2016 Tastemakers: Seth Laufman, Jeff Davis and Perrie Wilkof
Seth Laufman: Owner, Blind Lady Tavern
Why he's a Tastemaker: Haven't heard of Seth Laufman or Blind Lady Tavern? You're not alone. The bar and restaurant has flown far under the radar since opening eight months ago in the former Jury Room space Downtown. But we're betting Laufman-with his bartending pedigree operating respectable everyman bars for more than a decade in San Francisco-is the right guy to bring this historic space out of obscurity. No doubt we'll have to stop referring to Blind Lady as a "hidden gem" before too long.
How he got here: An Ohio native, Laufman got into bartending while a student at Ohio University. After graduation, he moved to San Francisco with a degree in sports administration, hoping to land a job with a Bay-Area team. He fell back on bartending to pay the bills and got caught in the classic cocktail revival. "I was blown away to learn there were recipe books for cocktails from the late 1800s," Laufman says.
Between dive and fancy: That's the line Blind Lady rides. It's casual, but not dingy. Craft cocktails are no more than $10, and you can order that whiskey and Coke without fear of judgment. The food is familiar-shrimp and grits, po' boys and hush puppies-but thoughtfully prepared by chef Danielle Leeman and sourced with local ingredients. "This is the kind of place that I enjoy hanging out in the most," Laufman says.
Why this location: "I love the history and the vibe," Laufman says. "I was blown away by the feel of the place. It's been here for 108-plus years. You don't find original pressed-tin ceilings, you don't find haunted places with this kind of history."
Wait, ghosts? Laufman personally hasn't seen any of the ghosts that allegedly haunt the space (though the chef says she has). Real or not, he knows part of Blind Lady's story is about paying homage-something he does by naming cocktails after historic figures related to the space, like Francis Miller, the madame who once ran the brothel here. —Beth Stallings
Jeff Davis: Owner, Cafe Brioso
Why he's a Tastermaker: Jeff Davis opened Café Brioso in 2001 at Gay and High streets at a time when the busiest Downtown restaurants were Arby's and Wendy's. It became his mission to educate customers about good coffee. "We felt like there were many years where we had to push the idea of specialty coffee," he says. "We needed to create more market for everybody."
The market has finally caught up, as evidenced by the crowds packing his original location, necessitating the need to open a new shop, Brioso Roastery and Coffee Bar at 329 E. Long St. in the Discovery District, and a third, in Franklinton, on the way. "In the last couple years we're really just satisfying what the market wants," Davis says.
Beer or coffee: Davis came to coffee by way of beer. He took an interest in the food business through a friend working at Hoster Brewing Co. in 1992. "That was the first place I had good beer," he says. "That changed my life." Davis spent some time in the kitchens there, and while he considered the food business, he was drawn to the beverage side.
"It came down to beer or coffee," he says. At the time the only specialty roaster in town was Stauf's, and Davis started there as a customer. "I bought my first single origin coffee there, without putting any cream or sugar in it," he shares. "One sip and all those bad cups of coffee flashed before my eyes."
From there he landed a job roasting with Stauf's. "It took me about two weeks and it felt like this is what I was meant to do," he says. "I came into a good environment where all I did was roast coffee and cup coffee."
Show and tell: A new state-of-the-art 15-kilo-capacity Giesen roaster at Brioso's Long Street location looks like a cross between an old bank safe and the steam-spewing radiator on Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, and it serves a dual role, as a roaster and as a source of curiosity and engagement between staff and customers. The presence of the roaster, in full view of patrons in the industrial-looking open layout of the new space, is an entry point to educating new coffee aficionados. —Nicholas Dekker
Perrie Wilkof: Owner, Dough Mama
Why she's a Tastemaker: For two years, Perrie Wilkof built a following selling her specialty pies wholesale to local eateries like Skillet, Katalina's, Yellow Brick Pizza and The Crest-at first, baking them in her apartment's tiny oven, her kitchen windows plastered with recipes on Post-its, then later moving into The Commissary. Tired of the daily schlep in her rickety VW, the Brooklyn transplant finally opened her own storefront, Dough Mama, in Clintonville last November. The light-filled bakery and 32-seat café is spare but charming-and business is booming to the tune of about 100 pies a week. Her favorite part? Making the dough. "It Zens me out," she says. Beyond pie, Dough Mama's small menu also offers breakfast and lunch options like salmon avocado toast and a turkey meatloaf sammie.
From fashion to flour: Born and raised in Brooklyn by artist parents (an actor and a painter), Wilkof was studying fashion theory at Hampshire College in Massachusetts when two things happened: She became disenchanted by the fashion industry and a friend gave her a cookbook called "Pie." Wilkof baked every recipe in the book and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute (now called the International Culinary Center), eventually landing a job at Brooklyn hot spot Pies 'N' Thighs. While visiting family in Columbus, Wilkof saw an opportunity for her business idea and fell in love with the easy living. "Life just seemed simpler here," she says.
Unflappable Perrie: Dough Mama opened its doors less than two weeks before Thanksgiving, so the team had to crank out 300 pies in record time to meet demand. "I was so proud of them," she says. But it hasn't been all high-fives. There was the time in January when the pipes froze and burst, causing water to gush from the ceiling. Or that time she rented a 15-foot rental truck to go buy a 1900-era bakery display case on Craigslist, and accidentally hit a gas pump, causing it to catch fire. And through it all, no tears?"Nope," she says with a laugh. "It takes a lot."
Like a lady boss: Now that she's an owner herself, Wilkof aims to run her business like the women who owned and operated Pies 'N' Thighs. "They treated everybody with respect, encouraged us to try new things and provided a real learning experience," she says.
What's next: "My mission is for this to be a community space," she says, citing possibilities like music performances, readings and plays. She's also toying with the idea of a second venture, possibly a bar, in the next few years. —KP Green