lobby and calm music fills the air. Only minutes from the freeway and the hustle and bustle of San Francisco, the clinic feels like an oasis from the stresses of the everyday world, not unlike any number of “spas” that are in the City. But Massage Envy is different.

Owner Angeline Stafford and her staff are bringing the therapeutic and health benefits of massage to everyone. Unlike “high end” spas that charge high-end prices, Massage Envy brings quality massage to its clients at a very affordable price.

A former marketing executive in Silicon Valley, Stafford knows first-hand about stress and its effect on our health. She says that she was looking for a change from the boom and bust cycles in the high tech world. After seeing a Massage Envy location in San Mateo, and experiencing the quality of the massages as a client, she and her husband decided to buy a local franchise from the Scottsdale (AZ) based company. “The ups and downs of the high tech world were stressful to the point of where my future was cloudy and I felt kind of hopeless in high-tech,” she explained, adding, “as a client, I was very impressed with the professionalism and consistent quality of the services as well as the low price of membership, so we decided to open a franchise. We picked this area for the clinic as we believe there is a pent-up need for affordable, quality massage.”

Stafford and her staff opened the location in December and have been steadily building the business ever since. Staffed by 20 massage therapy professionals, the staff offers customized massage treatments to assist clients in battling stress, to recover from injuries, or to maintain balance and well-being. The three tenants of Massage Envy’s philopophy are providing services that are affordable, professional and convenient.

The chief clinical therapist, Jilliann Uhrinak, has taught at massage schools for over 12 years, and formerly owned her own spa. As a key member of the team, Stafford knows she is fortunate to have such an experienced professional helping to oversee and coordinate the client services side of the client experience.

The program at Massage Envy works like a “massage membership club.” For an initial membership cost of $49 a client can experience a 1-hour massage. Monthly fees after joining are $59 per month, but that entitles clients to one, 1-hour massage and an unlimited amount of additional massages during the month at a price of $49 each. Although most of the programs are 6 or 12 months, there are 3-month gift memberships available also. Massage Envy also takes walk-ins off the street, at a price of $98 per massage.

How popular has Massage Envy been since it opened? In five months over 2000 people have visited the location, with over 400 members joining. Stafford says that most clients schedule 2 visits per month as a tool in maintaining their health care management. “Working on a computer is one of the worst things we can do to our bodies,” explained Stafford. “We end up all bunched up with wrist and back problems, headaches, and undue stress.”

As part of a national network of franchises, Stafford and her staff benefit from the marketing support and branding that comes with being part of a nationwide group, but in the end it’s all about the customer service and value. “We have to provide quality each and every time. People are entrusting their bodies and health to us. It’s not like buying a book or television,” she said, adding “we can work with each client to provide any combination of massage techniques from the 12-15 types that we offer, such as Swedish, Shiatsu and Deep Pressure.” The group now offers a hot stone therapy that radiates the heat into the deepest part of the muscle groups to allow the therapist to get deeper to better loosen up the muscles. This hot stone work is $98 for a 90- minute session.

In visiting the clinic and observing the calm and relaxed people coming out after their sessions, one can see that the friendly and professional staff are making a difference in the well being of their clients, all at an affordable price. In these stressful times, Massage Envy looks to be a great antidote for everyday life.

Massage Envy is located in The Shops at Lake Merced at 494 Westlake Center. They are open Monday through Friday, 8 AM- 10PM; Saturday, 8AM-6PM and on Sunday from 10AM – 6PM. To book a reservation, call them at 650.757.ENVY (3689).

March 2009

Now is the time to Shop Locally

taraval bisuniss district photo
A caption for the above image.

In a departure from our monthly highlight of one local merchant, this month we take a look at our local retailers in general and discuss why it is more important than ever to support and shop locally.

The “Westside” of the city is fortunate to have a diverse mix of locally owned retail shops within walking distance of our neighborhoods. West Portal Avenue, Taraval Street, Ocean Avenue, and 19th Avenue provide many opportunities to support our locally owned stores and restaurants. Most of the stores are small businesses, owned by people we know, or can connect with. They value their businesses and help to form the fabric of living in SF.

When shopping or dining we are most often dealing directly with the owners (or family members) working in the shops. They are knowledgeable of their products and provide helpful and personal service that the large box retail locations or chain stores and restaurants cannot match. A common complaint is that the small stores are more expensive than the “big box” because they cannot buy in the same volume. In some cases this is true, but when one looks at the true cost of retail, the pricing equation is not as clear.

West Portal Business photo

In articles presented by the International Council of Shopping Centers it is expected that over 150,000 store locations will close this year and many will be smaller independent retailers although the big box sellers are not immune, as we have seen with the recent bankruptcies of Linen and Things, Mervyns, and Circuit City.

When we shop at larger chain stores, the stores are part of a larger corporate that doesn’t generally use local services such as architects, planners, suppliers, etc. They are “cloned” from cookie cutter designs and the profits generated are almost always exported to out of state headquarters.

In contrast, independent stores typically spend much of their profits locally, give back to the local communities, and create jobs for local planners, suppliers, accountants, ad agencies, and other service providers.

As reported in the January 4 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, a 2007 study in San Francisco by Civic Economics detailed the premium that cities receive from local ownership. The study found that dollars spent at independent businesses yielded 3X local economic benefit and created about 80% more jobs than those spent at chain store competitors.

Portola businesses
Tower Market on Portola

Another problem is the unfair “advantage” that online suppliers have over “brick and mortar” businesses. We, as consumers, avoid sales tax for items bought on the web from companies outside California. Although it saves each of us money, is it doing more harm by contributing to California’s shortfall by denying the state a chance at sales taxes, and creating an atmosphere where local business owners have an uphill battle just to survive.

Lakeside business district photo

If, as consumers, we value the ability to walk to a local store, interact with local merchants, and maintain the retail portion of our unique neighborhoods then maybe we should forego the car trip to Home Depot, Marshall’s, or Petco and instead walk up the block to Papenhousen Hardware, Little Fish boutique, or Sunset Pet Supply.

In the end, we all benefit from a vibrant, local retail economy. It’s good for our neighborhoods, San Francisco, and California.

Feb. 2009

Just Because Gift and Card Shoppe

Cynthia Pagan of Just Because
Cynthia Pagan of Just Because

We live in a time when many of our independent stores have been replaced by “cookie cutter” chain stores that offer somewhat lower prices, but also a set selection and often questionable levels of service as the employees are not vested in the success or failure of the store. This month we visit “Just Because” Gift and Card Shoppe – a store that excels in service and selection and where you can plan events and design invitations for four or four hundred.

The owners and staff at the West Portal’s store have taken the time to expand the concept of the corner card and gift shop to provide one-stop shopping for your card, gift, and event planning and design needs.

Located at 162 West Portal Ave. owner Cynthia Pagan has assembled a friendly, professional and well-trained staff that creates a retail environment that is warm, friendly and very different that the typical “card store” that handles singular products with cheesy branded gifts that go along with the corporate ID.

“We provide Grab and Go gifts that you can be proud to give”, says Pagan, who added, ”We’ve expanded our wrapping paper selections to create wraps that are complementary to our gifts and are fun. We want our customers to have fun with gift giving and to make a statement about the thought and planning that went into picking out a thoughtful gift.”

Walking towards the back of the store one is struck with the attention to detail in the layout and selection of the cards and gifts, not the usual assortment, but stand out stuff that is fun and quirky, in fact the word “cute” is one that may best describe the environment…but wait, there’s more…

A sign hanging in the rear of the store reads “Invitation Station”, and this is where the store really sets them apart. Although the shoppe has been providing custom printed invitations for almost 4 years, they have expanded the emphasis on this part of the business due to customer demand. From weddings, to birthdays, graduations to retirement parties Cynthia and her staff can assist you in designing invitations and other printed materials to ensure that your event is a success.

Depending on your needs, the staff can help you with “Plug and Play Invitations” set up for easy browsing and design, or custom designed invitations using distinctive paper stock and multiple layering and printing options.

By training all of their staff members and handling quality paper stock and albums, Just Because has created an all-in-one event planning and consulting service that allows a customer to create a “theme and tone” that carries throughout the invitations, envelopes, party favors, thank you cards, and albums.

Your imagination is the limit as they can custom design virtually “anything you want” from ivory or white to polka dots, stripes and other designs.

Pagan feels strongly about working with local vendors to source the paper, card stock and to have it cut and printed. “Our desire is to Buy Local items that are US and California produced”, said the owner, who is also the outgoing President of the West Portal Merchants Association.

She summed up their capability by explaining that, “No invitation order is too big or too small; from planning and designing an event for four or four hundred, we can do it all!”

Just Because Gift and Card Shoppe / Invitation Station is located at 162 West Portal Avenue. The store is open Monday-Saturday from 10-6 and on Sunday from 12-5. They can be contacted at 415-566-4483.

December 2008


sunset pet supply
Friends at Sunset Pet Supply

Walking on the 2200 block of Taraval Street, you first see a sidewalk sign with a chalk message advising you to “Have a Great Day”. This cheery welcome is the first sign that Sunset Pet Supply is a different kind of retail store.

Once inside, the store is overflowing with a wide selection of pet foods, toys, furniture and other accessories. While it may look typical, it isn’t. Co-owners Sanford Johnson and Kimberly Lesher have succeeded in doing what every retail store should strive to achieve- give customer focused service and sell great products in a fun, holistically-based environment.

Johnson and Lesher recently celebrated the 5th anniversary of opening the store, although it kind of started by accident. “Kimberly and I were partners in a dog walking service (Pro Dogwalkers) and when we found out that the store (Petcetera) was closing, we thought, let’s try running a store, it shouldn’t be too difficult”, says Johnson, who added, “we underestimated the degree of difficulty, but we are fortunate to be in a great neighborhood where the customers are focused on value and service and we believe the store offers products and services that provide a real value to our customers.”

While there are many reasons to shop at Sunset Pet Supply, a big difference between them and other retailers is the degree of caring and the focus on quality that the owners and staff undertake in selecting the pet food and products for the shelves. “We’ve decided to carry products by small regional manufacturers that are US based and incorporate more natural products with natural preservatives. The shelf life is less, so we have to be much more aware of our selling cycle as to not have spoilage in the products.

By handling these smaller brands, we can better control quality, and with pet foods this is very important. If the product isn’t good enough to feed to our own pets, we will not stock it” said Johnson.

One only has to look at the recent pet food recall where products were tainted with Chinese-based industrial chemicals and caused a worldwide panic among pet owners, recalled products, and the death of dozens of animals to see where small batch quality control is important.

Their philosophy on natural products extends to all of the products they carry. Their pet toys are also made from natural ingredients, like rubber, instead of PVC, and are also kid safe because when pets leave toys around it is not uncommon for the children to also play with them. SPS also stocks biodegradable dog poop bags (not packaged in a plastic enclosure), organic catnip, and handmade toys for cats and dogs that are made by a local SF vendor. The philosophy of buying locally extends to other things, “It took us 4-5 months to find quality cat furniture that was not imported, made of natural ingredients, and not containing industrial chemicals like melamine and formaldehyde.

Indeed, Johnson and Lesher have taken the practice of integrating environmentally friendly products to a level not readily seen in retail stores. “Everything on our shelves is the result of a conscious decision based on the needs of our customers, our holistic beliefs, and to really focus on the health and welfare of our customers and animal clients.

Observing the customer experience at Sunset Pet, it appears to be a happy experience for all. Music wafts throughout the store and each and every visitor is greeting more like an old friend than a customer. The staff members also seem to get along well in the friendly and relaxed atmosphere. By the way, bring your pet, as the store is extremely pet friendly.

Community Involvement is also the rule of thumb at the store. They have participated in the recent Outlands Music Festival in GG Park, the Pet Pride festivities, and last week’s Taraval Street Fair.

The owners and staff are currently working with the SF Homeless Youth Alliance to collect jackets, blankets, sweaters, socks and sleeping bags to help homeless kids get through the upcoming winter season. If you have items to donate they can be dropped off at the store.

With great products, a friendly atmosphere, and experienced, trained staff members who can answer all of your pet related questions, Sunset Pet Supply should be your first choice when looking for products that support your pet in the very best way. The store is located at 2226 Taraval Street, between 32nd and 33rd Avenue, and is open Monday through Friday from 10 am – 7 pm, Saturday from 9:30 am – 6:30 pm, and from Sunday from 11 am -6 pm. You can reach them at 415-661-4236 or on the web at

November 2008

Villa d'Este Restaurant Celebrates 30 years

Interior Ville d'Este
Interior Ville d'Este

Ramon Oropeza loves his restaurant Villa d'Este which has been a long-standing part of the Lakeside Village area on Ocean Ave. "I never thought I would be in business this many years," he said

This October, Villa d'Este celebrated its 30th Anniversary.

Built in the 1920's, before Oropeza took over, it had been a pie restaurant. Native San Franciscan Leanna Mossi confirmed. "Yes, it was a pie restaurant, but even then as now it was a place where the neighborhood liked to be," she said.

windows of Ville d'Este
Windows of Ville d'Este

Upon ownership in 1978, Oropeza envisioned an Italian Restaurant, specializing in the cuisine of Northern Italy. "I named the restaurant after the famous Villa at Tivoli because when I visited Italy many years ago, the place inspired me with its beauty," he said.

Oropeza was proud to say that he raised all of his children while working at Villa d'Este and that "I sent all of them to college," he said. "Now, my grandchildren, Eddie, Armando, Angelica, Erica, Ashley and Pricilla work here," said Oropeza.

"Villa d'Este is one of the last neighborhood restaurants," said local tour guide Joe Reis. "Not very many of them around any more," he said.

Reis surmised that was most of the appeal to patrons and a reason for enduring. "Villa d'Este, with its Art Deco-style interior offers a sense of tradition, with its hospitality and service," said Mossi.

Able to seat 150, Villa d'Este at 2623 Ocean Ave is open for lunch and dinner as well as brunch on Sundays, including holidays. The chef, José Barjas and bartender Jim Pritchard have been with Villa d'Este since it began.

Anniversary party was on Oct. 1. Singer Kathy Holly with pianist David Baioni will performed, as they frequently do on weekends, Dinner starts at 6PM. For details call 415-334-0580.

November 2008

The Italian-American Social Club

Italian American Social Club
Italian American Social Club

A restaurant for everyone that makes you feel like you’re in the family dining room

In these modern times, restaurants come and go, each one trying to be sleeker and more cutting edge. Too often, they fail to catch on and are quickly gone with a “For Lease” sign in the window of an expensively remodeled space.

This month we take a trip to ‘old Italia’ at the Italian American Social Club, a place where generous servings of food, friendly staff and a great bar offer patrons an evening of dining the way it used to be…and still is.

Located in San Francisco’s Excelsior District, the restaurant is located at 25 Russia Avenue, off of Mission Street in the Southern end of the city, just before Mission crosses into Daly City.

Like the neighboring Crocker-Amazon area, the district was originally home to many families of Italian ancestry and it was a merging of two fraternal men’s clubs that created the modern club and location.

Starting in 1928 a group of men met in the basement of Mario Blengino’s home to organize a social club that would be a credit to their community. They soon outgrew the space and rented a spot on Russia Avenue they called The Aurora Club. When this club merged with the Alfieri Club in 1935, the Italian American Social Club was born, and the group took on the task of building and financing their own building.

In 1940 the present building at 25 Russia Avenue was completed and opened, with a week of celebrations including a parade and a banquet attended by many city officials.

Flash forward 68 years to 2008, and the I.A.S.C. is still going strong, with a membership of over 200 and a restaurant and banquet hall that is well known for hosting wedding receptions, birthday parties, and large banquets for over 250 guests.

Even though the location sounds like an exclusive venue, the restaurant is open to the public on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, with lunch being served from 11 A.M. until 2 P.M. and dinner from 5 P.M. until 9 P.M.

The restaurant benefits from having its’ own free parking lot across the street, with plenty of parking at most times. With an “old time” 40 foot long bar, the IASC is a great place to meet friends for a drink, or to strike up a conversation with one of the regulars before settling in for a sumptuous Italian dinner.

Dinners are very reasonably priced, with “Specials of the Day” being priced at $16.95. Unlike many modern day eateries, these specials include soup or salad, and ice cream in the pricing. Entrees such as Italian Sausage and Polenta, Lamb Shank, Veal Parmigian, Calamari Steak, or Red Snapper are typical of the specials. They also have other entrees such as New York Steak, Salmon, and a variety of dinner salads. The serving sizes are large, and it’s doubtful that many people walk away without getting their money’s worth.

Rich Guaraldi, the long-time Manager of the IASC is most welcoming when hosting people and talking about the club, “We really try to treat everyone as if they are members of our family. Families have been coming here for generations. Everything we do is about family.”

Sitting at a table having dinner, there is music coming from the speakers, and it almost feels like you are having dinner at your Italian Nana’s house, even if, like me, your ancestry isn’t from the old country. It’s not uncommon to have people sitting at the table next to you speaking Italian.

Guaraldi and his staff handle catering events in their four banquet rooms, holding events for between 40 and 250 people.

Headed by Paul Guistos, Chairman, and Frank Cena, President, the I.A.S.C. celebrated the 77th anniversary of the club’s existence in 2008. It’s easy to see why they remain a San Francisco tradition.

Located at 25 Russia Street, you can contact the I.A.S.C. at (415) 585-8059. For more information, visit the website at

October 2008

Back to Sports – Therapy and Fitness

Owners of Back to Sports in front of their business
Owners of Back to Sports in front of their business

We live in an era where packed waiting rooms are much too common when dealing with most medical practitioners. And when you finally get in, in many cases, you don’t get to see the medical professional, as aides, and assistants do most of the evaluations.

Located at 254 West Portal Ave. (in the former Copperfield’s location) owners Cynthia Pagan and Darren Badong have assembled a friendly, professional and experienced PT and chiropractic staff that strives to provide individually-tailored therapy programs for each of their clients.

Clayton Wu (D.C), Nora Cacinindin (MPT) and Kristin Henry (MPT) have all worked in the large “assembly-line” types of clinics where “hands on” type of work is not possible. Each of them loves the environment at the West Portal therapy and fitness center.

As Cacinindin described, “In my 28 years of providing PT I have been in all types of clinics. I love the environment at Back to Sports because we can really simplify the treatment processes and provide targeted individual service so that our clients don’t feel like they are being shuffled around”. The UC trained Kinesiologist and Therapist went on to say that by providing a smooth effortless transition from recovery to fitness each of the staff can chart each person’s progress and needs.”

Kristin Henry, who studied at the University of Michigan and Northwestern University, has been working in PT for over 12 years, and in addition to general therapy, she also works with women who are new moms or moms-to-be.

“I like to work with both pre-natal and post-partum women as they face different health issues, especially with muscles that can be tweaked during pregnancy. Often times, they try to do the same workouts that they “used to do” and end up with a muscle or tendon injury. That’s where I can help them get back to good health”, said Henry, who can relate to her clients as a mom herself.

The third member of the team is Clayton Wu, who earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from the Palmer West Chiropractic College, in California. As a chiropractor he can evaluate and diagnose injuries and recommend a course of treatment for the patient and therapists’ to follow. He also enjoys the close patient contact that he can have. “Unlike a typical “office” with examination rooms, our rooms are adjacent to our working areas. It’s more like a gym than a clinic. We use state of the art equipment such as ultrasound, bio feedback, electrical stimulation units, inversion tables, traction and the basic cold and hot packs to work the muscles, but unlike most places I have worked, we can then personally show our clients the specific exercises for strengthening by just walking them around the corner and doing the exercises with them”, stated Wu.

With the ability to tailor recovery and fitness programs to each individual client, the staff members can help everyone reach their own specific goals, such as increased flexibility, pain relief and management, or increasing the level of fitness. They see themselves as guides to help each of us on our journey to good health.

Cacamimdin summed it up best when she said, “Invest in yourself. Your health is your biggest asset, and after all you can’t fully enjoy your life if you are in poor health.”

Back to Sports Therapy and Fitness is located at 254 West Portal Avenue. In addition to the staff members listed certified personal fitness trainers are available to structure a fitness program. The center is open by appointment only. Contact them at (415) 759-8978 to schedule an appointment.

September 08

The Dog Spa

Dog Spa Owner Jeny Huynh
Dog Spa Owner Jeny Huynh

Is your canine companion looking a little scruffy; perhaps in need of a flea bath; or just a little pampering? If so, consider booking an appointment for ‘Rover’ or ‘Princess’ at “The Dog Spa”, a pet salon specializing in dogs, located at 169 West Portal Avenue.

Owners Jenny Huynh and Ada Wong opened the salon two years ago with the purpose of providing dog owners with a one-stop venue for cleaning and grooming services for any type of canine (except biting ones…).

The Dog Spa offers a large menu of services such as shampooing, flea treatments, nail clipping and grooming, as well as de-matting and skunk spray de-odorizing and skin treatments.

When asked what sets their business apart from other grooming providers, Huynh explained, “It’s the personalized level of service. I started in this business after I became a pet owner and really enjoyed the care and grooming aspect of caring for my dog. I looked around and there didn’t seem to be many services that provided personalized service for dogs, so I decided to take the training to become a certified groomer and eventually opened the shop with Ada (Wong) who I met through a mutual friend.”

Both Huynh and Wong understand that working with many breeds and types of dogs can provide different challenges. From puppies having their “first haircut”, to older pets that may be suffering from vision or hearing loss, the two professionals are well prepared to provide their services in a caring and personal way.

In fact, in addition to being “Certified Groomers”, they are also trained and certified in canine CPR and first aid for treatment in case of emergencies.

Providing extra care and a personalized touch also sets them apart from other large grooming services, “It can be a little stressful for the pet client when their owners drop them off for grooming, so we work by appointment only. This gives the pet companion and their dogs a clear window of time (usually about 2 hours) for the grooming or cleaning to occur since we don’t want to just have a pet client dropped off early in the morning and left all day. It’s a lot less stressful for the pets this way”, said Huynh, who added, “Sometimes we have cancellations, so if someone needs help in a last minute type of situation, we will try to accommodate their needs if we can.”

In addition to the myriad of grooming services, the store also features a large selection of dog accessories such as beds, toys, clothing, leashes, and collars and of course, doggie treats.

The Dog Spa is open 7 days a week, from 10-5, at 169 West Portal Avenue. You can find them by following the doggie footprints on the front window, or by calling them at 415-661-8333. They also are accessible through their website @

August 2008

Laguna Honda Costs graphic

So What’s the Damage?

Counting the Costs of the Laguna Honda Debacle

by Patrick Monette-Shaw

Sadly, LHH has not been recertified, patient admissions have not restarted. So patients needing skilled nursing care are displaced out-of-county.

Check it out

West Portal graphic

Addressing the West Portal Tragedy

Planning for a Safe Intersection

by Supervisor Myrna Melgar

The winning projects will be most closely align to the criteria and can be successfully completed with the funding allocated as a one-time grant.

Read More ...

City College plan

City’s Clear Cut

More SF Trees Get the Ax

by SF Forest Alliance

According to the SF RPD’s plan at least 809 trees were planned to be cut down in McLaren Park

Check it out

Removing density controls in western and central SF?


Mayor’s Upzoning Plan Endangers Our Neighborhoods

by Dennis Antenore

Demolitions, speculations, and displacement are in store if the city moves forward with Breed’s approach.

Check it out

Homeless seek respite at Ocean Beach

homeless at Ocean Beach

Life at the end of the safety net

by David Romano

If you do get into a shelter — they’ll take away your belongings, you can’t have a pet, you can’t have visitors and after a few days or a week, you’ll likely be turned out on the street again with nothing.

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Pill popping

Overdose Deaths Bewilder DPH

Battling lethal drug combinations

by Dr. Derek Kerr

The devastating effect of drug addiction is evident from the human wreckage ...Yes, it’s a nationwide plague. But SF overdose rates are twice the national average.

Check it out