Mission District resident Yaron Milgrom didn’t plan on becoming a restaurant owner five years ago when he moved to San Francisco with his wife Miriam, who was training to be a doctor at San Francisco General Hospital. Milgrom owns Local’s Corner and Local: Mission Eatery and is at work on a third Mission food business. He had studied Medieval Jewish Mysticism at NYU. While he's maybe not the most likely candidate to build two successful restaurants, Milgrom has succeeded so far. He was drawn to the idea of creating community and feeding others, hence the use of work local for both businesses. Bay Area Bites caught up with Milgrom to find out what it’s like to start two food eateries from scratch and what his plans are for the future.
Bay Area Bites: How has the Mission changed and what role do you see your restaurants playing in those changes, if any?
Milgrom: I moved to the neighborhood five years ago and pretty much the week we moved here, Dynamo Donuts opened. That marks the beginning of a certain reconsideration of the neighborhood and a real possibility for a broader diversity and different culinary opportunity in the neighborhood. We came here to be near SF General, where my wife was training. We fell in love with the neighborhood and thought it really needed options that were locally sourced, well prepared and from scratch.
My family and I really loved 24th street, because it’s tree lined and colorful and interesting but later in the day, there wasn’t necessarily a great feeling of safety. So we came up with the idea to make the street more safe and welcoming as a goal, and to be a street presence. Now, our restaurants are open five days a week and we have customers eating dinner ‘til eleven at night.
The changes here in the last five years include Dynamo Donuts, Humphry Slocombe, us, Heirloom, flour + water, Pig and Pie and newly opened retail and gallery spaces. All of those are transitions for the neighborhood; we’re hoping for crossover appeal, and not only from a class and race standpoint.
Bay Area Bites: Do you have any mentors?
Milgrom: When I was a graduate student I interned with Will Goldfarb once a week. He has expert knowledge of pastry and culinary methods and knew the temperature of sugar just by looking at it. Now I really appreciate the discipline of cooks. All of our cooks tie garbage bags well, sweep well, dice well… so you see a real sense of caring and a craft.
Local: Mission Eatery Executive Chef Jake Des Voignes is a mentor and helped me understand how the kitchen works. I’m really appreciative of him, as well as David Steele, David White – and more of the folks from flour + water, and Sebo helped me. Laurence Jossel, too. Early on I talked to people and got little tidbits of information, which can be really encouraging.
Bay Area Bites: What are the best and worst things about being a restaurateur?
Milgrom: I really love what I do and that I have 27 employees between the two restaurants. What we do well supports 27 people and makes their lives possible. Between the two restaurants, we spend tens of thousands of dollars on food and wine and literally know the people who produce our food, wine, cheese, and olive oil... We’ve visited them and they visit us. To have relatively small restaurants and have a big impact is great. I love being around delicious food and being able to taste and give feedback on it each day. I walk between the two spots and see neighbors -- we meet at the park, we go to each others homes. I love that my kids have this sense of family with staff and it’s special.
I’m very lucky, because I bring my son to school and pick him up every day. I eat dinner with my family and work till one or two every night. I’ve been able to grow the business and still be with them. I don’t think anyone could be luckier than that.
The worst aspects are it’s a tremendous amount of pressure and anxiety. Ultimately the buck does stop at the top. Making sure the business continues to operate is on me. All the tens of thousands of dollars we spend and paying those 27 people -- they need to be paid on time. There’s pressure to deliver to our employees and our vendors, and they put a lot of trust in us. Then I have friends and family who helped get this started, so I really want to make good on the promises I made to them.
Bay Area Bites: Do you have any favorite Bay Area food spots?
Milgrom: As a family we do mostly eat at home -- we don’t eat at our own restaurants except for Sunday brunch. We eat at El Metate and Bar Tartine. Bar Tartine is so interesting.
I like Sebo and Ichi for sushi.
I go to flour + water and Salumeria during the day.
Ippuku in Berkeley is just phenomenal.
Bay Area Bites: Local: Mission Eatery has a selection of cookbooks. Does your training as a scholar have anything to do with the library?
Milgrom: For me, it’s about being open about your influences. There’s so much of an emphasis on culinary innovation as if it stands on its own. It’s not that there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s really important to me as a scholar and an eater to recognize that ideas have sources. Our culinary tradition is European-based around ingredients and method-based.
Bay Area Bites: Where do you think the U.S. is in terms of appreciation for other cultures food-wise?
Milgrom: I have very little idea what it looks like between New York and San Francisco. In San Francisco, we have a diversity of food opportunities. You have the Eastern European food which is really taking hold and wines from there as well.
For authenticity, the Thai food that people are eating has been modified for an American palate. There are regional foods: Thai, Chinese, Italian.... But now we have more of a sense that there is more to, say Italian food: there’s Tuscan food, and there’s Roman food. That is a deep level of appreciation. It’s not just having Thai, Italian or Chinese restaurant; it’s enjoying the heritage.
Bay Area Bites: Do you have any foods that you enjoy and are a guilty pleasure?
Milgrom: In our house we really don’t eat processed or mass produced food. Part of being a parent and creating businesses is to not have or sell packaged goods.
We certainly eat ice cream. I don’t know how many days of a week I eat pastries from Knead Patisserie. Right now their Linzer cookie is a favorite.