Above: Harris’ Restaurant Chef and Owner Michael Buhagiar
Much like other top-notch food establishments, Harris’ Restaurant prides itself on unforgettable early days that set up generations of success.
“I came aboard in 1984 in the very beginning,” said Michael Buhagiar, current chef and restaurant owner.
At the time, he was just happy to help. He took a job offer from then-owner Ann Lee Harris to be a cook, immersing himself into a fast-paced steakhouse kitchen that forced him to learn fast.
In turn, he formed a rock-solid foundation for the rest of his culinary career. Buhagiar then found an opportunity to work at a restaurant in Nevada, and soon after, the cook was becoming even more than a chef.
“I became part-owner [of Harris’ Restaurant] in 2004, and then I bought the business in 2018,” said Buhagiar.
Dubbing itself as “San Francisco’s classic American steakhouse,” Harris’ is more than another spot for your next wine and dine. Immediately upon walking in, it takes you away to an era where Silicon Valley doesn’t even exist.
Dark wood, high ceilings, and larger-than-life booths bring the exuberant dining space to life without any gimmicks. The filet mignons, porterhouses, and New York strips come out of the kitchen ready to appear in a Capone film. Plus, the Mint Chocolate Mousse Bombe, along with the Peanut Butter Whiskey Float, provides plenty of reasons to save room for dessert.
Once COVID-19 caused Harris’ to shut down, it became difficult for Buhagiar to reimagine what day-to-day business would look like again. Managing overhead in a larger restaurant is already a common challenge. But with the pandemic likely to stay, the business has evolved.
“The main reason why I started the pop-up store was because of all the inventory I had on stock,” said Buhagiar.
Before COVID-19, Harris’ made a bold decision entering the retail world, placing its products in-store when such a move could have been considered controversial.
Now, diversifying customer channels has paid off amid a global crisis, keeping the business afloat. Buhagiar is running Harris’ pop-up shop during the pandemic, where he cuts prime and dry-aged steaks daily. Less inventory is going to waste, and more customers have a chance to eat luxuriously when nobody else is.
“There was big demand for it. So I kept on buying meat since we closed, and I kept the whole thing going and keeping it going with bringing in more produce and more meat, and I’m planning to keep this going until we re-open.”
The butcher counter has been an integral part of Harris’ survival in the pandemic. But Buhagiar ultimately credits his family for helping him get through this time, even if it takes on different forms.
“Definitely, my family, obviously. The family has turned into a family-owned business, in a sense,” said Buhagiar. “Our managers are excellent.”
Buhagiar’s openness to the notion of redefining what family means also serves as an example for something many of us should remember as COVID-19 continues to spread.
“Try and change with the times because it’s not gonna be easy,” Buhagiar admitted. “We’ll get through it.”