Tommy Halvorson can’t help that he’s been inspired by his roots. Growing up, his parents were restaurateurs, meaning food wasn’t just a means to an end: It was something that perfectly reflected the Kentucky native’s passion and identity.
“The food can be spectacular. But the heart in it is what makes it special, you know? And so, I was like, ‘I want to do stuff that reminds me of the things I had growing up.’ Because I’m from Western Kentucky, and it’s kind of hard to [say] if I’m from the south or from the Midwest,” said Halvorson.
Needless to say, Halvorson’s quasi-multiregional upbringing has made waves in the Bay Area — but not in a conventional sense. In early 2017, the chef purchased Serpentine from original Founder Erin Rooney.
Since receiving the baton, Halvorson has worked relentlessly to embrace his past and lean into the present. Serpentine prides itself on tapping into Halvorson’s humble Southern culinary influences while boasting the swagger of a chic and elevated San Franciscan restaurant.
On Serpentine’s menu, the attention lies in the details. Burgers, wings, and sandwiches are made with understated, yet significant swaps in ingredients across the board. Cornflake chicken katsu and Gochujang ketchup turn the typical American chicken sandwich on its head.
The Prather Ranch patty—available with Gruyere and/or Pimento cheese—also refines a classic, well-established burger concept.
Today, leveraging Serpentine’s premium brand status calls for new strategies in the wake of COVID-19. Expensive interior renovations over the years are harder to appreciate as more customers stay at home. Recreating high-end customer experiences via other customer channels without the beauty of Serpentine’s scenery has forced Halvorson to re-evaluate his entire approach. And that means nothing is off-limits.
“It’s about the experience that we create in the brief moments that we interact with the best, and that goes to the simplicity of the online ordering experience and ensuring that the server is healthy,” said Halvorson.
Halvorson, also the owner and chef of Foxtail Catering, is leaning on his catering experience to keep Serpentine afloat. The restaurant’s menu has shortened, with well-traveling items taking a priority. It’s also included a carefully curated selection of home-friendly items suitable for nearly any quarantine.
Wines and spirits—including bourbon, bitters, vodka, reds, roses, and whites—are all available in predetermined collections. Cornbread and ribeye have also become available for DIY cooking efforts.
Even in a pandemic, Halvorson’s affinity for small, subtle, yet significant changes points to his mastery of the details. And it’s helping him find peace in knowing he has done what he can to weather this crisis.
“The main thing is literally just hang in there. I feel like that’s the main thing, right? I mean everybody’s in the same boat, especially in the hospitality industry. Everybody is uncertain…whether it’s fear of getting sick or fear of ‘How am I going to pay my rent,'” said Halvorson.
“People are trying to figure out a way to make it work…letting yourself spiral in a dark place doesn’t do any good.”
And with that, Halvorson and Serpentine press onward.