Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Thermidor: Neil Jorgensen


So this one pains me a little to bring to you post closing. Personally I loved this restaurant and not just for the immaculate interiors and delicious cocktails and stellar service which should give you a pretty good formula for success but the food was fun! I know the reviews gave it a snide remark or two saying the food was too gimicky or concepty (I know, not a word.) but that's half the fun of dining out sometimes isn't it? Why shouldn't there be a twist or an edge to an old classic, why does San Francisco have to be 'oh so serious' about their food? It is after all a simple everyday pleasure eating with those you love and experiencing something you would never make at home, no?

And just as a reminder these interviews were done just over a year ago for a project that never quite got up and running. So please do enjoy this postmortem interview prepared by Celia and I with Neil Jorgensen the then owner or both Spork and Thermidor and now Rice Broker. Also as one little side note about Neil, what I really adore about him is his passion for design. Perhaps it's just in the blood of any Dane (American born or not.) but there are quite a few restauranteurs that claim they have designed their own space and when you scratch a little you know it's just not true but with Neil he's got a heavy hand in the design and concept of the space and it shows.
Q: How did you get started in the food industry?
NJ: I've worked in restaurants on and off since high school just as a means to other ends like most people in the business. At some point it started to seem like a good idea to put concepts together and eventually when Bruce and I decided to take a go at it together it all clicked fairly effortlessly.

Q: Naming a restaurant is serious business. What made you decide on Thermidor?

NJ: We ran lobster thermidor for a spork new year's eve prix fixe menu and for us it ended up embodying a concept we thought would be fun and somewhat unique.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you faced when opening Thermidor?
NJ: Opening a restaurant in San Francisco can definitely be difficult. Thermidor was more challenging than our first venture because the space had never been a restaurant. The infrastructure needs are substantial. Permitting, construction costs and timing can be brutal.  

(KW- I'll chime in here and say YES, as someone who has designed and permitted restaurants I urge you to find a space that is already a restaurant (at least in San Francisco) because the build-out and the fees that come with it are insane to charge a small business owner especially a restaurant that has such slim profit margins. These things are changing at the building department constantly and currently so it's wise to consult an architect/designer before you agree on a space.)

Q: What inspired you as far as deciding on the overall look of your space?

NJ: I started collecting vintage Sciolari chandeliers and wanted to build a space based on a modern version of a 1960's continental fine dining restaurant that I had in my head (I've never actually seen such a space but I'm pretty sure it existed back then). I also started collecting the chairs (Maurice Burke),  so in that sense it started with a light. Spork started with an Eames shell chair I found on a street corner. For me design always starts with one object that exemplifies the entire ethos of the project. From there it's just about creating the honest context where it will all make sense together. I always opt for objects that contain a history and patina above a new piece. 

Q: Did you work with a designer/architect? If so, who, and why did you want to work with that person/team?

NJ: We've worked with Eric Heid of Martin Heid Design/Build for both restaurants. He is a great editor and has an amazing eye. He also has a thorough understanding of the complete build out process. He has worked on a lot of great spaces in the city and he's the only one I trust.


Q: Your menu is quite classic and some might even refer to it as "old school". How would you say it ties in with the overall feel of your space?

NJ: I think the menu ties in well with the space. They hopefully both have a restrained throw back feel. 

Q: What's your most popular dish on the menu?

NJ: Lobster Thermidor 

Q: What dish do you wish got ordered more often, if any? In other words, what dish are your customers missing out on?

NJ: We get a pretty even spread, the Duck a L'Orange Bruce is running now is amazing.

Q: We like to always start dinner with a cocktail. Which two cocktails on your bar menu absolute must-trys? Feel free to name a third... we'd probably go for another round anyway.

NJ: Trust n' Treason Hyannis Port Yacht Club. We also make a great Old Fashioned.


Q: What do you splurge on?

NJ: Kumomoto oysters

Q: How would you describe the service at Thermidor? What is the absolute best compliment someone could pay you about your service staff?

NJ:  We aspire for it to be intuitive and adaptive. Different customers require a different approach and table presence. I would say the best compliment for the service would be that it felt perfectly paced and appropriate for the occasion and the specific expectations of a guest.

Q: Everyone seems to have a voice these days. How do you feel the internet has affected your business?

NJ: As long as you're really working hard I think it can be a great benefit. There is about a 30 second time lag now between a person's restaurant experience and their public review. It just means you need to be on your toes that much more.


Q: Name a restaurant you've walked into and thought, "I want to live here".

NJ: My favorite restaurant at the moment is Chez Vong in Paris. It's the best of so many of the things I personally value. 

Q: Besides San Francisco, best food city in the country and why?

NJ: New York, so much variety, great low and hi food. 

Q: We know it's typical, but we have to ask: What would you be doing if you weren't running restaurants?

NJ: interior design, graphic design, furniture design

THERM07 All photography by Kelly Waters

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