February 23, 2015

Interview: Kristen Gianaras of NōVY Restaurant

For everyone lamenting the loss of a homey and affordable restaurant on 24th St after Pasta Pomodoro closed there's some good news: a new seasonal, local and affordable restaurant is set to take it’s place in March and it’s the ultimate Noe Valley story. Back in 1970 a young Greek-American couple named John and Vi Gianaras moved to Noe Valley, took over the space vacated by a small grocery store and decided to turn it into a local neighborhood restaurant called Panos, named after John's father. Specializing in authentic Greek cuisine, Panos was a neighborhood favorite for almost 20 years until 1997 when John and Vi decided it was a good run and opted to rent out the space to others.

Pasta Pomodoro opened soon after and remained a neighborhood favorite until October of last year when its lease expired. The Gianaras did not renew the pasta chain's lease. Instead they started necessary building upgrades and offered the restaurant space to their daughters. We caught up with Kristen Gianaras (pictured, right), one of the sisters who will open NōVY next month.

Tell us a little about yourselves. My sister, Kathryn, and I are third generation Greek-American San Francisco natives. My parents, John and Vi Gianaras, were born in San Francisco and went to Lowell High School. Kathryn and I both went to St. Brendan's grammar school, St. Ignatius High School and UC Santa Barbara. And we still aren't sick of each other! Kathryn managed the Club Sports department at UCSB after she graduated and my real estate license still hangs at Zephyr Noe Valley. When we aren't busy showering Kathryn's dog, Rocky, with affection, you can find us playing tennis or dining about town with family and friends.

Where does the name NōVY come from? Deciding on a name was more difficult than we could have imagined! John came up with the name NōVY as a nickname for Noe Valley. We like it because it's short, sweet, catchy and pays homage to the neighborhood. The other contender was to name the restaurant "The G's Spot" but we were worried about the type of crowd we might attract ;)

How long have you lived in Noe Valley? Kathryn and I were raised in the house directly next door to where we live now on Jersey Street. Our old yard taunts me every time I walk down my back stairs! We moved to a home in Balboa Terrace for grade school and high school and then moved back to Noe after college in 2008.

Were you surprised when your parents asked you if you wanted to run a restaurant on 24th Street? Surprised is an understatement! When my mom called me to tell me the idea, my response was "Are you freaking (censored version) out of your mind?!" Then I hung up, slept on it, woke up, called my sister and said "I think we should do this!"

Besides the family connection, what made you want to open a restaurant in this space? Many stars aligned that turned this idea into a reality:
  1. Location: restaurants have run successfully in this location for the last 30+ years.
  2. Timing: Pomodoro's lease was expiring, my parents are still at a point in their lives where they have the time and energy to mentor us, and Kathryn and I are young enough to pour our hearts and souls into this business without any other commitments (one day we will add to the stroller brigade on 24th St - but not quite yet!).
  3. Community: This is the neighborhood that we live in and love, and we felt there was no better way for us to get the restaurant Noe needed than to create it ourselves. NōVY was created by community members for community members. I strongly believe there is no community that is more accepting and encouraging of small businesses than Noe Valley.
  4. Good food: Let's not forget the food! We were tired of having so few dining options in Noe. We put a lot of though into creating a menu that is focused yet diverse, so that guests can dine at NōVY multiple times a week and have a different food experience each time, without breaking the bank.
  5. Jobs: I get too gushy when I talk about how honored and privileged I feel to be able to provide jobs at such an early point in my career. Kathryn and I are excited to nurture a team of people who know that they are respected and appreciated in their jobs and to provide a work environment where our employees can learn, grow and let their personalities shine.

Give us a tour: What will be some of the signature items on the menu? Vi created the menu and then we collaborated as a family to refine it. We want to be clear that NōVY is not a reincarnation of Panos', nor is it a Greek restaurant. Our focus is on fresh, local, seasonal California favorites with a Mediterranean flare. Our meat and produce will be natural and organic whenever possible, and there will be a sizable selection of vegetarian and gluten-free dishes as well. Our all-day menu Monday-Friday features a line of artisan burgers, hearty salads, pita wraps (chicken and pork souvlaki, grilled calamari and portobello), quesadillas with mediterranean flavors, as well as a section of pastas. And don't overlook our small plates offerings, which include fried olives and marcona almonds, grilled halloumi cheese, our 'trifecta' of hummus, tzatziki and taramasalata (a Greek caviar) as well as grilled or fried calamari (as long as John doesn't eat it all.) We will also be serving brunch on the weekends...benedicts, scrambles, egg bakes, a line of breakfast quesadillas and more.

As for our beverage program, it is important to us to do our part in reducing waste. We will be offering all of our beverages on tap...beer, wine and non-alcoholic (with the exception of sparkling wine.) All will be locally selected from California. The exact list is still TBD, but we welcome feedback from our guests on what they'd love to see on the taps as the months go on! Our vision is for our bar area to be comfortable for a full-service meal but also casual enough to enjoy a snack and a drink after work, etc. You'd be lying if you said you didn't like to people watch over a glass of wine!

Our goal is for NōVY to be place where you can enjoy thoughtful, affordable food in a sophisticated and warm environment, topped off with friendly and personal service. I want our customers to leave with a smile on their face because they had a great time, delicious meal and felt that their business was appreciated.
What’s the story of the stained glass window from the original Panos? When guests enter the restaurant they'll see a stained glass window above the front door with the address '4000' next to a palm tree. Dan Gamaldi, owner of Cradle of the Sun Stained Glass at 3848 24th St, made this stained glass window for the original Panos' in 1977. This stained glass has lived through the original Panos, the 1988 Panos remodel, as well as through Pasta Pomodoro's tenure. We were required to remodel the entryway to comply with ADA, and we were thrilled when we came up with a design that allowed us to keep the stained glass. It gives such a special touch.

Do you and your family plan to work there too? Tell us about the team. Kathryn and I are going to be running the restaurant full-time (we should probably set up a bed in the office.) Everything will be done in house by Kathryn and myself...menu editing, food quality control, marketing, HR, accounting and daily front and back of house management. Our all-day menu format and price point doesn't require that we have a 'chef' position. Instead, we will have a kitchen manager. Fun story here: when Vi ran Panos', she trained many of the kitchen staff from dishwashers all the way to lead line cooks. Some of these cooks worked with her the entire 20 years she ran the restaurant. We've kept in touch with a few past employees over the years and were so excited when one of Vi's long-time cooks, Carmen, said that he would love to come back and work for us again as our kitchen manager! John and Vi will be present in the opening months to help us get up and running. Vi's focus will be on overseeing the kitchen. John will be contributing his good looks. ;)

When is the opening date? Is March 9 still on target? That date has changed slightly... we will be open to the public for lunch and dinner starting Tuesday, March 10th at 11am. If that date changes, you will be the first to know!

Do you have a special party or event planned for the opening? We have two soft opening events planned for friends and family on March 7th (dinner) and March 8th (brunch.) We also have a lunch seating planned for our Noe merchant friends on March 9th.

Change of subject - what are your favorite local places to shop and eat in Noe Valley? I actually had my first (and only) retail job at Ambiance on 24th St after college. I didn't last long because all of my earnings went right back into the store. I love that you can purchase a complete outfit at Ambiance and they also get an A+ for customer service. And you can't not have a good time walking through Just for Fun. It's my go to place for birthday cards and cute gifts. As for food - we love Contigo, Saru, Griddle Fresh and Caskhouse.

Bernie’s, Philz, Martha’s or Starbucks? This is the most difficult question of them all! I have to say it's a tie between Bernie's and Philz. Both have delicious coffee and a staff that puts a smile on my face every time I visit. I'll give weight to Bernie's because it is closer to our house. Since Rocky likes to 'christen' every tree on our walks for coffee, it can take upwards of an hour to get to Philz and back!

4000 24th St

[NVSF: Closing: Pasta Pomodoro In Noe Valley]
[NVV: Panos' Calls It Quits, Pasta Fills In]
[Photos: NōVY]


Anonymous said...

I loved Panos and still miss it. I'm glad Novy is opening as a place for regular dining. I already trust the food will be good and unpretentious.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful news. Couldn't be happier to welcome their restaurant back to the neighborhood!

David Podger said...

Congratulations! It takes a huge amount of guts to open a restaurant in such a food-fickle city. Thank you for your commitment.
Certainly plan on visiting soon.

Catherine said...

Congrats! However, I would prefer you brought the Panos menu back because I always loved it. Please say outdoor seating! :)