Meet Your Mission Neighbor: Michele Simons, Sugar Skull Artist

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Meet Your Mission Neighbor: Michele Simons, Sugar Skull Artist
  •  As Dia de Los Muertos approaches, puestos, or market stalls, selling sugar skulls, begin to appear all over Mexico; and even here in San Francisco’s Mission District, at Galeria de La Raza. Rarely produced outside of Mexico because of the molds required to make them, Michele Simons has found a way to create sugar skulls, something she has been doing for more than a dozen years.

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Just Gimme the Details:

Learn how to decorate sugar skulls just in time for Dia de los Muertos at Galeria de La Raza’s 24th Street Tradition with workshops led by artist Michele Simons. Open to the community ($10.00 per person with all materials included), groups of 6 or more are encouraged to reserve a spot in advance, including teacher and educators, by contacting Michele@TheSugarSkullGallery.com.

Workshop Schedule: Fridays (Starting October 10th), 4:00pm to 9:00pm Saturdays (Starting October 11th), 12:pm to 5:00pm Sundays (Starting Oct. 5th), 12:00pm to 5:00pm. Galeria de la Raza, 2857 24th St., S.F.; (415) 826-8009. More info: http://www.galeriadelaraza.org

Michele’s Story

What began as a personal journey, when, after the passing of her mother, Simons traveled to the small Mexican town of Pátzcuaro, Michoacan, famed for its Dia de Los Muertos celebrations; turned from passion to entrepreneurship as San Franciscan’s eagerly embraced what to them was a new art form. “I never imagined I would be here, doing this,” says Michele. She seems to drift off to a different place and time as she describes the moment when her life changed course that night, 15 years ago, in Pátzcuaro. “I sat there all night in the Panteon with these Indigenous women who spoke no Spanish, much less English, but somehow, they understood me, they seemed to know what I was going through, and they looked after me.” It was on that trip that Simons purchased her very first sugar skull, embossed with her mother’s name: Constance, which she still has. 12 years would pass before Simons was able to turn this moment into studio art, partially due to personal circumstance, but also because of another woman who also had a passion for sugar skull art, Angela Villabla, a Mexican importer specializing in Mexican folk art related to Day of the Dead. “Sugar skulls are just important to Day of the Dead as the Christmas cookie is to Christmas,” explains Villabla. Sugar skulls are created around clay molds into which artisans pour the liquefied sugar; molds which are passed down in Mexico from generation to generation in the families who make the sugar skulls that are sold in the market stalls. After “trying for years and years and years, in every way possible”, to bring these molds back to the United States, even “in crates…wrap[ped] in toilet paper”, Angela finally started creating her first sugar skull molds in 1996, as a way to share her passion and make it possible for people here to make sugar skulls on their own. One of the people who found Angela’s molds was Michele Simon.

Michele started by making sugar skulls based on famous people who had passed. The first of these was of Celia Cruz, followed by Frida Kahlo and Pavarotti. The method for making, assembling and decorating the skulls is demonstrated in this documentary, “The Making of Sugar Skulls” by Lauren Benichou, her very first film, during which fifth-generation Mexican sugar skull artist Miguel Quintana describes how he began to learn the craft from his parents starting at the age of 6, first helping his parents by just adding the tiny eyes to the smallest sugar skulls because “I have really small fingers” (yo tengo lo dedos chicos). Miguel uses molds that are more than 100 years old. Angela, like Miguel and Michele, are motivated by a passion to share this beautiful Mexican art form and Angela is quick to add that, “there is now way we think these are as good and as fabulous as the authentic sugar skulls in Mexico”. This sentiment, of valuing the cultural roots of the craft, is what makes it possible to translate this art form without co-opting it.

The Cultural Roots of Skeletons and Sugar Skulls

Day of the Dead is arguably the Mexican national holiday most recognized and embraced in the U.S., and certainly in the SF Bay area. (Cinco de Mayo, which has long been celebrated in this country as a stand-in for Mexican Independence Day, which it decidedly is not, is not celebrated nationally in Mexico). It is also one of the most important celebratory intervals in Mexico, spanning several days beginning Oct. 30th and ending Nov. 2nd, with some regional differences as to the exact dates.

The celebrations have a storied history (see http://www.examiner.com/article/day-of-the-dead-history-and-a-recipe-for-age-old-mexican-pumpkin-treat) and fascinating customs (http://www.examiner.com/article/day-of-the-dead-history-customs-modern-mexican-and-pan-de-muertos-recipe) including Pan de Muertos or Bread of the Dead. Also closely associated with Day of the Dead are calaveras or skeletons, which appear as a Halloween motif as well; however an examination of their significance reveals traditions that are markedly different. Halloween skeletons are meant to frighten, whereas Mexico’s tradition of humorous, almost irreverent skeleton art, unique in all of Latin America, embodies an attitude unrelated to fear.

Although Día de los Muertos is the only modern Mexican festival for which there is conclusive evidence of pre-Hispanic roots (during the month of Xocotlhuetzi, which fell in July and/or August, the Aztecs marked the Great Feast of the Dead. It was the conquering Spaniards who “relocated” the festival to coincide with All Hallows Eve), the mistaken notion that Mexicans somehow do not fear death, and that this belief has its roots in some Aztec ideology wherein the brave Aztec warrior embraced rather than dreaded meeting his end, has no clear historical basis. Nor is there any proven correlation between pre-Columbian warrior lore and the merriment of Day of the Dead celebrations. The Aztec celebration coincided with the harvest of beans, chickpeas, rice, corn, and pumpkin. These foods were part of the offering that was placed at the altar of the goddess Mictecacihuatl, ruler of the afterlife along with her husband, Mictlantecuhtli. Researchers think that these traditions eventually became conflated with others, which included burying personal objects of the deceased, along with food and offerings. Rather than having any basis in fear associated with death, the mood and corresponding traditions of Día de los Muertos are a combination of joy at the pending return of dead relatives, if only for a day, with some interesting satirical art forms that explain the proliferation of delightful skeletons and colorful skulls. Contrary to popular belief, there is no connection between these and any particular Mexican morbidity.

Calaveras are lively skeletal figurines that take the form of marionettes, giant puppets, and sweets. The most ubiquitous of these are Mexico’s sugar skulls or Alfeñiques. The word “alfeñique” has its root in the Arabic word “alfainid”, which refers to the preparation of a sweets made from sugar cane juice, which is stretched into very thin layers. The migration of the word, most likely first to Spain with the Moors and then to Mexico, echoes the migration of many spices and even recipes, especially those used in baking and the making of sweets. Boiled sugar is poured into ceramic molds in the shape of a coffin, a dove, or lamb, but the most traditional is the shape of a skull. Honoring the dead, the name of a loved one is written across the forehead and the skulls are decorated with colorful sugar icing. The alfeñiques are then placed on the family’s altar. In fact, as scholar and altar maker Rafael Jesus Gonzales describes in the documentary, the sugar skulls are a “very brilliant symbol, in a way, in that [they] celebrate the sweetness of life and at the same time recognize its end”.

Their origin of skulls as a symbol associated with Day of the Dead is both interesting and controversial. While there is strong evidence of skulls displayed for ceremonial purposes in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, some anthropologists conclude that the appearance of skulls more likely stems from Colonial imagery, harkening to the skull as a symbol of death in Christianity. One school of thought is that the alfeñiques, the sugar skulls that adorn the altars on Day of the Dead, have their origins in the Tzompantli, a wooden rack used in several Mesoamerican civilizations for the public presentation of human skulls. Rather than a gory frightening or morbid custom, these displays coincided with the Aztec belief that death was the conclusion of one phase of this life, and that life extended past death to another level. Accordingly, it was common practice was to keep the skulls of the deceased and show them during those rituals that symbolized the end of a cycle (at the end of the calendar year, for example).

With the arrival of the Spaniards, the Catholic Church forbade the rituals using human skulls, but the Mexicas resisted the elimination of traditions so deeply held. Historians who trace the origins of sugar skulls to pre-Columbian times believe that the Aztecs were eventually persuaded to substitute sugar skulls for real ones. Other anthropologists argue that the icon of the skull and cross bones, as well as appearance of skeletons, was well documented in early European and Church history, and that the sugar skulls came across the seas with the Spanish.

Catrinas

During 1920’s, Catrinas, female skeletons fashionably attired with wide-brimmed hats, became popular as Mexico’s Renaissance created a vogue for all things Aztec. The first Catrina was created by graphic artist Jose Guadalupe Posadas during the end of his life, between 1910 and 1913. The word “catrín” meant an elegant and well-dressed gentleman, usually accompanied by a lady with the same characteristics. This style was a classic for the aristocracy at the end of the 1800s and beginning of 1900s. Satirizing the Mexican upper class of the Porfirio Díaz era (Mexican president from 1876-–1880 and 1884-–1911), with their preference for European rather than Indigenous culture and cuisine, Catrinas were just part of this movement led by artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, as Mexico’s artistic intellectual community sought to re-connect with their indigenous roots.

Catrinas are one of Mexico’s most widely sought collectibles.

Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe Menu

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Originally posted on Una Señorita Gourmet:

(Note: the following is excerpted from my book, Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl)

December 12: Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe is one of the more important, celebrated in every corner of Mexico from the biggest cities to the smallest ranchos. Throughout Mexico on December 12th, small Mexican boys are dressed in peasant clothes and are called Juan Diegos, mustaches painted on their faces; in honor of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an Aztec who had recently converted to Christianity, to whom the Virgin de Guadalupe first appeared on December 9,1531, on the hill north of Mexico City. On their tilmas, the image of Guadalupe appears as she did on the cloth of Juan Diego, centuries ago. The girls are called las Malinches and wear traditional costume: an embroidered blouse and a gathered flowered skirt, with a brightly colored rebozo draped over…

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The wide, wild world of chutney according to Alison McQuade

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Screen shot 2014-08-18 at 1.35.31 PMWe discovered Alison McQuade and her amazing chutneys about a year ago and have been hooked every since. I don’t know about you, but I grew up thinking chutney was an accompaniment to Indian cuisine. Turns out, I had a very narrow vision of what is a very versatile condiment. In fact, when I explored the McQuade Celtic Chutneys website (follow link to find where to purchase at a local food purveryor or on-line), I found the pen of a poet (not surprising for a Scotswoman) and the ladle of a great chef, I am sure you’ll agree reading the following:

Screen shot 2014-08-18 at 1.39.02 PM“How do we distill the ripe rosy flavour of summer tomatoes

bring a deep hit of eastern spicing to an autumnal table

or embrace the bitter sharp bite of earthly rhubarb?

Here at McQuade’s, the answer is always

“make chutney.

ANDREA: What is chutney? How do you make it?

ALISON:  Chutney is a condiment made from fruit and or vegetables, vinegar, spices and sugar, allowed to mature the flavours all come together and if done right balance each other out…..

 in big vats for a few hours and then let them mature till flavours meld.  Each different flavour is a different process.

ANDREA:  How did you start your business and what drew you to specializing in this condiment?

ALISON:  I come from Scotland where my grandmothers used to make chutney, as well as my mother, in turn and now I do.  The British occupation of India brought chutney to our shores , also,  Glasgow being a port city , meant we had access to spices and fruit that we normally wouldn’t.

I started making chutney years ago while still working in a law firm.  I would make chutney as gifts for Christmas and at some point a friend asked me to bring some for her friend to try – her friend was none other than Peggy Smith from Cowgirl Creamery  Artisanal Organic Cheeses! They were about to open up in the Ferry Building Marketplace… Peggy tried my chutney and, as they say, the rest is history. She placed what was my first wholesale order and from there came other orders…..

ANDREA:  Most people associate chutney with Indian food; is it appropriate with other cuisines?

ALISON:  Yes, most people  do associate chutney with Indian food, however I, being raised in Scotland, associate it with a Ploughman’s Platter or a grilled cheese sandwich. “an English cold meal which consists of cheesechutney, and bread.[1] Additional items such as boiled eggs, ham, and pickled onions may be added. As its name suggests, it is more commonly consumed as a midday snack.

Beer, bread, and cheese have been paired in the English diet since antiquity. However, the specific term “ploughman’s lunch” is believed to date no further back than the 1950s, when the Cheese Bureau began promoting the meal in pubs as a way to increase the sales of cheese, which had recently ceased to be rationed. Its popularity increased as the Milk Marketing Board promoted the meal nationally throughout the 1960s”.

ANDREA:  How did and do you select and develop the flavors your offer in your line of chutneys?

Can you provide a pairing list for your chutneys? (So recommended uses… with what proteins, matching flavor profiles, etc).

ALISON:  New flavours come from my Scottish “heid” (author’s note: variant for “head”), or sometimes I ‘m inspired by cocktails.

Our habanero chutney goes very well with scrambled eggs or pork tenderloin and the apple ‘n ale with macaroni cheese (see below)…..there are so many ways to complement meals with chutney…..

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PARTIAL LIST OF FLAVOURS:

(We rotate the flavours so usually only 5-6 available at one time….)

Fig ‘n Ginger (author’s note: as a private chef, I serve this with my Brazil-nut Crusted Goat Cheese Pelotitas filled with Black Mission Fig, see photo below)
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Mandarin Apricot
Rhubarb Tangerine
Apple Ale
Habanero
Plum and Black pepper
Whisky Peach
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Apple Red Chili
Cranberry Tangerine
Persimmon
Melon Peach
Mango Date
Spiced Strawberry
Curried Banana
Citrus Cherry
PAIRING SUGGESTIONS
Basically the citrus and lighter fruit (i.e. Melon, mandarin apricot ) pair well with seafood as well as with goat ‘s cheese)
Fig and Ginger with pork tenderloin and with blue cheese
Apple n Ale extremely versatile and pairs with cheddar, chicken , pork
Spiced Strawberry with Barbecue Chicken
Whiskey Peach with Steak….
Citrus cherry with Duck

 

 

 

 

Correction to Bayview Food Scene- a little known gem

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Awhile back ,we shared this exciting foodie find with you, but accidentally identified all of Fox and Lion Bread’s company information was used with Earl’s Bread name. (original post on the Bayview Food Scene)  Earl and  Fox and Lion’s founder, do Xan deVoss share a table at the Bayview market but are two separate companies.  Fox and Lion Bread is a micro bakery focused on creating artisan breads using the finest local ingredients. Here is how Xan explains his foray into artisan baking and the founding of his business,

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Fox and Lion’s Chocolate Bread

“I learned how to bake bread over 30 years ago from my father Gary. We baked mostly dinner rolls and my proudest moments were when I would get to punch down the dough.

After my first child was born I began experimenting with naturally fermented breads. My loaves went from flat rocks to delicious loaves as I learned how different variations produced vastly different results.

As I studied more about this type of artisan bread I became more and more fascinated by the process. As you ferment breads naturally for long periods of time the breads are easier to digest and the flavors are deep and subtle.

Fox and Lion is a tribute to my two family names, DeVoss and Levine. As artisan breads have a long history with regards to community and family, it is important to me to use bread to create cultural ties that bridge community and family heritage.

It is my hope that by producing wholesome breads for my community that this will be the catalyst for my neighbors to create tradition by “breaking bread” with their families.”

For more about Fox and Lion, including pick-up locations and bi-weekly and weekly bread “subscriptions, check out foxandlionbread.com.

Dandelion Chocolates getting creative with it for the holidays!

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From their website, an amazing line-up for the inaugural year of what is sure to become a Mission holiday favorite!

The 12 Nights of Chocolate

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We’re very excited to announce a new holiday tradition that we are starting at our chocolate factory on Valencia Street: the 12 Nights of Chocolate!

Starting next Tuesday the 10th for 12 whole nights, we will be hosting a series of festive events celebrating our love of chocolate. The highlight of this series are the pastry chef nights where local pastry luminaries Emily Lucchetti, Janet Dalton, Jessica Sullivan, Lincoln Carson, Angela Gong, and Terri Wu will host intimate dessert evenings made with our chocolate. The profits from these pastry chef nights will go to benefit the SF / Marin Food Bank, which seeks to end hunger in San Francisco.

We’ll be posting more details as the month progresses, but here’s a quick overview of what we have planned:

#1 – Guatemala Sourcing Talk – Tuesday December, 10th
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Greg, our resident Bean Sourcer-er, will give a talk about his recent sourcing trip to Guatemala at 7:00PM in the cafe. FREE
#2 – Book signing and demo – Wednesday December, 11th
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Local Mission author Andrea Lawson Grey will be doing a book signing and demo for her new cookbook: CELEBRACIONES MEXICANAS – History, Traditions, and Recipes. Andrea will show us how to make Mexican Hot Chocolate and Chocolate Dipping Sauce for Churros starting at 7:00PM in the cafe. FREE
#3 – Food drive – Thursday December, 12th
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We’re kicking off our food-drive, by giving a free, special treat to anyone who brings in a food item for the SF / Marin Food Bank this day. The most needed items are: tuna, canned meat, peanut butter, soup, chili, beans, cereal, canned fruit and vegetables, and granola bars. Food collection bins will be available through the 21st. PLEASE NOTE: Cafe will be closing at 7 for our staff holiday party.
#4 – Tuscan Desserts with Jessica Sullivan – Friday December, 13th
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Previously the pastry chef at Boulevard and Prospect, Jessica now heads up the pastry program at the Delfina Group. She will be presenting a three course dessert tasting menu focused on Tuscan / Northern Italian Desserts with wine and spirit pairings from Locanda. 8:30PM $50 – PLEASE NOTE: the cafe will be closing at 8PM this night. More info and tickets here.
#5 – Wine and Chocolate – Saturday December, 14th
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An intimate evening with a wine and chocolate pairing in our upstairs mezzanine. Wines by Sonoma / San Francisco based Wattle Creek Winery. Limited to 14 people. More details and tickets here. 7PM. $75
#6 – Holiday Cookie Popup – Sunday December, 15th
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All day Sunday our pastry chef, Lisa Vega, will be exclusively making holiday cookies in the cafe. Come try her creations or bring some home. ALL DAY
#7 – Movie Night – Monday December, 16th
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We’re setting up the cafe as a small movie theater and screening Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory. There will be (chocolate-covered) popcorn and golden tickets of course. Popcorn and treats at 7:45, movie starts at 8:15 sharp. $15 Tickets herePLEASE NOTE: the cafe will be closing at 7:30PM this night.
#8 – Crunchy Creamy All Chocolate Pop Up Party with Emily Luchetti and Janet Dalton – Tuesday December, 17th
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Executive Chef, Author, and James Beard Board Member Emily Luchetti is teaming up with Janet Dalton, former pastry chef of Postrio to a host a night of desserts! Buy tickets in advance (some available at the door) and drop in between 7-9PM to try hot chocolate milk shakes, desserts, and other treats made by these amazing chefs. Lots and lots of treats.

The chefs wanted us to warn you to eat something savory before you come. Not responsible for overdosing on chocolate.

Drop in any time between 7-9PM. $35 – PLEASE NOTE: the cafe will be closing at 7PM this night. More info and tickets here (or at the door).
#9 – Wine and Chocolate II – Wednesday December, 18th
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An intimate evening with a wine and chocolate pairing in our upstairs mezzanine. Wines by Sonoma / San Francisco based Wattle Creek Winery. Limited to 14 people. More details and tickets here. 7PM. $75
#10 – Lincoln Carson – Thursday December, 19th
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Lincoln Carson, who heads up the pastry program at the Michael Mina restaurants will be hosting a chocolate and whisky ceremony with three Suntory whiskies; Hakushu, Hibiki and Yamazaki. 8:30PM $50 – PLEASE NOTE: the cafe will be closing at 8PM this night.More info and tickets here.
#11 – Angela Gong and Terri Wu – Friday December, 20th
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Angela Gong of Waterbar and Terri Wu of Farralon will be hosting a sweet and savory prix fixe chocolate menu with spirit pairings by Craig Lane of Bar Agricole. 8:30PM $50 – PLEASE NOTE: the cafe will be closing at 8PM this night. More info and tickets here.
#12 – Fondue Night – Saturday December, 21th
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We’re ending the 12 nights with Fondue! Starting at 6pm we will be offering fondue with a series of toppings in the cafe until close. 6PM until close (or until sold out).

Posted on December 4th, 2013 by  | 0 Comments

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I will be making a personal appearance at Dandelion Chocolates: Cooking Demo and Book Signing

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Those of you who follow me know I don’t usually use my blog to toot my own horn, in fact, I rarely write in the first person. But next week is kinda special, as I will be appearing in the Mission and creating my own “Taste of SF”, just in time to kick off the holiday season. December 12th is Dia de La Virgin de Guadalupe, and Mexican Hot Chocolate is often served, along with tamales and other treats!Screen shot 2013-12-03 at 1.48.55 PM

COOKING DEMO & BOOK SIGNING

Andrea Lawson Gray will show us how to make Mexican Hot Chocolate and Chocolate Dipping Sauce for Churros,
AT DANDELION CHOCOLATES (kick-off of their 12 DAYS OF CHOCOLATE EVENT SERIES)
(740 Valencia)
BEGINNING AT 7:00 PM
DECEMBER 11th

Get to know Celia’s by the Beach, a SF landmark

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It may be a ways from the Mission District, by Celia’s by the Beach is 100% Mexican, not just in flavor but also in philosophy. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Phil Havlicek, who, with his brother, Salvador Lopez runs the popular neighborhood Mexican restaurant Celia’s by the Beach in San Francisco’s Beach district. After a delightful dinner, we got to talking about the history of the place and learned a few things:

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Andrea: I know Celia was your grandmother and that she founded the business with your grandfather, when was that and where was the original location? Did she do all the cooking? How did the business grow to what it is today?

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Phil: As the story goes, our grandparents, Celia and Perfecto immigrated to San Francisco Sunset in the 1950s, leaving behind their children with the rest of family in Mexico. They worked doing odd jobs, bussing tables and washing dishes, until they had enough money to bring their children. Once the family was situated and they had saved enough money, Celia and Perfecto bought a small coffee shop on Judah between 45th and 46th Avenues. The previous owner would not allow Mexicans to continue running the coffee shop under the same name, so Celia grabbed a paper bag, wrote her name on it (Celia’s), taped it over the original name and Celia’s Diner was born in 1960. The cafe had four tables and some diner-style seating. At first the cafe only served breakfast and lunch, eggs, coffee … Perfecto loved American food – steaks, eggs, burgers, fries, and hash browns. This what he ate, and this is what they served. Business was going well, so they decided to open for dinner. But dinner service was not an immediate success and Celia wanted to try something new. Perfecto had a friend that was a sort of Mexican food entrepreneur and offered to teach Celia the recipes for some traditional dishes: enchiladas and tacos… back then the Sunset was majority Irish, most of whom had never tasted anything like this before. This very new and fresh Mexican cuisine, which was introduced into the menu around 1963, was an instant hit and there were lines around the block! Some of our customers that come in to eat to this day remember when the lines were out the door and come in and tell us stories of the original Celia’s Diner.

Celia and Perfecto both did the cooking front the beginning. One thing that Celia and Perfecto were legendary for was their generosity and hospitality. I have customers that come into the restaurant, now in their 80s, and recall instances when Celia had offered them a ride home when they had had just a little too much tequila. If someone forgot something at the restaurant, they would deliver it to their house!

What a lot of people do not know is that Perfecto, although not the face of restaurant was the backbone. He ran the kitchen and made sure the restaurant had what it needed to keep humming like a well-tuned machine.

As time progressed, the restaurant grew in popularity. More family members continued to immigrate to San Francisco. Celia and Perfecto would lend them money and teach them the business and these family members would form partnerships to open more Celia’s. At one point there were over 20 Celia’s in the Bay Area. Today there are 13. In the end, their hard work and generosity has yielded a beautiful family and business.

Andrea: What is your personal history with Celia’s by the Beach? What inspired you to go into the family business?

Phil: My brother Sal and I have been going to #1 (that’s how we refer to the restaurants, #1 being Celia’s by the Beach) since, well, since we were born. Customers come up to me and tell me they used to carry me in their arms when I was a baby! As we sat in the booths as little kids, we used to dream together about the improvements we would make to the restaurant, crazy recipe ideas and that we would live together and manage restaurants together. You know, manifest destiny. I was presented with a few opportunities after college; but growing up and working the restaurants my whole life, and the sense of pride and responsibility I felt towards the family business… all of this led me to the business.

Andrea: Mexican food in the US has really changed over the years, from a niche market to something more mainstream. What changes did you make when you took over?

Phil: It’s true, Mexican food has expanded and continues to be one of the fastest growing types of cuisine, especially in the Bay area. We were very weary of making major changes to the menu and so were our customers. When we made minor changes, many customers would confide that they feared that their beloved Celia’s wouldn’t be the same. You see, we built our business on a very simple concept: treat your customers and employees like family. Nowadays, many restaurateurs act as if good service is a favor the staff is doing for their customers.

Of course we run a restaurant and the food is our revenue generator, but it has always been more than food for our family. It’s about sharing our culture. It’s about sharing that one moment in the day with our customers when they can relax and enjoy some good food and drink. We offer Mexican comfort food and mighty good margaritas – we are not trying to stray from that.

As far as food goes, over the years a lot of the Celia’s have drifted away from our original philosophy. Since my brother and I took the reins, we have been focused on getting back to basics. We referenced our Grandmother’s original recipes and tweaked a lot of the sauces to bring out her flavors.

We are continually looking for more quality, sustainable and local ingredients to integrate into the menu. It’s a tricky subject really; our customers are very accustomed to our taste and price points. There is the risk that too much change could turn off a lot of our old customers. It’s all about finding that balance.

Andrea: Your little neighborhood by the beach there is pretty hip… has it changed much over the years? Is your clientele mostly local?

Phil: It sure is. Having worked at #1 for over a decade and eating there my whole life, it is incredible to see the change in the hood. Many young families, energetic and artistic people have made the Beach their home. The neighborhood is going through a major renaissance. A majority of our customers are locals. But with popular restaurateurs like Thang Long and Outerlands, we draw customers from all over the Bay Area.

Andrea: What is your favorite dish from your menu? And your favorite cocktail?

Phil: My favorite traditional dish would be the #6, Two Enchiladas Verde. Favorite burrito is the Expresso Burrito. Did you know Perfecto invented the wet burrito back in the 60s? And I love fajitas, I eat them every day – healthy and delicious.SONY DSC

My favorite cocktail is the Perfecto Margarita – fresh squeezed lemon, lime, simple syrup, Anejo Tequila and Grand Marnier float.SONY DSC

Andrea: I know you have a family night and Taco Tuesdays. Can you tell us about these and other specials you run?

Phil: Taco Tuesday is a great time for all. The thing I love about Taco Tuesday is that we have customers from every generation showing up to eat and drink: $1 tacos, $2 Coronas, $4 Margaritas $5, Tequila specials, and $5 Mexican Hand-stands (Corona in a Margarita). The concept behind family night defines family in the broadest of terms, just like it did for Celia and Perfecto. Family went well beyond blood relatives for them and the legacy of this can still be seen today from as various people come up to us and share their stories about my grandparents.

Familia Wednesdays is an opportunity for families and groups of friends to come in to enjoy some good food and drink specials. Our staff is trained to work with children, for good reason too, the restaurant looks like a playground at times! One of the rewarding aspects of working at Celia’s is seeing families grow over time. I have customers come in who have told me that Celia’s is the first place they tasted Mexican food and now they take their children in for the same experience. It is a time for friends to come in and get over “Hump Day.” Kids eat free; there are $7 combo appetizers and $19 margarita pitchers.

Andrea: What plans do you have for the future? Are you looking at other opportunities in the restaurant business and if so, how will they differ from Celia’s?

Phil: We have a lot of plans for the future. Live music, salsa night (dancing and dip), food and drink specials. We are really pushing for Saturday and Sunday brunch. Sal and I have been brainstorming with a concept for a new restaurant – brief menu focusing on seasonal and regional Mexican cuisines with a large spirit selection.

Monday Closed
Tuesday 4:30–10:00 pm
Wednesday 4:30–9:00 pm
Thursday 4:30–10:00 pm
Friday 4:30–10:00 pm
Saturday 4:30–10:00 pm
Sunday 4:30–9:00 pm

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