Director of Restaurant Operations Alexander Homs from The Puccini Group

Customer Profile – The Big 4 Restaurant / Puccini Group

Written by R.W. Smith Co.
October 23rd, 2014

At the beautiful and elegant Scarlet Huntington Hotel lies the historical and iconic Big 4 Restaurant. Established in 1976, the restaurant was named after the “Big Four” industrialists – Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker, Leland Standford and Mark Hopkins – all of whom played a big role in San Francisco’s history and early development.


In early 2014, Grace International, owners of the hotel, and The Puccini Group teamed up to renovate the iconic restaurant with subtle aesthetic changes. Recently reopening in May, the Big Four Restaurant has retained its sophisticated look filled with remarkable collections of original artifacts and memorabilia from historic times in California.


We had the privilege of interviewing Puccini Group’s Director of Restaurant Operations, Alexander Homs, to get a more in-depth look at the Big 4 Restaurant, its renovation and locally-sourced menu offerings.


R.W. Smith: Please take us through the journey of how Big 4 Restaurant grew from conception.


Alexander Homs: In our very early conversations with the Hotel owners, we were asked to determine a direction for the Big 4 Restaurant. Should it retain its classic look and feel or should it be positioned as hip and cool, similar to many of San Francisco’s restaurants? We had the answer right away. It was crucial that the Big 4 retain the integrity of its design in order to maintain and further solidify the many relationships it had formed over the years. So we refreshed the Big 4’s famous and sophisticated interiors and partnered with a new chef, Executive Chef Kevin Scott, to update the restaurant’s menu to include classic Californian-inspired cuisine.


Thanks in large part to those early decisions we made for the Big 4, we’ve seen significant increases in sales from previous years, and have seen a great response from the Big 4’s longtime friends. Last month, we enjoyed the largest cover count we’ve had since reopening in May of this year when we invited the Bay Area community to celebrate National Pot Pie Day with us. In addition, we were thrilled to receive an extremely complimentary review from the San Francisco Chronicle. We are expecting exciting things for the Big 4!


RWS: What were your biggest challenges and proudest successes during this project?


AH: Challenges: When working with the restaurant’s over 30 year history, we’ve placed a huge importance on listening to longtime guests to ensure  we don’t lose sight of those elements that distinguish the Big 4. One of our missions this year has been to introduce a new generation to the Big 4 family, and we will continue to focus on this front into 2015 as well.


Successes: See above. In addition, solidifying relationships with friends and partners of the Big 4 has been extremely rewarding. We love greeting familiar faces and we feel fortunate to be working with so many wonderful groups to improve the Nob Hill and San Francisco community as a whole.


RWS: The restaurant offers an array of seasonal cuisines that combines classic San Francisco with contemporary sophistication. Of the many popular creations by Chef Kevin Scott, which have guests raved about the most?


AH: One thing to note about our menu is we aren’t driven by seasonality, but rather by what is accessible in the local market. So, our motto when creating the menu has been to always look to the past and what has worked, then, add our own contemporary touch through sourcing ingredients which are fresh and available to us in the local market.


Some of our more popular items have been the Mushrooms en Croute, Crispy Artichokes, Mediterranean Fish Stew and, of course, the famous Big 4 Pot Pie. Choosing to place a pot pie back on the menu after the reopening is an example of adhering to our motto; Chef Kevin added his own flavor to the dish and has received great reviews from both new and returning guests.


In addition, our cocktail program, helmed by Puccini Group’s Rafe Gabel, has really made a name for itself. (Read this article for more about our offerings.) From barrel-aged cocktails such as The Crocker (named for one of the “Big Four” industrialists), to our take on classics such as The Martinez, we’re looking to the past to define the future at the Big 4. We’ve partnered with another San Francisco icon—Anchor Brewing Company—to bring attention to San Francisco’s storied past as it relates to the “Big Four.” For The Martinez, we went with Anchor’s newly released Old Tom Gin as the anchor, so to speak, of the cocktail. In addition, we are excited to announce that Anchor’s annual Christmas Ale release will be kicked off at the Big 4, with a dinner we are hosting on November 3rd (in partnership with Anchor) to celebrate the brew. (Purchase your ticket now, before we run out! Additional details can be found here:


RWS: Using locally-sourced ingredients has become a trend within the foodservice industry. How important has it been for Big 4 to be part of this movement?


AH: Again, while we aren’t driven by seasonality, Chef Kevin and his team place a high importance on sourcing fresh ingredients that are accessible in the local market. Kevin’s long history with the Bay Area restaurant community has enabled him to form many relationships with Bay Area purveyors, local farms and companies. This means he’s always on the pulse of what is hot and available in the market. In addition, Kevin’s commitment to shopping at local farmers’ markets has made it possible for him to keep an eye on what’s available and fresh, while making a point to include those ingredients on the Big 4’s menus.


RWS: For private dining, the restaurant hosts a variety of events from weddings to cocktail parties to even corporate events. What stand out qualities does Big 4 have among other venues?


AH: You’d be hard-pressed to find another private dining room like the Big 4’s Central Pacific Room in the Bay Area. It’s covered floor to ceiling with historical artifacts and photographs, and is reminiscent of rooms that would have been found in the “Big Fours’” estates. Appropriately sophisticated for a holiday party or reception on Nob Hill, the room is also very cozy and comfortable, and we even have a resident historian on-staff to provide historical presentations at your event.


RWS: What changes in restaurant dining or evolution in menu offerings have surprised you the most?


AH: One that has surprised me, but is absolutely welcomed, is a return to classic ingredients and recipes, despite the push by many Bay Area restaurants to cater to young and trendy crowds. While trends don’t define the Big 4, we’re so happy to see an increase in cravings for the familiar and classic, as this ties together the Big 4’s philosophy. When our guests offer suggestions that include trendier fare, we welcome those dialogues and ask ourselves, “How can we make this happen while still adhering to our commitment to the classics?” When we do choose to incorporate trends into our offerings, we make sure to add classic elements that will yield an offering that is familiar and on-concept.

Healthcare Trend Guidelines

Foodservice Solutions for Current Healthcare Trends

Written by R.W. Smith Co.
October 22nd, 2014

Foodservice professionals in the healthcare industry are answering the continually changing environment with creativity. Incorporate these solutions into your strategies to overcome obstacles that are often experienced in the industry.


System Consolidation

The uptick in mergers of healthcare providers is leading to more systemization. To ease the transition and maintain a high level of care, industry professionals recommend implementing locally-developed standard practices when these mergers occur. Find more resources regarding system consolidation.


Supply Management

In order to track savings and outcomes of healthcare supplies, experts advise using monthly dashboards, quarterly balanced scorecard analysis and the Association for Healthcare Foodservice Benchmark reports. Implementing these practices allows for better overall supply management and decreased waste. Learn more about healthcare supply management.



Waste and energy management programs are on the rise as industry professionals understand how to rationalize the costs of implementing environmental strategies. Chefs and owners suggest having comprehensive waste-reduction programs that include composting food from your kitchen. Delve deeper into how to be more sustainable in healthcare.


Find New Technologies

Technology has proven to improve operational efficiency. Consider adding a food-labeling system for staff that contains information for a standardized label with expiration dates and the name of the employee who places them in the database. Also, include a handheld device for credit card transactions to make it more convenient and timely for payment of guest meals. Find news on upcoming healthcare technologies.

Healthcare is consistently evolving and tactics need to be readdressed to ensure maximum effectiveness. You will discover valuable insights and healthcare resources online.

SaltRock Southwest Kitchen Restaurant Opening in Sedona, Arizona

Amara Resort Unveils the New SaltRock Southwest Kitchen

Written by R.W. Smith Co.
October 17th, 2014

Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants’ Amara Resort has opened its newly renovated restaurant that has locals and visitors already raving about it. SaltRock Southwest Kitchen, located in Sedona, AZ, delivers “a fresh take on regional cuisine with signature Sedona style” in a casual ambiance. Chef Massimo De Francesca brings delicious authentic flavors and seasonal ingredients together to create the perfect Southwest menu. Guests can get a taste of Sedona in dishes such as Duck Confit Tacos with Eggplant Mole and Beef Barbacoa Tamale.


Enjoy spectacular Red Rock views while dining inside or take advantage of the outdoor patio to relax after a long day. With an extensive list of drinks on hand, SaltRock prides themselves on having one of the area’s finest selections of agave-based spirits. From tequilas to mezcals, guests can indulge in a variety of crafted margaritas and delectable cocktails.


When visiting Sedona, you are invited to try SaltRock’s dishes that are inspired by the techniques and ingredients of central Arizona’s Verde Valley.

Benchmark Eatery Opening in Santa Barbara California

A New American Restaurant Opens in Santa Barbara

Written by R.W. Smith Co.
October 13th, 2014

Located on historic State Street in beautiful Santa Barbara, a new American and seafood eatery has opened its doors to locals and visitors itching for outstanding cuisine. Benchmark Eatery, the former home of Maggie’s and State & A, comes with a casual atmosphere and offers a variety of delectable American fare dishes with a local twist.


Guests entering into this exceptional place will be surrounded by smells of fresh seafood, pizza and grilled steak, making anyone’s appetite wanting more. From Spinach Ricotta Gnudi to Grilled Ahi to Margherita Pizza, the restaurant offers “food for all” plates that can be enjoyed both day and night.


Patrons can also indulge in the array of delicious cocktails and cold beers including a Summer Sangria, Margarita Ahumado and Surf Brewery Mondos Blonde. Wine enthusiast can choose from numerous popular vineyard labels on their menu. Half bottles are offered for those who are looking to stay awhile.


For seafood lovers planning a trip to Santa Barbara, be sure to visit this fantastic eatery!

Food Allergy Safety for Your Commercial Kitchen

Create a Food Allergy Safe Commercial Kitchen

Written by R.W. Smith Co.
October 6th, 2014

Food allergy safety has become a significant focus in the foodservice industry. Below are best practices to implement, as well as dangers to avoid, when incorporating effective food allergy strategies in your establishment.


Best Practices for Allergen Free Foodservice

  • Educate all staff regarding allergen concerns. They must be confident answering customer questions about how allergen-free meals are prepared and served in your restaurant.
  • Visit NFCA to view online courses educating restaurant and cafeteria staff on proper prep and serving protocols.
  • Offer a list of ingredients for your menu selections as a reference for both diners and staff.
  • Establish a system on meal tickets to clearly notify the chef of a meal that must be allergen-free.
  • Chefs must sanitize all cooking surfaces, utensils, cookware and dinnerware before assembling allergen-free meals. Separating prep stations and serving utensils, strictly for use on dishes which are allergen-free, is an ideal solution.
  • Employees must wash their hands, change their gloves and use a clean apron when working with meals prepared in an allergen-free manner.
  • Coach staff to dial 9-1-1 immediately if an adverse reaction occurs.
  • For additional information about food allergy safety, refer to FARE.


Practices to Avoid in Foodservice

  • Never place allergen-free food on shared equipment and cook surfaces.
  • Do not use utensils or smallwares which were used to prepare allergen-containing food or have not been cleaned properly.
  • By no means incorporate foods containing ingredients you cannot confirm.
  • Refrain from placing allergy-safe meals in common areas with meals that contain allergens.
SLS Las Vegas Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada

Project Showcase – SLS Las Vegas

Written by R.W. Smith Co.
September 26th, 2014

Project: SLS Las Vegas


Opened:   August 23, 2014


About Company: SLS Las Vegas Resort and Casino features 1,613 guest rooms in three distinct towers – Story, World and Lux – ranging from luxurious rooms to penthouse suites. Designed by the creative visionary, Philippe Starck, in collaboration with Gensler, the resort surrounds its guests with a sleek and innovative look where function-meets-pleasure.


SLS Las Vegas offers a diverse range of restaurants including Andres’ Bazaar Meat, Cleo, Katsuya by Starck and 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria. The resort also introduces an exciting nightlife at premier places such as LiFE and Foxtail as well as live music at The Slayers Club venue. In addition to the dining and nightlife, SLS Las Vegas has an astounding 60,000-square-foot casino with nearly 800 slot machines.


Length of project:  about 18 months


RWS Contribution:  Many of the concepts that went into SLS Las Vegas were venues that R.W. Smith has worked with for years.  Our Sales Consultant brought together solutions and creative ideas that fit perfectly with the overall feel SLS Las Vegas was envisioning. R.W. Smith provided a variety of quality products including smallwares, countertop equipment, dinnerware and specialty items. Our dedicated Sales Consultant stuck to a strict timeline and stayed organized throughout the entire process to ensure delivery and opening were flawless.


“The opening of SLS Las Vegas is a major milestone, not only for the expansion of the SLS Hotels brand, but for the future of Las Vegas,” said Sam Nazarian, Founder, Chairman and CEO, sbe. “We’re very excited to welcome guests to experience the property and the incredible concepts we’ve built with our dedicated partners, and we look forward to watching the North end of The Strip continue to grow.”


Partnership:  R.W. Smith has had a long standing and trusting partnership with the parent company of SLS.  We have worked with several of their properties and are part of an array of projects per year.  For each project, we work closely with their chefs, key decision makers and daily end users to specify products that meet their needs while enhancing their presentation and increasing profitability.

OB Warehouse Now Open in Ocean Beach San Diego California

OB Warehouse Debuts in Ocean Beach

Written by R.W. Smith Co.
September 16th, 2014

In the heart of downtown Ocean Beach, a new casual restaurant and bar has been added to the growing coastal town’s culinary scene. OB Warehouse, the latest Cohn Restaurant Group eatery, brings an eclectic global menu from acclaimed Chef Amiko Gubbins that includes Golden SoCal Crab Cakes, a Killer Greek Lamb Burger and Banh Mi Pork Belly Flatbreads. Guests can relish in these delicious cuisines while taking in the exciting industrial designs and vintage touches throughout the restaurant.


Care for a drink? Make your way the expansive bar that sits center stage and choose from an assortment of draught beers and specialty cocktails. There are even Happy Hour specials to take advantage of.


“This project has been a long time in the making, and we’re incredibly pleased to bring this fun, world-cuisine dining option to the area,” says David Cohn. “Ocean Beach is a vibrant community known for its character and originality, and we’ve created a menu and design that complements the neighborhood.”


It’s safe to say that the OB Warehouse is a perfect place to relax and hang out with friends or co-workers. Next time you’re in the San Diego area, take a detour to see this amazing restaurant.


Check out their happy hour specials and menu items:

Written by R.W. Smith Co.
September 12th, 2014


Visit our Facebook to enter for a chance to win* a Vitamix Vita-Prep Blender for your foodservice operation. To see more from Vitamix, visit our website.

Source Restaurant Menu Ingredients Locally

Source Ingredients Locally

Written by R.W. Smith Co.
September 8th, 2014

To be more cost-effective and help the environment, take advantage of the locally sourced menu trend. Appeal to the growing number of customers who prefer dining at establishments that utilize distributors of local produce, baked goods and meats.  The best approach is to make it a creative initiative for your kitchen by challenging them to prepare innovative, fresh and nutritious signature dishes.


How to Get Started


  • Make a Plan- Determine a time frame to begin locally sourcing ingredients. Ease yourself into the process by updating one menu item at a time while training your staff on the benefits of utilizing local products.


  • Partner with Local Distributors- Establishing a friendly rapport with nearby farmers, bakers, butchers and even livestock ranchers, is essential in developing your locally sourced menu. An effective relationship with suppliers will allow you to have the highest quality products available when they are needed and at prices which benefit you.


  • Spread the Word- Once you begin featuring ingredients from your community, tell everyone! Share your support of local farms on your menu and website, on signage in your establishment and through online social channels. Customers are increasingly aware of their food’s origins and appreciate when you are open about how you source your ingredients. Your suppliers will also appreciate the exposure you are giving their business, which may encourage them to return the favor.
Saru Jarayaman, Co-Founder of Restaurant Opportunities Center United

Profile of Saru Jayaraman of Restaurant Opportunities Center United

Written by R.W. Smith Co.
September 8th, 2014

Saru Jayaraman is a well-respected foodservice industry professional who believes in establishments being aware of how to incorporate more responsible practices and effectively manage employees. She is the Co-Founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United and inspiring author of Behind the Kitchen Door.


R.W. Smith: As a successful and well-respected Food Labor Researcher, what inspired you to Co-Found and Co-Direct the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC-United)?


Saru Jayaraman: When September 11 occurred, there was a restaurant called Windows of the World where many employees lost their jobs due to the catastrophic event. I was asked to start a relief center for the victims and at first it started with providing support to the workers. My primary focus was to ensure employees pay and benefits were being allocated to each person appropriately from their employers. These efforts later became known as part of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC-United) where I’m currently the Co-Founder. We have aided thousands of citizens to receive the assistance they require during overwhelming times. The ROC-United has helped employees in 32 cities and is expanding at a rapid rate.


RWS: Your partnerships with upstanding establishments and efforts to positively impact the industry are well-known. Please share strategies on how commercial kitchens can implement more responsible practices.


SJ: I would recommend commercial kitchens to focus on sourcing locally and engaging in more environmentally conscious practices.  Embracing a more holistic approach when it comes to livable wages, earnings that don’t require government assistance, paid sick days, and offering healthcare benefits to all employees are also important key items to address.


Currently, there are over 100 establishments, including well-known Chef Tom Colicchio, who believed paying their employees realistic wages will help you receive more customer loyalty, better employee retention rates, and quality work.


Knowing and understanding more about the ergonomics within a kitchen should be another top priority to employers looking to be more responsible. When I was assisting with the development of the Mount Sinai’s School of Medicine kitchen, we suggested having adjustable height cutting boards, using cleaner chemicals with limited amounts of toxins, and non-toxic degreasers. If more businesses took these issues into consideration, there would be less employee accidents and the work environment would be safer.


RWS: What industry resources are helpful to restaurants, hotels and casinos looking to become more sustainable?


SJ: The Rage Association is a supportive resource for restaurants, hotels and casinos interested in advancing the industry standards in employment. There is also an application available to inform consumers if the establishment they are dining at considers the well-being of their employees and work environment.


Learning from other restaurant owners who are implementing sustainable strategies can be influential since you can see the strategies in action. I advise downloading the free ROC Diner Guide to help educate consumers on the hotels, restaurants, and casinos they frequently dine at. The Restaurant Owner’s Manual from the NYC consumer affairs website is also an effective resource that informs employers on proper ergonomic practices and how to effectively manage employees.


RWS: You recently wrote, Behind the Kitchen Door. What inspired you to write about the sustainable, political, economic, and moral implications of dining out?


SJ: Having watched the industry change for the better when books came out for sustainable change, I thought it was necessary to keep these issues at the forefront of both the employer’s and consumer’s minds. My goal was to write a book where customers would understand and demand changes be made within the industry. All of the topics would inevitably need to be adhered to and I felt that it was imperative to get the word out about the modifications taking place. My attempt was to spark a movement for change that would include employers realizing the human side of the business equation.


RWS: The best dining experience that you’ve ever had – where were you and what made it so special?


SJ: I remember when my husband and I took our children to Washington D.C. for a conference and we dined at the Busboys and Poets restaurant. Being vegetarian, options were limited yet our dining experience was exceptional. It was nice to enjoy a meal at a restaurant where our values aligned on employee management and work environment. Also, it impressed me to see they had diversity among the staff.