Three years after meeting at Anchor Brewing during a restaurant industry night, Rich Rosen and Jennifer Garris opened Pi Bar, a place that’s all about pizza and beer.
“Pizza, beer, bacon, cheese and bread. We’ve got all the food groups covered here,” joked Rosen, wearing a black faded t-shirt and at least trying to look relaxed as he leaned against a tall communal table in his new venue.
It was just five hours before the restaurant’s opening on Thursday but by 6:15 p.m., it was clear he had little to worry about. The waiting list grew, groups mingled outside and already some grumbled about the wait list at the bar.
Rosen, who looks more like a biker than a restaurateur, hopes to make the new venture a neighborhood hangout similar to those he remembers from his Queens childhood, where “everybody went to the pizza place two or three times a week.”
Unlike those joints, however, most of Pi Bar’s, food and beer are grown or brewed within a 50-mile radius. The tomatoes come from the Sacramento Valley, the sausage is made in-house and the cheese travels across the bridge from Berkeley’s Belfiore Cheese Company.
“They’re making a special product for us,” said Rosen. “It’s a nice block mozzarella.”
Eventually there will be sandwiches, but they’re still looking for the perfect loaf.
“It’s got to have enough to hold the sauce,” said Garris, talking about the bread for what she hopes will be the perfect meatball sandwich. Rosen, who is also her boyfriend, added, “It needs the right amount of crust and the right amount of crumble.”
While the official opening was on Thursday night, they did a couple of test runs with friends and family. Eighty people showed up on Tuesday and even then, “a lot of pizzas went into garbage,” Rosen said.
On Wednesday, 120 people showed. More trial and error followed and by the end of it Rich was “kind of scared shitless,” for the big night.
How many people would show? Would there be enough food? “The chef had to drive to Berkeley to get more cheese,” he said. They were up all night making more dough.
The chef happens to be Joe Lee, who use to bar tend at Zeitgeist. Rosen, who is the executive chef, met Lee in 1993. They were both working at the swanky Embarcadero restaurant Boulevard. Since then, Rosen has opened two eateries, Glen Park’s Chenery Park and the Castro’s Eureka.
While Rosen and Garris have worked in restaurants across the San Francisco, they’ve decided to do a joint venture in their own neighborhood.
Before running the front of her own restaurant, Garris spent years working at Magnolia Pub in Haight-Ashbury where she got to know most of the brewers.
“I think people are inclined to drink something, if they know its story, said Garris, who put together a very detailed beer menu. There’s also bottled beers, mostly from Belgium.
“The Belgians just have an amazing attitude towards beer,” she said describing the 18-bottle varieties of Belgian beers.
Initially Pi Bar was to open in August, but permitting problems kept pushing back the date. “It’s become much more difficult and time consuming,” Rosen said. “There are all these new little things. Next year is going to be worse. Even our health inspector apologized for all the hassles.”
The delay created a level of anticipation on blogs such as Kevin Montgomery’s rants on MissionMission,“I’m already sick of Pi Bar and it hasn’t even opened its doors yet.”
But, not the neighborhood. The place was packed by 6:15 that night. No dishes were dropped and no one got indignant about the wait, which was at least 30 minutes.
It was a mixed crowd from Rich and Jen’s friends to Missionites, who had been watching the restaurant’s slow progression. Around 9 o’clock Rosen thought they’d seen about 100 people.
Asked how it compared to other neighborhood pizzerias, Mission resident Hugh Haynes replied with another, “What other pizza places?”