News & Views from 465 California Street

Taking a Chance

Clint Reilly
Nov
24
2009

“I thought you were a smart businessman,” an astonished colleague exclaimed when he heard I was opening a restaurant. “Even my wife Janet looked at me quizzically and said, “You’re opening a what?!”

I had heard the horror stories all before. “Restaurants don’t make money” is ensconced in the pantheon of aphorisms right next to “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

When I began to tell friends and associates last year that I planned to open an eatery in San Francisco, they practically organized an intervention to deter me.

Coming as it did while the country was plunging headlong into a financial catastrophe, my urban trattoria concept wasn’t wildly embraced.

I countered skeptics with the example of my good friend, Lorenzo Petroni, who began his career as a waiter upon his arrival from Lucca and who now presided over a small empire from his North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco. I also cited the legendary Sirio Maccioni, whose famous restaurant Le Cirque has become an internationally recognized brand.

“But you’re Irish,” folks admonished me while shooting winks at nearby associates.

Nevertheless, I forged ahead with little more than a name: “Credo,” the Latin word for “I believe.” Catholics recognize Credo as the prayer of the mass which enunciates the tenets of the Catholic faith. But this creed is followed immediately by prayers to God for help in daily life.

Let’s just say that I’ve done my share of praying for Credo to get off the ground.

I assembled a team of Don Quixotes to bring the project to life. Mario Maggi, our executive chef, has opened successful Italian restaurants from New York to Tokyo.

The son of a chef who immigrated to America and worked in the kitchen of Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria, Mario created a menu of Italian peasant food from his early days as a chef in Milan.

More important, the master held my hand as the naysayers scoffed.

I needed an architect, so I turned to Heidi Richardson, the great-granddaughter of H.H. Richardson, a renowned predecessor to Frank Lloyd Wright. Heidi is a highly accomplished architect herself and she designed the headquarters of my campaign consulting company in 1986.

But she had never designed a restaurant because she had “never met a restaurant architect who had actually been paid for their work.”

This wasn’t a good omen for either of us.

I wanted Credo to be different – a place that fed the mind as well as the body. Our graphic designer, Doug Akagi, created a look as tasty as Mario’s menu.

My search for the perfect tables brought me to the workshop of Piet Hein Eek in Geldrop, Holland. Each table is a unique creation made entirely of discarded scrap wood. And I only had to go 5,524 miles to find them.

Most restaurants have a chef, but Credo also has an editor. That’s where my colleague, Frank Holland comes in.

Frank mined thousands of speeches, books, songs, news stories and interviews for quotes beginning with the words “I believe” uttered by individuals throughout history, and then assembled the collected phrases in clever and provocative ways throughout the restaurant. You’ll find everyone from Plato to Colbert. (Stephen, that is.)

Today, we are about to open a restaurant that serves food for the masses while celebrating democratic discourse. If Credo had a manifesto, it would be “feed the rabble.”

The gloom-and-doomers will always be with us. These are the same folks who short the stock market and think “risk” is a four-letter word. They are the same nihilists who scoffed at Horatio Alger.

I admire folks who tilt at windmills, who fight alongside David against Goliath and take on a challenge when the odds are against them. The conventional wisdom is almost always wrong.

Comments (8)

  • May the wind be always at your back…

    Posted by: melinda maginn | November 24th, 2009 at 8:44 am

  • Clint,
    As you know, I follow your column off and on. Don’t know why I caught
    it this morning.
    Anyway, best of luck on your new adventure, Credo. Only thing missing
    from your column is the address. I suppose I could look it up. And I
    will, next time I am in The City.
    Paul

    Posted by: Paul | November 24th, 2009 at 5:00 pm

  • Is Credo open & what is the address?BTW, I really appreciate your advertorials that
    run in the SJ MERC/News. Common sense — how uncommon in today’s
    political/governmental world.

    Posted by: Diane | November 24th, 2009 at 5:00 pm

  • Dear Clint Reilly,

    Your column announcing the opening of CREDO is the most encouraging news in the
    entire newspaper this morning! You have your priorities in order: hire an editor,
    then a chef! You will feed the rabble, stimulate our minds, and then we will
    charge forward energized to live creatively in an often chaotic and violent world.

    I forsee that the military-industrial-intelligence-media-complex will soon crumble
    as a direct result of the opening of CREDO!

    You and I both have Don Quixote as our patron saint. I go to the play Man of
    LaMancha whenever and wherever it is playing.

    I am an Episcopal priest, rector of St. Peter’s in San Francisco for 19 years, and
    now engaged in research, writing, and leading retreats, seminars and Mary Magdalene
    Festivals. On my study door is a reproduction of Octavio Ocampo’s, “Visions of Don
    Quixote” which reminds me that a fool and a wise man are the flip side of each
    other. Perhaps CREDO will also have this painting displayed in a prominent
    location?

    I need a bit more information:
    + What is the location of this fine restaurant?
    + When will the Grand Opening occur?
    + I assume you will invite our mutual friend Fr. Gene Boyle to bless Credo on its
    opening night?
    + Will you be wearing a Don Quixote outfit?
    + Will prices be affordable for rabble like me?

    Perhaps your next column will include this vital information?

    Cheers! May Don Quioxte and Sancho Panzo bless you!

    Fr. J.B.B.

    P.S. You cannot possibly fail. You would only have failed if you had not tried. My
    epitaph will be, “Tell Them I tried.” Perhaps you would like that epitaph as well?

    Posted by: Fr. J.B.B. | November 24th, 2009 at 5:01 pm

  • ok – where is it, and how much is a hamburger at lunchtime?

    Posted by: Ed | November 24th, 2009 at 5:01 pm

  • Hi Clint,
    I think your articles in the BANG papers are great. Refreshing to
    get a different perspective ——- one thats not so haughty and
    condescending especially when it comes to the “masses”. Where is this new
    restaurant going to be located? I read the article three times thinking I
    missed it.
    I recently stepped down from my Teamster positions. No I
    didn’t retire and I’m in good health, I accepted the Co-Chair position on
    the Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Trust. A change, not as hectic,
    but one with some interesting challenges and oppurtunities. It’s wonderful
    to see that your still at it —— going forward.
    Chuck

    Posted by: Chuck | November 24th, 2009 at 5:02 pm

  • Credo is located at 360 Pine St. (and Montgomery) in the financial district. We will be opening on Monday, January 18th, so please come by and say hi. Our hours will be 11am-10pm M-Th, 11am-11pm Fri, and 5pm-11pm Sat.

    Posted by: Tim | January 3rd, 2010 at 3:48 pm

  • Dear Clint,

    You kindly invited me to CREDO’s Grand Opening. It was a beautiful event. I saw 3 people I know: you and two others. I spent the whole time (mostly) reading the credal statements. The librarian in me wanted to organize them differently–by theme. But I agree, they address the poor or comment on poverty from one point of view or another.

    I am the second identified Episcopal priest who has posted here in response the melange you have created at CREDO. I am entirely grateful for your presence and your spirit, with unending admiration for your energy and creativity.

    Posted by: Fr John H Porter | March 23rd, 2010 at 12:35 pm

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