Bayview District residents Kristin Jenkins and Barclay Nicholson are domestic partners growing not one but two food businesses that both have “SF” in the name: Nosh SF and SF Private Chef. The two have been together for over thirteen years and were introduced by a mutual friend. They live and work in Bayview and have done so for the last two years and this fascinating tale has a twist of kismet. The morning they were about to move out of their Bernal Heights home, their landlord called to let them know a fire had burned down the home they were moving into. On very short notice, they were able to find “the perfect space” in which they now live and have an office. Green thumbs, take note: there is also a garden space that the two are actively cultivating–more details on that in a bit.
Nosh SF is a boutique catering company sporting a roster of local events that include a fundraiser for President Obama last year. SF Private Chef is a healthy meal delivery service and Jenkins has been working on the company since she founded it over ten years ago. Before these ventures, Nicholson was working in venture capital. Jenkins was pursuing golf in a somewhat serious fashion when she first started SF Private Chef. Bay Area Bites caught up with Jenkins and Nicholson recently. Their comments have been edited for grammar and clarity.
Bay Area Bites: You’ve lived and worked in the Bayview District for the past two years. What is your work and life routine like?
Nicholson: Our life has been focused on growing Nosh and SF Private Chef. Without much exaggeration, we have lived and breathed work for the last three years. To answer your question about our routine, it’s very routine. I get up, bring Kristin a coffee in bed while she watches a housewives show…No, seriously. We wake up, feed our two dogs and two cats. Make coffee and slide open the doors that separate our living quarters from our work quarters. I cross the threshold and head up the stairs to our office.
Kristin walks out the front door to the commercial kitchen (which we built out in record time at the end of last year), which is two doors down. The close proximity of the kitchen and our office helps us keep things very efficient. During the day we communicate often. (I would like to have an intercom system in the kitchen so I can page Kristin; Kristin has vetoed the idea.) Our ability to transition from work to events is very easy. We are able to pack out and pack back in and return home very seamlessly. Having our own kitchen has been invaluable.
Bay Area Bites: How do you support each other for your work and in your personal life?
Jenkins: I have spent the last 20-plus years in the industry, in one form or another. I am a creative person. One of Barclay’s strengths is that she is great at helping translate my vision to words.
Nicholson: I transitioned to this industry about three years ago. I had spent the prior 16 years in the venture capital industry. Kristin has been incredibly supportive in helping me learn the industry and understanding while I have transitioned to this new lifestyle. Among the many challenges, the physical aspects of my new career has been the most difficult.
We come from similar backgrounds and we have the same values. We are able to help keep other centered and on track. We feel very fortunate.
Bay Area Bites: How many staff do you have?
Nicholson: Both companies are small. Our employees have been cross-trained and are able to work in whichever capacity is necessary given work flow. Each company is headed up by its own head chef and sous chef. Kristin, as executive chef, leads the team.
Bay Area Bites: You have the start of a community garden going. How did that come about? What are you growing? And what future plans do you have for the garden?
Nicholson: Kristin’s parents have a ranch outside of Santa Barbara. Since the two of us got together, we dreamed of having a large garden through which inner city kids could get exposure to growing produce and then learning to cook using the edibles. We also wanted to have goats so we could make cheese and milk. Given our current situation we feel we have an opportunity to realize at least part of our vision. There are some pre-existing apple, plum, fig, rosemary, bay leaf, wild fennel, wild roses, and more. We have added various types of tomatoes, various herbs and micro greens. We dream of making our dream happen.
Bay Area Bites: Tell me about how Nosh SF works as a business. Who are your typical customers?
Jenkins: I started the business about nine years ago cooking for two private families on the Peninsula. Since then, we have expanded both businesses by word of mouth. Most of our clients reside in and around Pacific Heights, as well as on the Peninsula. They are very busy with work and family and want to make sure they eat well, in spite of their schedules.
Bay Area Bites: What is your experience with regard to homophobia and LGBT acceptance within the culinary world?
Nicholson: We are lucky that we live and work in the Bay Area, where people are generally educated.
Jenkins: When I first started my career I worked in Switzerland and South Africa at a time when women weren’t well-accepted in the kitchen on the hot line. I experienced quite a bit of hazing but stuck it out. It was not about my sexuality.
Bay Area Bites: What was it like for you coming out professionally? When did you do it? What was your job at the time? Have you noticed a change over time?
Nicholson: I was about 26 and had just joined the venture capital firm on the Peninsula (from which I left after 16 years to join Kristin). The VC industry is very conservative and I was concerned about coming out. However, the firm I joined was led by two really great guys who turned out to be incredibly supportive and accepting. It was a great relief to be able to be out at work.
Jenkins: I was also about 26 and moving from South Africa to Ecuador. While there is a gay population in Ecuador it was very underground when I moved there. I came out to my family at this time but not professionally. I came out professionally when I relocated to Las Vegas, about one and a half years later. I worked for large restaurants; management didn’t want to know and, while the chefs I worked for weren’t thrilled, they weren’t really phased by it. Since moving to San Francisco my sexuality isn’t an issue.
Of our clients who are aware of our sexuality and relationship, it is a non-issue. It’s not something we think about. We feel very fortunate.
Bay Area Bites: I do catering and see hiccups at each event. Someone forgot to pack something that is at the shop (kitchen), miles away, one hour before the guests arrive. Do you have any blunder type stories you can share?
Jenkins: There are so many details and moving parts, as you know. In some ways, restaurants are so much easier.
I was doing a lunch event at Stanford. A fire alarm in a nearby building was set off. It caused our production to be stopped and the kitchen was evacuated for over an hour. When we were permitted to return to the kitchen, we had 30 minutes to unpack, start huge BBQs, cook food, set up and serve. It was totally out of our control, but our client was not sympathetic. It was the worst work feeling, to this day.
Bay Area Bites: What Bay Area places do you like for food?
Jenkins: Of course, the farmers’ markets. Seeing and touching what’s in season helps inspire me. Speaking with farmers is always wonderful.
Rainbow Grocery is great for bulk items, organics and breads.
Sushi is our mutual favorite. When working around food all day, it’s the perfect food to end with.
Bay Area Bites: Have you booked any same sex weddings? Or done menu proposals? What are people ordering?
Jenkins: Yes! Actually, we had a joint reception a few weekends ago for two couples who were married at City Hall on June 29. They wanted a very casual, fun, friends and family-oriented celebration. They have a beautiful house in the hills. We did something a little different for us; we made a BBQ with all the fixings. It felt like the right menu for these two couples. The cake had two men and two women.