Jeff Hanak '85 makes semifinalist list for James Beard Award
Posted 02/15/2017 01:58PM

Jeff is co-owner of Nopa and Nopalito. Read more here.

Here is a story that ran in a 2008 edition of Genesis Magazine:

You can almost imagine the three owners of Nopa, one of the city's hottest new restaurants, chanting in unison at the start of each day a one-word mantra that defines and drives their success: local.

The food and art are local. The customers are local. Even the owners are local, with two living up the street from the converted Divisadero Street bank. The third partner, Jeff Hanak '85, lives only 10 minutes away.

Hanak, together with chef Laurence Jossel and Allyson Woodman, have won high praise from Bon Appetit, Gourmet and, which ranked Nopa (named for its location north of the Panhandle) as the city's "Best Newcomer Restaurant." Nopa even made the top-10 list for Chronicle writer Michael Bauer.

As a result, the restaurant is so busy that you need to book a table a month in advance. But that doesn't mean you have to wait to eat there, says Hanak.

"We always hold a third of our seats for walk-in customers," he notes. "And we have a long community table that seats 14 for neighbors to eat together. We want them to get to know people who live down the street. A restaurant should be a place that builds community."

Hanak found a strong community in all the restaurants in which he worked, starting in high school when he bussed tables. He later graduated from the hotel and restaurant program at San Francisco City College, but then decided to try another line of work. He received his accounting degree from Golden Gate University and tried living the buttoned-down corporate life for a year at Arthur Anderson until he realized one day driving to work that he just wasn't happy.

"Here I was, back in 1991, going to Oakland and glancing at the classified ads for an entry level job as a cook," said Hanak. "I missed the restaurant business too much. The people are so dynamic and the energy of the business so intense. Your work touches many people, and you learn about numerous cultures through food and wine."

Hanak jumped at the chance to work as an assistant manager for a friend's restaurant. Since then, he has made a name for himself in the local restaurant scene, first at Chow (in San Francisco and Lafayette) and then at Park Chow.

But running three restaurants in disparate locations wasn't what he wanted to do. Hanak sold his shares, and, in April 2006, he and his new partners opened Nopa.

"We wanted to run a restaurant in an up-and-coming neighborhood, and the Western Addition fit the bill. When we walked into this 1920s bank, with its high ceilings and old vault (where we now store our wine), it just felt right."

His goal, he added, "was to open an affordable restaurant for the locals offering urban-rustic food raised using sustainable methods. We wanted to create an inner-city late-night atmosphere here, so we keep the restaurant open until 1 a.m. seven nights a week."

The restaurant offers an almond-wood-fired rotisserie and oven, with nearly all the food coming from local farms and ranches. "We want local organic food, not vegetables flown in from thousands of miles away. Our food comes from where we live."

Even the art is local. Brian Barneclo, who lives in the neighborhood, painted a mural that depicts the history of Divisadero Street and shows edifices old and new, including the Church of John Coltrane just down the block.

Hanak and his partners don't advertise the "local food" angle among their customers. "It works for us as a business model. When customers ask, we'll tell them, but we don't make a big deal out of it."

Still, word has gotten around. Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore's Dilemma, has eaten at Nopa. So has celebrity chef Jacques Pépin as well as many of the city's politicians, lawyers and fellow restaurateurs, who come to Nopa after their own restaurants close for the night.

But Hanak is even more pleased that many in the SI community have also frequented Nopa, including his friends Jim Canales '94 and John Corey '85 and former pincipal Mario Prietto, S.J. Hanak even works with an SI grad — Ben Brandin '96, who serves as Nopa's bartender.

"That's the reason we opened," said Hanak. "To serve the community. And what could be better than to do this in the epicenter of the food industry right here in the heart of San Francisco?"

St. Ignatius College Preparatory

Courage to Lead; Passion to Serve

2001 37th Avenue San Francisco, CA 94116
(415) 731-7500
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