Day: September 17, 2019

EAT SOMETHING

(Chronicle Books, March 2020) Pre-order!

ADVANCE PRAISE!

“This book embodies the spirit of Jewish soul food we all need right now. Equally delicious and inspiring, it satisfies like a holiday brisket, with a joy that lasts for days (minus the heartburn).” —David Sax, author of Save the Deli

“My Russian-born mother always used to ask, “Is it good for the Jews?” And I have to say that Eat Something not only is good for the Jews but also will make them chuckle and enjoy cooking. This book offers a fresh California perspective and a dash of cultural irreverence.” — Joyce Goldstein, chef & author

“An extremely entertaining and haimish guide to Jewish food and the role it plays in our lives.” — Josh Russ Tupper, 4th generation co-owner of Russ & Daughters

***

From nationally recognized Jewish brand Wise Sons, the cookbook Eat Something features over 60 recipes for salads, soups, baked goods, holiday dishes, and more.

This long-awaited cookbook (the first one for Wise Sons!) is packed with homey recipes and relatable humor; it is as much a delicious, lighthearted, and nostalgic cookbook as it is a lively celebration of Jewish culture.

Stemming from the thesis that Jews eat by occasion (and with enthusiasm), the book is organized into 19 different events and celebrations chronicling a Jewish life in food, from bris to shivah, and all the makeshift and meaningful events in between, including: Shabbat, Passover, the high holidays, first meal home from college, J-dating, wedding, and more.

 

The Usual: Lou Seal & His Deliboard Sandwich

Welcome to The Usual, a new, irregular column about regulars in their restaurants — and the roles such places play in the lives of the people they feed.

Joel Zimei and Deli Board’s Adam Mesnick are talking, as apparently men do, about meat sweats. Meat sweats? “You know, if you eat a burger and a hot dog at a tailgate, and then at the game you’re like, ‘I’m going to get a cheesesteak!’ and then you go home later and have filet mignon for dinner,” explains Joel, biting into a sandwich the size of a newborn. “That’s it: meat sweats.”

Does Deli Board give him meat sweats? Nah, he says. It’s a lot of meat, but not enough meat to make him meat-sweat. Joel regular-sweats, though, rather profusely and frequently and even in the fog.

It’s his outfit: a 10-part, 30-pound furry getup he dons on average four hours a day, five times a week, six months a year — plus, another month or so in a good year (which it’s looking like this year isn’t).

“I had a little thermometer and it’s 37 degrees hotter for me than it is for you,” says the 46-year-old part-man, part-seal. Lou Seal. The San Francisco Giants’ mascot — a character, and costume, that Joel has lived and breathed (in) for the last 21 years.

The media room, which feeds mascots too, often does it up, offering chicken kare-kare and pinakbet on Filipino Heritage Night, or wok-fired gai lan and fried rice on Chinese Heritage Night. But nothing, says Joel — not even Crazy Crab’z “phenomenal” crab sandwich — compares to Deli Board.

Sometimes, he’ll send one of his “seal-curity” guys over to Deli Board for a pregame pickup. “It’s usually after a loss, when we need good luck,” he says. “I’ll be like, ‘GO GET THE LUCKY SANDWICH!!’”

Remembering the Leslie Salt Mountain: Bay Area’s odd, glistening landmark

As in, his usual: the Leroy Brown. Romanian pastrami, kosher salami, roast turkey, with peperoncini, special sauce and extra pickles on Dutch Crunch. (Hold the cheese, please.)

Joel admits he is “ridiculously super-duper-stitious.” There was a bagel shop off Townsend that used to be his lucky lunch. The Giants won the 2010 and the 2012 and 2014 World Series with those bagels after all. But when the shop’s ownership changed, Joel realized, so did his luck.

In 2015, he discovered Deli Board at 1058 Folsom St. Although he didn’t know it at first. His wife happened to bring him home some ginormous turkey clublike concoction one day — without realizing it was sandwich royalty.

“It was one of those euphoric food moments,” Joel recalls. “I remember scarfing it down, thinking I shouldn’t eat the second half. But then, of course, I did.”

A few months later, he got a Twitter notification, something along the lines of: “Hey @LouSeal01! I made you a sandwich. Come try it sometime.” Joel realized it was the same place he’d had the sandwich, and bonus: He lived nearby.

So, he put on one of his three World Series rings (proof of identification and all) and walked the few long SoMa blocks over to Deli Board. Adam was manning the register.

Flaunting his bling, Joel pushed his business card forward — and placed his order for, ahem, one Lou Seal. An Italian combo, for the Long Island-raised Italian: Genoa salami, mortadella, provolone, cherry peppers, lettuce, house Italian dressing, shum spread (garlic) on Deli Board’s signature Dutch Crunch.

Adam was starstruck and Joel was overjoyed. “Except I couldn’t eat my own sandwich,” he says. Cheese. So, Adam remade it for him without the provolone. Joel exchanged it for a signed Lou Seal bobblehead. And a new friendship was born.

“I had an issue for a while,” admits Joel. “I gained a couple of pounds.” He’d started lunching there a few times a week via electric scooter. “It’s only a two-minute ride!”

He now walks. He also treats Deli Board like a treat. “Thanksgiving wouldn’t be special if it was every day, either.”

Over the years, Lou Seal has become as popular among San Francisco baseball fans as Deli Board has among San Francisco sandwich fans. Both are loyal and cult-y and lean heavily male, judging from their recent respective daytime crowds. (Baseball I get. But sandwiches?)

“My first few years as Lou Seal, I’d get a lot of ‘Hey, sewer rat! Down in front!’” says Joel, who has yet to miss a single game — after some 1,700 games. With his humorous hip tosses, hip-hop moves and free hugs, he has built the character into one of the nation’s most beloved mascots, complete with a Hulu documentary series (“Behind the Mask, Season 2”) to its name.

“Sometimes I’ll get heckled by a baseball purist who doesn’t want the frills and just wants to watch the game. I get it, but I’m, like, ‘Sorry, man, go back in time.’” Now, says Joel, all he has to do is saunter into a section with his pot belly and raise his paws (flippers?) over his head “and the crowd just erupts,” he says. “It’s crazy.”

Lou Seal makes it look easy. But Joel works hard. Fans ask him to officiate their weddings and perform at tech parties and autograph their Lou Seal tattoos. He does upwards of 300 outside events a year. That’s in addition to his “offseason” gig as the leader of the Golden State Warriors’ Hoop Troop. No seal costume required, just general crowd-pumping and T-shirt-launching. Only thing is, he says: “Now that the Warriors are always in the NBA finals, I don’t really have an off-season.”

Adam works hard, too. He’s a no-frills purist himself, the sole owner, sans investors, of a bare-bones, 20-seat sandwich counter dedicated to handcrafted meats he can barely afford to sell in this city anymore. Still. “I will not compromise on quality,” says Adam. “What am I going to do? Bring in some s—y turkey just so I can sell a $9 sandwich?”

Spend a lunch hour chatting and chowing with Adam and Joel on Folsom Street, and you start to see the sandwich as something bigger than itself. (If that’s even possible at Deli Board.)

Not unlike baseball. It’s just a game. Some people say. It’s just a sandwich. Not to these two.

Nor to the neighborhood. In this stretch of SoMa, Deli Board is a means of connection, an unofficial community center in a disparate community. And in his own way, Adam, like Lou Seal, is the character who brings everyone together. He just talks more than a mascot.

His longtime refrigerator repairman, Falla, comes by in uniform to kibbitz, even though everything’s running fine. Lou Seal gave him and his family a special high-five at the game the other night. A homeless man walks in. “Hey, Yoni. How’s it going? You want a root beer and chips?” asks Adam. On his way to grab them, he stops to shake hands with a well-coiffed, TV-handsome man. Justin Fichelson from Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing.”

Deli Board gets its share of local notables. Michael Krasny likes the corned beef with nothing but his native Cleveland mustard on a French roll. Before moving to Sacramento, Gavin Newsom’s go-to was the Ron (roast beef with coleslaw and avocado). Late mayor Ed Lee was a regular (pastrami with cheese, light mayo, light sauce), as are a disproportionate number of public defenders and judges, given Deli Board’s proximity to 850 Bryant. There’s an artist-neighbor the staff nicknamed “Brian the Babe,” who eats lunch here every day, alternating between the Cobb salad (yes, Deli Board does salads) and the turkey-bacon-avocado-stuffed Armando, always saving the second half for supper.

Still, it’s obvious: Adam’s favorite customer is Joel.

He doesn’t make his off-menu buffalo-style wings for just anyone. And Joel doesn’t spontaneously drop by dressed as Lou Seal for just anyone, either.

“I’m a sandwich guy,” says Joel. A Deli Board guy. “I won’t eat some crappy sandwich somewhere else.” Neither will he, or Adam, eat hot dogs with mayo. “It’s disgusting!” they declare in unison.

They’re like two burgers in a bun, meat-lovers talking stadium mustards and Bumgarner and middle age, marveling over how time flies. How they never thought they’d still be doing what they’re doing. How they’d never want to do anything else.

It’s easy to envision them 20 years from now, sitting here at Deli Board doing the same, reflecting on careers spent less on making money, and more on making people happy, be it through baseball or corned beef.

Deli Board’s menu includes stalwarts like the Zoe, an ex-girlfriend; the Goldie, his aunt; and the D. Rubin, his friend and “a great play on the Reuben.” And for a brief moment in time, the Lou Seal.

A lifelong Cleveland Indians fan, Adam thought of it as his own little ode to his adopted team. “I’ll never name a sandwich after a ballplayer,” says Adam. “They just get traded.” Not Lou Seal.

Is there any greater honor for a Sandwich Guy to have a sandwich named after him?

“If he hadn’t named a sandwich after me …” says Joel wistfully. “We would have never met.”

No matter that the sandwich is no longer on the menu.

“It’s a special!” explains Adam. “It’ll come back.”

As will, perhaps, the Giants. If Lou Seal eats enough Leroy Browns.

 

Rachel Levin is a Bay Area freelance writer. Twitter: @rachellevinsf Instagram: @offmenusf Email: food@sfchronicle.com

George McCalman is an artist and creative director based in San Francisco. Twitter/Instagram: @mccalmanco Email: food@sfchronicle.com

 

The Usual: Tekka’s Most Regular Regular

Welcome to The Usual, a new, irregular column about regulars in their restaurants — and the roles such places play in the lives of the people they feed.

It’s 8:49 p.m. on a dark, drizzly Monday, and Dan Weinberg and Shoshana Leibner are right on time for their reservation. After 2,000 dinners over two decades, Dan knows: Show up before 8:45 p.m., and Yoshimi Shimizu won’t have finished wiping down the counter from the first seating. Show up too long after 8:45 p.m., though, and her chef husband, Noboru, might not let even him in.

Dan and Shoshana have barely unwound their hot towels before they inquire about another reservation. “Are you able to do 10, for Scott’s birthday?” asks Dan.

“Ten’s too many,” Noboru calls from the back. He will do seven.

“You’re the boss,” ribs Dan.

“I know,” he replies.

Tekka (537 Balboa St.) doesn’t technically take reservations. Its 10 seats typically command a serious sidewalk wait, especially with the owners’ preference to not necessarily fill all of them. The kind of wait where San Francisco’s sushi-obsessed civilians show up as early as 4:30 p.m. with camping chairs and beer and bundle up in Balboa Street’s fog, and wait, and wait, and occasionally watch — with a mix of awe and envy — as apron-clad Yoshimi opens the door around 6:30 p.m., peeks out from behind the little red curtain, and wordlessly waves in some unassuming couple who just walked up. Regulars.

Regulars who put in their time, and over time, earned Noboru’s trust, and Yoshimi’s cell phone number. Regulars who just shoot her a text, and she saves them a seat, plops a magnum of sake on the counter, and then serves them course after course after course — an off-menu omakase off-limits to everyone else — until they kindly have to tell her to stop.

Regulars like Dan, a freelance IT guy with a graying ponytail, and his partner of 20 years, Shoshana, a pioneer of flotation-tank meditation.

And regulars like their friends, who they met at Tekka: like Scott and Carolyn, and Bruce, Phillip, Marcel, Henry, and that nice guy who moved away years ago. “What was his name again?” asks Shoshana, calling up a photo on her phone from an especially fun night at Tekka, among reams of photos of especially fun nights at Tekka.

“Peter,” says Yoshimi, setting out two bowls of edamame. He’s married now. She and Nobu were invited to his wedding. She and Noboru are invited to all of the weddings. They never actually go to the weddings, but if Dan and Shoshana ever had one, they might.

They do attend Dan and Shoshana’s annual Hanukkah party, after all, always bringing a platter of sashimi bigger than the two of them combined. As soon as they walk in, everyone — including Scott and Carolyn, and Bruce, Phillip, Marcel and Henry, who bartends — bypasses the latkes and homemade applesauce and makes a beeline for the buttery hamachi. Dan understands. He loves sashimi, too. Especially Noboru’s sashimi: pieces so fresh and wide and fat, he says, “you could surf on them.”

In the last few years, the city has seen an influx of sleek Japanese restaurants, with Michelin stars and $200 menus and counters filled with diners focused more on curating their Instagram feeds than consuming fish, making the atmosphere feel more Apple Genius Bar than sushi bar.

But Tekka, which turns 30 this month, is the antithesis of the trend, a tiny time warp in a city moving at warp speed. Tekka feels like the kitchen of a couple who have been married for 50 years — a cluttered, cash-only kitchen walled in old photos and Japanese prints and placards of handwritten love letters from customers he’s invited to write one, including Dan and Shoshana.

In one corner, by a window, where at any other San Francisco restaurant a rent-generating table would be, is essentially storage: cases of Sapporo topped by an upturned stool and dusty space heater. And behind the bar: shelves of mismatched dishes, a burnt toaster-oven for eel, an old Sony clock flashing red digits. Also nearby is a small television with a DVR that Dan bought for Noboru ages ago, after the one he’d bought him before broke.

He has ever since he came to this country at 19. He joined the U.S. Army and fought in Vietnam as a fast-track to citizenship. A father of three, he spent most of his career working for a Japanese airline and partying overseas, until Yoshimi told him, no more: They would open a restaurant in the Inner Richmond.

“I like to dance discotheque,” he says, striking a petite John Travolta pose. “Remember, Nobu? When we’d have dance parties here until 2 a.m.?” asks Dan. He smiles. He does.

One day, Noboru received a cease-and-desist letter from the Bee Gees’ people saying it’s illegal to play the same music video over and over in a public space. Another regular, an attorney, fought it pro bono on the chef’s behalf, and the Bee Gees came back on.

But tonight, the TV is dark. Noboru, now 74, isn’t in a Bee Gees mood. He’s in a good mood, though.

Dan and Shoshana are, too. How could they not be?

They’re the only people in the place, their place: sipping bottomless ceramic cups of sake and eating creamy-cured squid topped with uni and bottarga; and steaming bowls of nasu; and ground pork bathed in ginger; and a piping hot tangle of sauteed enoki mushrooms revealed under a crumple of tin foil; and flaky halibut katsu; and a soothing broth brimming with bok choy. “No more, please,” begs Dan. “We’re done.”

Noboru takes a seat on a crate in the kitchen and calls Japan, on speaker. “That’s his old friend,’ says Dan, pointing to a photo above the bar. He’s sick, his heart. Yoshimi and Noboru come out, holding up their shared cell phone for Dan and Shoshana to say hi; the four of them crowd around, as if squeezing into FaceTime, except they’re not on FaceTime.

“Come see me before I go!” says the cheery voice on the other end. “We will!” Dan and Shoshana yell into the phone. They promise.

In the beginning, Dan ate at Tekka several times a week. When he started coming four nights in a row, Noboru cut him off. “‘Three nights is the limit,’ he told me. ‘Take a break.’” So, Dan slunk back to Ebisu. “The owner there was like, ‘Where have you been?’”

The thing about Ebisu, though, about every other restaurant in the city (“even the very best restaurants in the city,” says Dan), is that they’re just never as good. They’re never as fun. They’re always more expensive. And “they’re never like . . . this.”

By this, he means homey, happy, abundant, a restaurant that feels less like a night out and more like a night in.

Tekka is open weeknights only, two seatings a night. Occasionally they’ll close on a random Wednesday for, say, a golf tournament. Noboru and Yoshimi love golf. There was a time, a few years ago, when another regular supposedly rigged Yelp to say that Tekka had closed. It hadn’t.

“It can’t!” cries Dan, who knows that Yoshimi and Noboru are getting tired, and that sooner than later, it will.

These days, Dan goes once or twice a week. Not always with Shoshana, but always on his birthday. (As well as the night before his birthday. “Not everybody can fit at once,” he explains.) He always comes on Noboru’s birthday, and on Yoshimi’s birthday and on June 16, Tekka’s birthday. (All dates etched into his calendar.)

And always on Fridays, after 8:45 p.m., with his merry band of regulars.

And almost always that supersize slab of sashimi is too much for Shoshana. She walks her leftover fish into the back for Yoshimi to wrap, which she does, often in a real dish. “She knows we’ll bring it back,” says Dan. Shoshana likes to cook it up with butter for breakfast.

Sometimes she cooks for Noboru and Yoshimi, too. They love her turmeric-tinged roast chicken, which she’ll bring to them in a Tupperware container on request.

When Shoshana was going through breast cancer, she could barely eat anything at all. Sashimi would just stick to the roof of her dry mouth, she says. But she came anyway. Yoshimi made her broth. Noboru buoyed her spirit. Tekka nourished her soul.

“Dan and I might be fighting, and then as soon as we sit down, everything’s fine,” says Shoshana. “It’s like you walk through this door, and you’re in a different world.”

It’s like you’re in a different city. Or at least the city it used to be, before the $21 cocktails and the $1 million one-bedrooms and the $100 billion valuations. A city where an immigrant couple can run a true mom-and-pop restaurant on their own terms, and raise a family — and unintentionally create another one, that crosses cultures and countries and decades and bloodlines.

A city where almost anyone can afford an exclusive omakase experience in the chef’s kitchen. Well if, and really only if, you’re a regular.

Noboru and Yoshimi unabashedly play favorites, and no one faults them for it. “This place exists for them,” says Dan. True, every restaurant takes care of its regulars — but not all regulars take equal care of their restaurant, of the lives and livelihood of the people who run it.

It’s close to midnight by the time Dan and Shoshana get up to leave. Dan pulls a small wad of twenties from his wallet and bids Yoshimi and Noboru a long, Jewish goodbye at the door, as if it might be a while until they meet again. “OK, goodnight,” he says. “See you Friday.”

Rachel Levin is a Bay Area freelance writer. Twitter: @rachellevinsf Instagram: @offmenusf Email: food@sfchronicle.com

George McCalman is an artist and creative director based in San Francisco. Twitter/Instagram: @mccalmanco Email: food@sfchronicle.com

 

The Usual: Table 93 at Jardiniere

Welcome to The Usual, a new, irregular column about regulars in their restaurants — and the roles such places play in the lives of the people they feed. 

Jardiniere may have been the city’s preeminent pre-theater spot these past 21-plus years, but Fred and Terely Harrell never went for the 5 o’clock prix fixe — they went for each other.

Their first supper, of some 250, was back when their youngest of four kids was still in diapers. They didn’t take their kids, of course. Jardiniere, with its white linen and lush lighting, wasn’t that kind of place — which, of course, is why they picked it. “It felt like a date,” says Fred, senior pastor of progressive City Church.

Initially, the Harrells bounced around Hayes Valley’s two-tiered castle of modern French-California cuisine. They’d sit knee-to-knee and split a burger, or across from each other at a tad-drafty two-top, sharing the short ribs and a warm bread salad. Until one night, they were led up the carpeted stairs to Table 93, to a quiet booth in the back — and basically never left.

Well, except when Table 93 was occupied by other beloved regulars, like, say, Vija Hovgard: an 80-something, Bentley-driving ballet-lover who’s been coming for her Chopin on the rocks, and Jardiniere’s flawless service, since the start.

Jardiniere has a lot of regulars. Like opera singer Sara Colburn, who met her now-husband there 15 years ago one late night after rehearsal. And neighborhood hair salon owner Gene Hayes, who used to bartend down the block at the Ivy before it was Absinthe, and would come once a week for the warm bread salad and his “Genie Martini.” And symphony season ticket holders and wine industry-types and a disproportionate number of aging socialites. (For years, Denise Hale, in her sparkling chokers, was as much a fixture at the black marble, horseshoe bar as the Tiffany-style lamps lining it.)

Like all well-tuned fine-dining restaurants, Jardiniere’s staff knows its best guests: their drinks, their dishes, the proper pronunciation of their names (“Te-rel-ee,” they practiced). They know their likes and dislikes, their birthdays, their children’s birthdays — which were the only times, really, the Harrells would invite their brood. “Are you kidding?” laughs Fred. “We couldn’t afford to take teenagers to Jardiniere! They’d outeat us three times over!”

On Terely’s birthday, they’d amend the menu to read “Terely’s Quail,” because they knew it was her favorite. And on nights they knew the Harrells were coming in, but Fred’s short rib wasn’t, they’d be sure to have one on hand, just in case he wanted it. Which he always did. Sans the pomme puree, please. “I told them: ‘It just doesn’t work,’” Fred explained. “The potatoes turn too soupy.” Chef Traci Des Jardins later took it off the menu and started serving the short ribs with another setup. (“I don’t know, maybe it was because of me,” Fred ponders.)

Another thing the staff did on nights they knew the Harrells were coming in: cheer. Actual hoots and hollers during the pre-service meeting. Their son, Lucas, told them so.

Now in his 20s, inspired by his infrequent special-occasion meals, he’s grown up to be a chef, working the line at restaurants like Petit Crenn and Coi, where he fell for a co-worker a few years his senior: a former pastry chef at Jardiniere. She definitely made desserts devoured by her future boyfriend. And it’s likely she made the two dozen mini-macarons that Terely, a Cuban-born flan maker, once begged the kitchen to make her as toppers for a last-minute order for her catering company called What the Flan! “Yes,” says Terely. “The answer at Jardiniere is always ‘Yes.’”

One night over post-work cocktails at a bar full of San Francisco cooks, Lucas met a guy from Jardiniere, and another connection was made. “Whaaat? Your parents are the Harrells!?” the guy exclaimed, like they were real celebrities, not just in-house ones. “We love the Harrells.”

It’s a true love, and a mutual one. A rarity in the often fleeting, superficial exchanges between those who serve and those who sit. At some point, for the Harrells, hellos became hugs and “see you next times!” became “lets meet for lunch” (and discuss your boyfriend troubles and decorate your house and swap hairdressers). And once in a while, an otherwise not-inexpensive bill became a big fat $0. Like the time after Fred led a memorial for the homeless, and manager Mario dropped by and said, “Thank you. This one’s on us.”

Only once did the pastor walk in to the restaurant with his clerical collar still on, following a Black Lives Matter march — looking the part he already played. “I’ve always felt like the chaplain of Jardiniere,” he says. Talking. Listening. Welcoming staffers who’ve long felt unaccepted by the church, into his. Some for the first time, and often on Easter for the annual Sunday service he holds at Davies Symphony Hall. “I’ll look out at the crowd and see our server — our favorite human on the planet — sitting with Terely …”

He trails off and Terely picks up: “We know how much courage it takes him to be there,” she says through tears.

It’s all such a far cry from the requisite “I’ll have the chicken.” It’s what happens when a restaurant morphs into an institution, like Des Jardins’ refined brick fortress that we thought would never fall. It’s what happens when the life of a restaurant intertwines with actual lives.

Fred finds commonality between City Church and what he considers his other church, between Jardiniere’s hospitality and his philosophy as a pastor. “Both are about community and congregation, about creating a space where people feel welcome and cared for.” As the Harrells, and so many, have.

Two decades later, Fred and Terely are empty nesters; their kids are gone, and now so is their restaurant. “Nothing will replace it,” he says. Although, of course, something will.

“Jardiniere has been our place to talk, to be together,” he says. “A place important to our marriage — our literal investment in it.”

Upon hearing about Jardiniere’s Saturday, April 27, closure, a lot of people made one more reservation. The Harrells made a rash of them. Their last suppers.

The other night, sipping their go-to twin martinis (Old Raj, served up, with a twist, and four olives on the side), they surveyed the menu. “Hmm. They brought back the pomme puree,” Fred notices — and orders his short ribs with it. Just because.

 

 

Rachel Levin is a Bay Area freelance writer. Twitter: @rachellevinsf Instagram: @offmenusf Email: food@sfchronicle.com

George McCalman is an artist and creative director based in San Francisco. Twitter/Instagram: @mccalmanco Email: food@sfchronicle.com

Help! There’s a Bear in My Airbnb

Ann Bryant’s phone rings all season long. She has four phones, actually, in her Homewood, Calif., home office, and they ring 24 hours a day. “Sometimes all at once,” says the executive director of the Bear League, a community-based nonprofit that aims to educate the human public about their animal neighbors. Its tagline: “People living in harmony with bears.”

The thing is, though, people and bears are living not so harmoniously these days — which is why Bryant is busy. She operates what is basically a 911 service for people’s bear-related emergencies.

And in Lake Tahoe, people have a lot of bear-related emergencies. Home to some 300 bears in the summer months, the popular vacation area swells with second-homeowners and car-campers and Airbnb-ers, many of whom do not always understand the proper protocol for visiting bear country.

“Fifty percent of the time we coach idiots,” says Bryant. “I could tell you crazy stories all day.”

There was the guy who left a trail of cookies in his yard, leading into his living room, because he thought it would be fun to get a picture of a bear eating cookies on his couch watching TV. We had a father at a campground who put peanut butter on his child’s face then stood him next to a dumpster filled with food, and waited for a bear to come and lick it off so he could get a photograph of the bear “kissing” his kid. That sent us reeling. Another father, of an 8-year-old, put food in his daughter’s hand, then filmed her feeding a bear, like it was a dog. Bears are not dogs.

Shockingly no, but the parents should have gone to jail for endangering a child, and a bear. We don’t want people to get hurt, but we also don’t want bears to get hurt.

People don’t understand. They have a city mentality; they’ve grown so out of touch with the natural world. They come up here and they think it’s a controlled environment. Like a zoo. I’ve gotten calls from tourists asking: “What time do the bears come out?” Or, “Where can we go to see the bears?” Or they’ll say, “I just saw a bear in the woods behind our rental cabin. You need to come get it, and put it back in its crate.” I have to tell them: These are wild bears, and they’ve lived here long before we did. This is their home, too.

People leave dinner on the deck and trash cans in the driveway. So the bears come. Then those people leave, but the bear keeps coming back, because the previous guests fed him for the last four days! People come here to hike and water ski and have fun and they just don’t think about it. They go off to the beach and leave the door ajar, or a window open, and then they come home — or wake up — to a bear eating everything in the kitchen. They might remember to put the garbage in the bear bin, but then they’ll forget to lock their car. We had a big rampage recently of bears getting into unlocked cars. All it takes is a pack of gum in the console. A bear can open a door, like a human. Then the wind blows it shut, the bear gets stuck inside, and the car gets destroyed. Visitors might learn by the end of the week, but then they go home, and the new renters arrive. It’s an endless cycle of ignorance.

Bird feeders are the biggest culprits. Get rid of the bird feeder. If you feed the birds, you’re feeding the bears. A lot of older cabins are nothing more than cardboard boxes with single-pane windows. You need double-pane windows, solid doors, electric doormats — otherwise known as “unwelcome mats.”

It gets busier every summer. When I first started the Bear League 20 years ago, we’d get about five calls a day. Today, we get about 200 calls a day. People panicking — “A bear keeps coming into my backyard!” — and they don’t know what to do.

Or they’ll hear noises in their house and think it’s a bear. Or sometimes they’re upstairs sleeping and don’t realize until morning that a bear broke in. Bears break in to homes around the Tahoe Basin every single night.

I’ll head right over and check out the scene. If we get a case where there’s a bear on the premises and it won’t leave, it’s usually because it’s a mama with cubs. I’ll go and get everyone away, so she can get her cubs down from the tree safely. If there’s a bear under a deck, I’ll crawl under there to see what’s going on. Sometimes I’ll use a paintball gun to scare them off.

No, it’s the bears who are scared. I can read a bear’s mood, its body language and facial expressions. I know what a bear is thinking. I was a wildlife rehabber. I’ve dealt with all kinds of wildlife. Raccoons, squirrels, whatever animals are native. An injured pregnant porcupine once needed my help. I’ve raised Maude (pictured), since birth. She was born in my living room.

I can’t be everywhere! I have people, wildlife lovers all around the lake, who are trained to help. But if you see a bear on your deck, or hear noises and think there’s one in your house, just stomp and yell and bang. As soon as you do, the bear usually leaves. Black bears are big chickens. They’re really easy to chase off — just don’t get in their way.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.


Rachel Levin is a contributor to the Travel section and the author of “LOOK BIG: And Other Tips for Surviving Animal Encounters of All Kinds.”

A Big Change in Little Cottonwood Canyon

When Cassie Dippo’s family moved from the city of New York to the slopes of Alta, Utah, in 1965, she was 9 years old. The snow was dry and white and famously light and often so deep it reached well past her (and her father’s) waist.

There were four chairlifts. Lift tickets were $4.50. And lining the road up Little Cottonwood Canyon were five simple, family-run, ski-in/ski-out lodges, all opened between 1939 and 1962. All of which, a lifetime later, have remained essentially the same, in aesthetic and spirit and “modified American” meal plans.

“Honestly, not much has changed here since I was a kid,” said Ms. Dippo, now 63, who remains an owner of the TV-free Alta Lodge, her family’s property.

Until now. Fresh off a $50 million overhaul, the Snowpine Lodge reopens this week as Alta’s first-ever true luxury hotel. It appears to have everything any luxury ski hotel anywhere has — and a lot of things Alta, a world-class mountain with a $116 lift ticket and a whopping six chairlifts, intentionally, has never had.

Many of its 77 accommodations (including 19 dorm-style bunks) come with balconies, because unlike other lodges in the area, the Snowpine will be open year-round. There is a heated pool and full spa; an indoor “grotto” and outdoor hot tubs; and firepits, of course. And contrary to tradition, both the Gulch Pub, which will serve standard après-ski fare (wings, burgers, $14 cocktails) and Swen’s fine-dining restaurant, with a $42 Wagyu zabuton steak with duck fat potatoes, will be open to the public.

Snowpine’s opening winter rate for a standard king is $569 for two, and $780 with breakfast and dinner; Alta Lodge’s regular season rate is $500 for two, including meals.

Night life at Alta — about 25 miles from Salt Lake City and not much else — has always meant books and board games (or, after a day hiking Devil’s Castle, bed), but the new Snowpine brings activities: arcade games like Skee-Ball and 2-Minute Drill, karaoke and big-screen movies. Also, an oxygen bar.

 

The final touch: A new chairlift and ski valet to welcome home guests at the end of the day. “We’re offering a Deer Valley-type of lodging at Alta,” explained Robin Cohen, Snowpine’s longtime reservations manager. That statement alone is sure to make die-hard skiers like Alta loyalists, who refer to themselves as “Altaholics,” cringe.

Ms. Cohen admits she has mixed feelings about her new digs. “I’m old-fashioned; people should just ski so hard they eat and crash. I get it: with the world in such chaos, things that don’t change are comforting. But it was time,” she said. “I mean, we have elevators! And bellmen! I’m never going to have to carry luggage up all those stairs again.”

What had been the oldest, quirkiest, squattest structure in Alta (22 awkward rooms, warm cookies, rope tow) is now its newest, swankiest and tallest: six stories towering 25 feet above the road, the maximum permitted by local zoning regulations. The only things taller are the mountain peaks.

 “It’s massive. More massive than anyone anticipated,” said Tom Pollard, general manager of the Rustler, which previously laid claim to being Alta’s most luxurious lodge, with its heated pool and dining room with a wall of windows framing the mountain.(He used the word “massive,” or its synonyms, at least 10 times. Ms. Dippo used only one word to describe her first impression: “Whoa.”)

“It went from being a quaint little lodge to a massive Restoration Hardware,” said Mr. Pollard, who moved to Alta in 1981. “My wife says it looks just like every building in Vail.” As former mayor of Alta, he oversaw the Snowpine’s planning approval process. “I’ve been getting a lot of ‘How did you let this happen?’” he said.

“We’re still about fostering a communal vibe, that feeling of making friends that last a lifetime. What would really be drastic, would be if Vail Resorts came in and bought up Alta,” countered Ms. Cohen, nodding to the seemingly inexorable, industrywide trend of big corporations commandeering privately owned ski resorts, like Alta. “That’s what we’re all hoping to avoid.”

At a time when almost every mountain is building a mall-like village at its base, many say change like this was bound to happen, and that it is healthy for the long-term viability of the resort, which remains one of three in the U.S. to not allow snowboarders on its slopes. “The lodges have been resting on their laurels: their 60, 70, 80 percent return-rates,” said Connie Marshall, who ran Alta’s press office for a quarter-century before retiring last year. “This is a gauntlet thrown.”

She went on: “Millennials like my kids are looking for authenticity as much as older generations, but they also have expectations of, you know, getting a drink at a bar.”Image

Middle-aged skiers have expectations, too. “You’re talking to a 46-year-old guy who slept in a van last ski weekend,” said Brent Thill of Mill Valley, Calif. A fan of the old Snowpine, he and his family are excited about the new one. “I mean, no one wants Aspen at Alta,” he said, “but it’s smart to stay with the times. Hopefully they can preserve the charm without bringing the one-piece Bogners,” referring to the expensive ski suits popular at flashier mountains.

Every winter, Anne Williams, from Boston, stays at the Rustler with the same group of women. It costs about the same per night as the Snowpine. (Snowpine said its pricing is intentionally on par with the Rustler this season.) Still, she has no interest in cheating on her lodge. “Swank is my choice for a spa retreat, but when it comes to skiing, I’m a traditionalist. Maybe it was all those Warren Miller films, but I want wall-to-wall carpeting, too much brown, a circular fireplace,” she said. And great service, which the Rustler prides itself on.

“A ski getaway should give you a cozy-sweater feel that a shiny new hotel doesn’t,” added Ms. Williams. “But — I may sneak out to the karaoke bar.”

What every Altaholic wants — no matter where they choose to sleep — is for Alta to, always, remain Alta.

“Am I excited about the new Snowpine? No. But there’s a happy grittiness to people who go to Alta. A fancy hotel can’t break that,” said Troy Rothwell, who proposed to his wife at Alta and even named his dog Alta.

“No one goes to be seen,” he said. They go to ski. “You’re never going to get the people with fur around their collars.”

Taming the Beast in Your Basement

“I get lot of calls about animals in pools,” said Ray Hartley. “Squirrels in pools. Skunks in pools. Usually I tell people, ‘You don’t need me. You’ve got a skimmer, just gently scoop it up!’ ” Recently, though, a woman rang about a deer in her pool.

“That was a first,” said Mr. Hartley, owner of Intrepid Wildlife Services in Westchester County, N.Y. His tagline: “Your castle shouldn’t be a zoo.”

We can deal with pesky seagulls on the beach. But when it comes to raccoons in our chimney, chipmunks in our yard and bats in our bedroom, we human beings are helpless, especially in this era of Uber-Insta-On-Demand everything. Why would we handle a snake in our garage when we don’t even hand-select our own groceries?

Mr. Hartley is one of a growing breed of professional critter gitters—also known as nuisance-wildlife-control operators. They are a fearless group of (mostly) men willing to rescue us from wildlife that has gotten in our way. (Or is it vice versa?)

“It blows my mind what people pay me to do,” said Mr. Hartley.

And lately people have been paying for woodchucks—starting at $400 for up to four visits. Woodchucks, or groundhogs, tear up the lawn, burrow tunnels, erode the foundation and eat away at the electrical. “I jumped, like, 250% on woodchucks!” he said. “Been jamming on squirrels, too.”

And last summer—every summer—bats, 24/7. Bats in toasters. Bats in washing machines. “Bats and squirrels are my bread and buttah,” he said, joking.

He fields anywhere from 200 to 300 frantic calls a month,he said. Winter (mating skunks), spring (flying squirrels), summer (rabid bats) or fall (den-seeking raccoons), all you’ve got to do is call. Whether it’s two in the afternoon, or four in the morning—he’ll rush over in his Toyota Tundra Rock Warrior. And charge accordingly.

Mr. Hartley, 53, got his start snaring beaver and catching coyotes in the 1990s in rural New Hampshire—long before the industry had formal training and Facebook groups and national conferences. He was pretty much a lone wolf back then, self-taught, aided by a bimonthly magazine called Wildlife Control Technology and his buddy’s VHS: “Snaring Beaver Alive.”

“The farmers loved me,” he recalled.

They paid him in bushels of corn and bottles of maple syrup. But he didn’t love New Hampshire. “Too many do-it-yourselfers,” he said. “Business is way better in Westchester.” (Plus, people there pay cash.)

Business is booming, said many of the wildlife-control operators who attended last year’s Wildlife Expo in New Orleans, which had a record turnout and offered programs such as “Zoonotic Disease: What You Wish You Didn’t Have to Know” and infrared rat tours of downtown. The annual industry event is put on by the National Pest Management and the National Wildlife Control Operators associations.

“The industry has grown exponentially,” said Mike Tucker, 60, who has been chasing squirrels in Minneapolis for 40 years. He and Mr. Hartley stood on the second floor of Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel & Casino surrounded by furry replicas of rats and cans of Critter Ridder repellent.

“It’s urbanization,” explained Mr. Tucker, sporting a navy “Wildlife Removal Services” cap. “We’ve made it more hospitable for animals. Sleeping under a porch is cozier than sleeping under a rock. We put out our birdfeeders… We house them, we feed them, and then we complain about them!”

As city populations surge and developers push into previously uninhabited areas, humans and wildlife are interacting more. And more interaction means more conflict. “People are used to having a pool guy and a landscape guy, now they need a raccoon guy,” said Mr. Tucker.

As an industry veteran, Mr. Hartley led a conference session called, “Preparing for the Unexpected Jobs.” He showed a video of himself pulling a growling raccoon out of a client’s bathroom wall by (gloved) hand, then wrangling it into a steel Tomahawk Live Trap. “That’s how we do it, folks!” he said.

The crowd cheered.

Escorting out uninvited guests is a big part of the gig, but so is sealing up entry points and installing devices such as chimney caps to prevent home invasions in the first place.

Educating clients is, too. “People call up all the time saying, ‘Oh my God. There’s a coyote in my backyard!’ ” said Mr. Hartley. “I’m like, ‘Yup, that’s nature. Call me if it gets aggressive.’”

Added Mr. Tucker: “Customers are clueless. A guy once demanded I find the squirrel eggs in his attic. He was from New Jersey. Not that that matters.”

Rates range, uh, wildly, depending on animal and location, urgency, severity and number of visits required. A middle-of-the-night bat call in Chappaqua might be $325; a midday squirrel call, minimum $485; a raccoon eviction in San Francisco, $140 for an inspection and $400 for Junio Costa—aka Mr. Raccoon—to, say, catch pole one feasting in your kitchen.

Most wildlife-control operators do it all—snakes, squirrels, skunks—but they often have a soft spot for certain animals. Keith Markun, owner of Beast Wildlife Solutions in St. Paul, Minn., likes working with birds and bats, and has a bat colony etched on his arms to prove it.

Jimmy Hunter, of Nashville, has seen an influx of armadillos. And Gregg Schumaker is all about skunks. He calls himself the Skunk Whisperer of Northern Michigan, where he removes some 200 a year from vacation homes and high-end hotels. He also has a skunk as a pet. His name is Tybalt, like the Shakespeare character, and he is allowed to sit on the couch.

“I like the smell of the spray,” Mr. Schumaker admitted. “A lot of people do.”

Newbie Dan Bailey, 24, with a degree in wildlife biology, handles a lot of snakes in New England. Once, he removed a 2-foot-long milk snake from a nail salon. “That was fun!” he said at the expo, beaming beside a stack of pigeon birth-control pamphlets.

It may take time for him to learn what Mr. Hartley and his peers confirmed after decades of house calls. What’s the craziest animal they’ve ever dealt with?

They replied in unison: “People.”

Rachel Levin is the author of “LOOK BIG: And Other Tips for Surviving Animal Encounters of All Kinds.”

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