Dining Design Diary: Central Kitchen, Part 1


I’m pretty much an old pro at writing about the completed interiors of restaurants, so when one of the owners of San Francisco’s Flour + Water approached me and suggested I check out the empty,  dilapidated old structure that he and his team are about to turn into the latest addition to their foodie family, Central Kitchen, I knew a different kind of story was in order.

While Flour + Water has been widely celebrated for it’s marriage of classic Italian and Bay Area culinary traditions, here at CH+D we were especially taken with its design—an atypical, somewhat rustic and slightly whimsical expression from Paxton Gate owner Sean Quigley. He and his design partner Todd McCrea are also directing the design of Central Kitchen, which is set to open by the end of 2011, and with this series I plan to document not only the physical construction of the restaurant, but the evolution of the design concept.

It was with that plan in mind that I joined Quigley and McCrea—along with chef Tom McNaughton and owners David Steele and David White—on a tour of the site, which, as I mentioned before, is currently a gutted, long-vacant structure on the corner of Florida and 20th streets, just one block from Flour + Water. But walking the grounds with this clearly inspired crew, a vision of what was to come quickly began to materialize. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean:


To Quigley and McCrea, the design hinges completely on the food, and so chef Tom McNaughton could reasonably be called the design team’s third member. Together they are trying to embody and express the spirit of Northern California, from it’s native oaks to its culinary heritage (ala Alice Waters religiously local creations). At the same time, the team’s loyalty to the historically factory-filled neighborhood, newly dubbed Mission Gulch (formerly Media Gulch), will surely inspire some industrial touches. Rusted slaughterhouse hooks will be incorporated into custom lighting installations, and reclaimed I-beams will extend from the dining room’s interior ceiling to the outdoor dining space.

Some Highlights: an extra-large kitchen (it will take up 60 to 70 percent of the restaurant’s real estate, allowing for the addition of a catering business).

A landscaped outdoor dining area, connected to Central Kitchen through huge, floor-to-ceiling glass doors and shared with Salumeria.

A massive focal wall made from reclaimed wood and branded and carved with the silhouette of a huge oak tree.

And the neighborhood is sure to benefit: in addition to Central Kitchen, Salumeria, a gourmet sandwich shop and market, will be located across the open-air courtyard, and a larger, three-story industrial space next door will be the site of Humphry Slocomb’s new “parlor” and Trick Dog, a bar from The Bon Vivants.

The team is ready to start construction any day now, so I’ll check back in on the team in a month of so.

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