Bay Area Power Couples: Gayle Pirie & John Clark of Foreign Cinema & Showdogs


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 "Bay Area Power Couples" blog series.

Gayle Pirie and John Clark rescued Foreign Cinema from the ashes of the Dot Com implosion and turned it into one of the most well-respected eateries the city. It's truly a family affair: Pirie's father, Greig, their son Magnus and their young daughter Pearl are all in on the fun. Magnus and Pearl have grown up in Foreign Cinema, help around the kitchen and are already foodies. Last year, the couple unveiled the sausage grill Show Dogs to help revitalize the mid-Market Street area.

How, when and where did you two meet?

We met at a pizza-salad-wine bar called Vicolo, the Hayes Street Grill's
secondary restaurant that catered to the Opera/symphony/Bohemian/politicos crowd.

Eleven years ago you opened Foreign Cinema. What led you to create what many think is one of the best restaurants in the city?

Thank you for your kind comment about Foreign Cinema. We arrived 1 year and 4 months into Foreign Cinema's birth. We did not conceive it, but saved it from the Dot Com implosion, creating a daily changing menu, adding a full oyster bar, and imbuing the joint with good management bones. Never ending scrutiny and a self-imposed evolution on a daily basis is the name of the game.

We both lead by example and teach people every day to provide warmth, humanity and sensuality in all that we do. Then we get to do it again the next day.

Whose idea was it to open Show Dogs, a restaurant so different from Foreign Cinema?

The inspiration behind Show Dogs was its proximity the Golden Gate and the Warfield, a "Show Area." Who doesn't want a good dog and good pint before the show? The troubled area seemed rife to place a fine food emporium filled with our commitment to quality and purity with a clean interior, and just general "goodness" of spirit and heart. The two places aren't so different--they share commonalities in that both places strive for fine ingredients. A gorgeous corn dog, done well, has just as much integrity as a California mixed grill.

What's the worst fight you've had over the restaurants?

A bad fight a few years ago might have been about menus and what to do with certain ingredients, but with raising two children, balancing family obligations, homework, and running on the hamster wheel of living in the Bay Area, we tend to focus on just how lucky we are. The rest is frosting. We are just very lucky and try to remember that when stresses arrive daily.

Your young daughter Pearl loves sophisticated foods like caviar and your son Magnus already has dreams of carrying on the family business. What's the best thing about having your kids involved in the restaurant? Do you hope they'll carry on your restaurant legacy?

We love having the children with us as much as possible at Foreign Cinema. The joy of it is having them see the processes, enjoying their involvement, seeing the business with their view. They came with us to New York for the James Beard event this year--we fed 1,300 guests, and we were quite overwhlemed; but knowing they were with us gratified us on a primal level.

Do you have any rituals or ways to alleviate the stress of owning a business?

Stress is constant, but we do try to get away on short weekends with the kids and play as much as we can. When the children are asleep, we try and recharge by doing absolutely nothing except sip wine and catch up on the news.

Any new projects for you as a couple on the horizon we can look forward to?

A long overdue project that we look forward to tackling full time is the Foreign Cinema Cook Book. It's a good story, and we'd like to pour ourselves into it with wanton abandon...just like Foreign Cinema.

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