6) I have visited several wine/beer hangouts in the city; especially with wine/beer, the list is so similar across so many bars. Fat Angel has a great list. Is it so hard to source some amazing wines from Portugal, Spain and Northern Italy that are not to be seen in California? Or beers for that matter?
Jason: We are very fortunate in San Francisco with so many options that we have with wine reps and wine distributors. That said, there is a tremendous amount of wine out there in places like Europe that don’t even get here. And even the ones that do hit the States, get to the east coast first. It does not go through the Panama Canal and get to the west coast. It gets to New York, Boston and what’s remaining gets sourced to the west coast. Likewise you don’t see many Californian wines in New York for instance. That said, everyone has access to the same kinds of wine, but it is a tremendous amount of work to bring in wines that are not easily accessible to our bars here in San Francisco.
Also, I would make the relationships first, so when you bring the wines that you want to bring, you’ve already established a network.
7) There are a lot of people who say (both in and outside the food/drinks business) that you should absolutely NOT get in to this business because of all the physical, mental and financial turmoil and how unforgiving it can be. What is most rewarding for you about this business? And what would you like to see change?
Cyrick: For me, I have actually met many friends just working at Fat Angel. After college, social groups tend to get smaller, people get married, have kids, some people move away and your circle gets smaller and smaller. But, while working at Fat Angel, I’ve met several regulars on a daily basis, made friends and we hang out. I’ve even brewed beer with some of these people. I’ve never done something like that before and that was a lot of fun. So my circle of friends actually got bigger. And also, I got more in tune with the industry because other folks from the industry come in and my social circle got bigger very quickly. That was the biggest and most rewarding thing for me.
Jason: For me, I like environments, I like space, I like creating a space. What I enjoy is creating an environment for people to come in to. I like worrying about the details, worrying about the kind of flowers we use, the lighting, and the product space, that things are dust free – that’s what keeps me going. I like sitting at Fat Angel, just looking at it, watching people having a good time, and you sit back and go ‘I was part of this and we built this from scratch’. It’s great, and it carries over to other things in life. It’s the feeling you get from being in an atmosphere that speaks to you and resonates with you.
I know we nailed it with Fat Angel, it is a great space – very cozy and warm, soft lights and good colors. That is why it is a great first date spot. People run their e-harmony game out of here all the time and that is fun too (laughs).
8) And what would you like to change with this industry?
Jason: The big topic now is minimum wage, labor, tipping and all that. I will be honest, its just crazy. I just wish we would convert to the European method. Pricing everything on the menu, 'Here’s your check, thank you very much and have a great night'. We want to pay people well, but there is definitely inequality in wages between the front and back of the house. In Fat Angel, our Back of the House also gets tipped because they work the floor-which is great. But, with all the increase in wages there is going to be backlash, prices are going to be increased and you are kind of back where you are at. So we don’t know what the right answer is.
Cyrick: And the worst thing is, that might or might not drive traffic from outside the city. Because, now San Francisco is more expensive and so when we have tourists, they are going to spend a little less.
9) Related to everything you both have said, right now San Francisco is at the most expensive point it’s been from rents, labor etc. to the point where, both resources and establishments are moving outside the city. You own 2 successful restaurants in this city. What is your advice to someone who'd like to start his or her own food/drinks place in this city at a time like now?
Jason: I would say, just do it! Anybody who quits their corporate job and does what they are passionate about, I am their biggest cheerleader. We all have to roll the dice at some point and go big or go home. What is life about if you’re not taking risks and taking chances?
Cyrick and I were making good money doing what we did. We moved in together, ate rice and some Vietnamese meat and we were on a crazy budget. That was a lot of sacrifice. Sometimes you have to get uncomfortable and when you do make it, you look back and you have a lot of amazing stories to tell.
10) A lot of times, running your own business or being an entrepreneur can be nerve wracking - especially the first few years until established and profitable. Any tips on how to stay calm and keep up the right attitude to get through each of those days?
Cyrick: You just have to roll with it.
Jason: I don’t know, life’s hard. And when we do have a tough day we think, 50% of this business is ‘my’ tough day and 50% of it is ‘his’ (pointing to Cyrick) tough day. And it’s a little bit sweeter even on tough days when you’re working your own deal. There is something liberating about that. Today we had an employee not show up, another server call in sick and all these things happen. Four years ago all of this was a big deal, but now everything that used to be a big deal is just a blip on the radar. Someone doesn’t show up, I put an apron on and it is done. Nothing goes per plan and so accepting what is and having the resources to call makes all the difference.
11) Once you're established and profitable, how do you 'let go' of your baby?
Cyrick: It was very hard.
Jason: We had to learn. When we first handed over the keys to our first Front Of the House employee, it was quite difficult. But we had our system, checks and balances - so that helps. And the things that we used to think were big aren’t that big. If you get a bad Yelp review, you say to yourself 'They happen' and you don’t take it personally but try to learn from it and not wreck your world.
12) What would your career look like if not for Fat Angel?
Cyrick: I would probably still be in real estate business. We never thought about doing our own thing, but we came to a point where I had a boss that caused the company culture to shift when he came aboard. And I wanted to do something and Jason & I started talking. That’s how this idea came about. Otherwise, I’d probably still be doing what I used to be doing.
Jason: I always wanted to own my own business. I did the corporate America thing from the time I graduated from college. I would tell my son, you can start your own business, but there is something to be learned from working in a corporate culture and working for a boss. But I would never go back and be in the corporate world but running my own business. We just happened to land on the food business, it was not something we always set out to do. It was just something we thought would be cool and I just wanted to always own my own business.
I then wrapped up my talk thanking Jason & Cyrick for a wonderful chat along with a nice click with both of them in front of beautiful Fat Angel's bar.