It's hard to start a business in the Bay Area. And even harder to make it successful. We're inspired by the couples who have done it together and have decided to highlight them every week in our new "Bay Area Power Couples" blog series.
Because it's almost Labor Day, it seemed only appropriate to honor Lara and Gar Truppelli, founders of some of the most quintessential Bay Area summertime restaurants: The Beach Chalet, The Park Chalet and The Lake Chalet. We chatted with the duo about starting a restaurant in arguably one of the prettiest spots in the city, first dates and proposals and the craziest thing a tourist has ever done.
Head out to the one of the Chalets this weekend for a bevy of Labor Day festivities, including a summer BBQ, a bloody mary bar and music galore. Check out their site for details.
1. Where, when and how did you meet?
We met in 1988 in San Luis Obispo while both working at Woodstock’s Pizza. Gar was a driver and manager and spent every Saturday shift perfecting a pizza sauce recipe for a future Italian restaurant he planned to open. I made pizzas and worked the cash register. It was a kind of hippie-family-party place to work….super fun.
2. How was the idea for the Beach Chalet spawned?
Gar was in his last semester at SF State and I had recently graduated when the Beach Chalet building came up for lease. We lived in the Sunset and Gar had his eye on the site as THE spot for his dream restaurant. We were also home brewing so we decided a brewpub would be the perfect type of operation for the Beach Chalet. He wrote the business and marketing plan for his final assignment and since I had just graduated and was a new mom, I did a bunch of leg work (literally-this was before the web, so our market research included my walking on the beach and stopping surfers to check in on what they’d eat after a good session or what their favorite beer styles were).
We under-anticipated the success…for the first several months we opened to a line down the stairs and out the door and only had three managers (including Gar and myself) so he and I were passing ships in the night. It was all we could do to keep up-eventually we built a sustainable management team and expanded by building the Park Chalet to better accommodate the volume.
3. How old were you then?
I was 25 and Gar was 24 when we started to develop the project. When the Beach Chalet opened we were 28 and 27.
4. How did you convince SF city officials to award you this prized ocean
It was really all about our vision and proposal to revitalize this great historic building and turn it into a restaurant and brewpub that could be enjoyed by the community and visitors alike. We were very clear that we were not setting out to create a tourist-only waterfront destination and I think the city liked that aspect.
In hindsight, it was a total long shot given our age and lack of a track record, but that’s often where many great businesses begin….with a dream and a whole lot of hard work.
5. What's your favorite thing on the menu?
At the Beach Chalet, my favorites are our Grilled Prawn Nicoise Salad and our Pistachio Crusted Alaskan Halibut with Blood Orange Aïoli. At the Park Chalet, I love our Chipotle Pork Dumplings and Pistachio-Mint Lamb Riblets. At the Lake Chalet, my current favorites are our Grilled Shrimp in Tequila Foam and our Seared Day Boat Scallops. Of course I love all of our beers, but our Presidio IPA is my all-time favorite.
6. You must have a lot of first dates at the Beach Chalet. And weddings?
We actually do more weddings at the Lake Chalet on Lake Merritt because we have a beautiful dock and banquet hall stretching over the lake. However, we have done many weddings at the Park Chalet as well. We have had many couples come out of the Beach and Park chalet. It’s a fun first date place so we get folks who meet, propose and then have their wedding or rehearsal dinner with us. Since the Beach Chalet has been open for almost 14 years, we have guests who met there, got married and now bring their kids in for birthday dinners and special occasions. That is probably one of the most gratifying parts of running these restaurants-being a special part of people’s lives and their celebrations. We feel very fortunate about that.
7. What's the funniest thing a tourist has done at the Beach Chalet?
Tourists are usually pretty well behaved. It’s our locals that can get a little crazy. We just had someone strip down and jump over the railing into the lake at the Lake Chalet on a $300 bet from his friends - that’s Taco Tuesday for you. We’ve also had a few streakers run through the Beach and Park Chalet on Bay to Breakers.
8. How do each of you split up the responsibilities of running these restaurants?
Gar oversees all operations and new project development and I handle marketing/pr, business and brand development and community relations. We do a lot of events that are community-related and I just started a non-profit project, SAND@OB (Sustainable Alliance of Nature and Design) at Ocean Beach to steward the City and GGNRA’s development of a vision and master plan for Ocean Beach.
9. What's the best thing about working together?
We are definitely partners in every sense of the word. We are very independent and understanding of each other’s constantly changing schedules. If I weren’t partners with Gar, I am not sure how well I would handle the fact that restaurants are basically like children and their needs come first at times. Plus we are extremely flexible. If domestic chores go undone because of my schedule, there’s no complaining about it. Being in this business together has taught us both how to handle a great deal of stress and whatever comes our way. That makes our relationship very strong and supportive. And we have a ton of fun together.
10. What's the hardest?
There aren’t any boundaries between the restaurants and our lives. We have
three kids (ages 17, 12 and 10) and we do a lot to get away, mainly to Tahoe. But we do talk about business almost constantly. I think we have all come to terms with that and instead of resisting it.
13. What advice would you have for couples who have dreams to start their own restaurant together?
Be prepared for a fun and exciting career but also one that provides little or no downtime. I wouldn’t recommend this industry to anyone who is stress or risk averse. Also, make sure each others’ roles and responsibilities meet each of your desires and skill sets and try to compliment each other in order to minimize friction, conflict and opportunities to disagree. And be prepared to learn how to not take things personally!