For Gialina’s Sharon Ardiana, Great Restaurants Thrive on Community and Staff
Glen Park’s Gialina is a cozy neighborhood gem located on Diamond Street that’s been serving up Italian comfort in the form of housemade pasta and thin, crispy-crusted pizza to its patrons for the last 15 years. Besides the beautiful food, the restaurant has thrived through the warmth and hospitality provided by its staff and its proprietress, longtime San Franciscan and industry vet Sharon Ardiana. We sat down with her to discuss more.
Resy: Prior to Gialina, you worked in lots of great restaurants over the years. Where would you say was the most influential and inspiring kitchen, and why?
Sharon Ardiana: For me, I feel like I’ve learned a little bit from every place that I have worked, even the awful ones over the last 40-plus years. Boulevard was definitely one of the more beautiful ones. Nancy [Oakes] is such an amazing chef, and her dishes are so multi-layered and have such depth.
Long ago I worked at Sol y Luna, which did not last long, but the chef was Amaryll Schwertner, who now owns Boulettes Larder and for me, she was very inspiring. Her balancing of flavors, how to brighten a dish with a little acid — learning that kind of fine-tuning was very influential to me.
Did you ever have a great mentor?
I have not had a mentor, but I think my family exposing me to such amazing food from our garden really gave me a love for food and helped educate my palate. In particular, my dad who hunted for mushrooms and took me watercress picking gave me a deep love for food.
Coming up in kitchens, at what point did you know or learn that owning a restaurant would be for you?
I always wanted to do something, but lacked the funds. I was 47 when I opened Gialina. Better late than never!
Describe your path towards ownership, and opening up Gialina. Do you have a business partner to help, or did you DIY?
Longtime friends and their group of friends invested in Gialina. It was a real coming together of women. That’s not to say that it wasn’t difficult and hard. It’s like the Cyndi Lauper song, “Money Changes Everything” — so you have to remember that and prepare yourself for differences of opinion and expectations.
Longtime friends and their group of friends invested in Gialina. It was a real coming together of women … I wanted a restaurant that would be a neighborhood anchor and get people together.— Sharon Ardiana
Both Gialina and Ragazza are well established in their neighborhoods. Gialina is kind of family-focused and Ragazza is more date-night vibes. I think Ardiana had a tougher time because of location and it just didn’t have years under its belt to weather the pandemic. Both Gialina and Ragazza have wonderful staff and that certainly makes a huge difference. Abel Morfin has been with me since we opened the doors at Gialina 15-plus years ago. We joke that it is like “Cheers” and everyone knows everyone else — there is a real comfort for customers in that feeling and connection.
How have you managed to navigate the last two years? What kept you afloat?
Two rounds of PPP and the RRF got us through, but also our regulars who used to dine-in really just showed up and switched to pick-up and supported us throughout our takeout-only days.
Besides obviously delicious food, what do you think is the one thing that makes your restaurants successful?
My staff. They are the glue that connects it all and keep things running. Food is important, but helpful and pleasant staff really brings the experience together. They all get along and support and joke with each other even when the ticket board is full and it’s stressful.
It’s interesting that you’re not on delivery apps — what’s the reason?
Clearly I do takeout, but it was never my intention to be just that. I wanted a restaurant that would be a neighborhood anchor and get people together. Delivery app companies are like pirate ships, everyone is in it for themselves and there is no great love from them or pride in what they deliver because they had no hand in making it. Plus, when people tip in apps, it goes to the delivery person, not the person making your food. At Gialina, when you tip on takeout, it goes to the kitchen that thoughtfully made your food.
Do you feel that Gialina is back to normal? Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
What’s normal anymore?! Sales are coming back, but we are not as packed for inside dining as we were in 2019. I am hopeful we will get back to it in the next year or so.
What keeps you going as a restaurateur? What inspires you?
Between Gialina and Ragazza, I have probably about 30 employees and I am responsible for their livelihood. I take that seriously because they are not just my employees, they are family to me. So I need to make sure that I am creating an environment that they are safe working in and that they can feel proud about their work.
What advice do you have for someone new, trying to open up their own place in San Francisco?
Make sure that you have experience in restaurants. Make sure you understand the numbers part of restaurants as well. You can have great food, but if you do not understand your bottom line, you will not be in business for very long. And do it because you truly love it.
Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Find him at @ommmar