Photo credit: Peter Belanger
Joel Bleskacek thought he was done with the restaurant industry. After over a decade of working at some of the Bay Area’s finest restaurants – meeting Maxine Siu, his future wife and business partner in the process – Mr. Bleskacek pulled out. He opened Ruby Wine, a boutique wine shop and tasting bar. In 2010, Siu walked by the space that would become the popular brunch spot Plow and immediately knew it had potential.
A former architectural studio, Plow sits on the corner of 18th St and Texas St in Potrero Hill. Just down the street from Ruby Wine and around the corner from their home, the space’s location was part of the draw for the now-married couple with two young children. Having young children at home was an impetus for Plow being a breakfast and lunch restaurant. They knew that they would not be able to be out late at night and have enough time in their children’s lives.
Bleskacek and Siu pictured “a breakfast and lunch program that would rival dinner service.” The team did not understand why breakfast was considered a throwaway meal. From setting the tables with utensils and stemware of the best caliber, to providing the leading standard of professional and friendly service, to using the highest quality ingredients, Plow is committed to elevating the first two meals of the day.
In an effort to provide the finest ingredients, Plow sources from local farms. The pair found this a natural move. From their combined decades in the industry, they already had relationships with local wine merchants and farms. Buying from local purveyors contributes to the environmental sustainability of the restaurant.
“Sustainability means you invest in your restaurant and your staff, it means you don’t take every dime you make and put it in your pocket,” says Bleskacek. To him, this is how his restaurant differs, and one reason it has been so successful. Apart from its famous lemon ricotta pancakes, of course.
Plow’s philosophy, which has been proven by their lived experience, is that the more you invest in your restaurant and staff, the better you will all sleep at night. Of Plow’s staff of 19, most have worked there for years, some of them for all ten years of the restaurant’s tenure. Bleskacek and Siu trust their crew. So when the pandemic hit in early March, the pair’s first worry was – could the staff trust them?
Plow’s pandemic plan started with take-out service four days a week. This was an immediate hit, and they added another day. As of June 1, they are open for take-out daily. What began as a precarious situation has turned into the new normal for Plow, and they are doing just fine.
But before they figured out their now-successful system, Plow paid all their benefits out to the staff. Bleskacek emphasized that the Plow crew, who has put impeccable food on the plates of San Franciscans for a decade, deserved more than a furlough and a GoFundMe page.
Innovatively, Plow has been using the shuttered storefront of the pandemic to work on infrastructural investments. “We have ten weeks to do as much as we can before we reopen,” Bleskacek said. This includes the mandatory seismic retrofit that many San Francisco buildings are required to do.
While Plow is in a comfortable position right now, Bleskacek highlighted that his most important takeaway from this situation is that it can change at any time. “Nothing is guaranteed and nothing should be taken for granted. We have to reinvest in our staff and space to provide long term security for the restaurant.”
Many restaurants are struggling to keep the lights on, but Plow reminds us of the literal value of such an idea. “We wash our windows every week and keep the space inviting and clean. I want people [that walk by] to feel like Plow is still there. That on day one of reopening we will be ready to go, that we will continue to be the place that brought the neighborhood comfort for ten years.”
Bleskacek’s people-first mentality and willingness to adapt promises good things to come for Plow. Rain or shine, pandemic or no pandemic, the popular dining spot is in it for the long haul.