Q&A with Cheryl Burr and Chris Beerman, Part 1: "The Food's the Easy Part"
|Chris Beerman and Cheryl Burr, of Citizens Band and Pinkie's Bakery|
Though they came from very different places (Burr an "army brat" raised in Hawaii and California, and Beerman raised in Virginia), they both had early starts in the restaurant world. In San Francisco they met in a kitchen over a decade ago, and then continued to collide and lose touch until a combination of fate and circumstance pushed them into working together again. This is part one of SFoodie's Q&A with Beerman and Burr; part two will run tomorrow, and on Friday we'll publish one of their favorite recipes.
SFoodie: How did you guys end up in the kitchen?
BURR: Shoot, I started working in bakeries when I was in high school. I'd go to work at 4 in the morning, work until 8 a.m., go to school from 8 to 3 p.m., and then go back to the bakery to work the counter until close. I like getting up early, so getting up at 4 in the morning wasn't a big deal for me when I was 16. It still isn't.
BEERMAN: Same kind of thing for me, really-while in high school I started out washing dishes in restaurants, then starting prep cooking, and then started cutting out of high school to go to work.
BURR: Ha, I definitely did that, too! I'd skip my last class of the day to go to work early.
BEERMAN: And when I finished high school, I realized I had never really done anything else but work in kitchens and wasn't really interested in doing anything else, so I went to culinary school and then started bouncing all over the country.
When did you end up in SF?
BEERMAN: I moved out here from Colorado about 15 years ago.
BURR: I've been here about 11 years, and met Chris right at the beginning. My very first kitchen job during my first year of culinary school was working with him when he was the sous chef at Neiman Marcus at the Rotunda. I wasn't even 21 yet, shoot!
When did you guys actually start working together again?
BURR: I started my bakery in the fall of '08 doing small-scale bread production - just me, doing wholesale only out of a commercial space. Chris had started up a business called Bento 415. Dynamo Donuts had just vacated [a space in the same Potrero Hill kitchen], so Chris came and started renting there. But then...
BEERMAN: We lost the lease. I think you had been there about a year and I was there less than eight months.
BURR: We had 30 days to vacate, and there was no way that either of us could raise the money we needed independently. We knew that we worked really well together and trusted each other, so we were like, shoot...
BEERMAN: ...Why don't we partner up?
BURR: It was a way for us to come together and create something that's bigger and better than what we were each doing by ourselves.
How did you guys settle on the idea of American food as the focus for your restaurant?
BEERMAN: When I walked in this space, the first things I noticed were the glass doors on the refrigerators. I immediately thought: We need to go diner. They reminded me of something that you would see products in to purchase. You go and there's a bakery inside the restaurant, it's kind of separate but kind of not. And then it all evolved from there.
BURR: Pinkie's had started as an American bakery, too, so it tied in with his idea of the diner. Then we just needed a name that reflected who we are, and having the same initials the process went something like CB, CB diner, CB truck stop, CB radio, Citizens Band!
Once you decided on American fare, what was the process of creating the menu like?
BEERMAN: I think it was more the process of creating the space, and how the food worked in the space, than just the food on its own. Anybody can do a really great carrot cake or a really great burger, but what we wanted was to create a space that really lent itself to people coming to eat, as opposed to people just coming for the food.
BURR: I mean, for Beerman and for me, too, the food's the easy part. That stuff we can do in our sleep. It was about creating the entire experience and building an atmosphere.
BEERMAN: We serve the same people four to six times a week. We see a lot of regulars, a lot of neighborhood people, and that was kind of our goal. We wanted to keep it small and keep it intimate. But at the same time it's loud, you can get shit-face wasted if you want, and nobody really cares. I don't want it to be romantic. I want a place where people want to either grab a quick burger or come and chill out for a while with their friends from out of town.