Firefly Restaurant’s Story
In 1993 Brad Levy and Veva Edelson were working at Embarko Restaurant. Brad was a frustrated chef, and Veva was a frustrated artist and line cook. Both shared the dream of a restaurant where the food was great, the service attentive, and the atmosphere magical; a place where the employees were interesting and kind people who were encouraged to be themselves and offer a genuinely great dining experience. They dreamed of a restaurant where the customers felt like they were at a friend’s house for dinner, and that friend just happened to be a great cook. Brad and Veva were indeed dreamers, but more importantly, they were inexperienced and naïve enough to believe they could actually pull it off.
They began searching for a place with a stove and room for some tables and chairs. What else could you need? They already had a name. After weeks of constant brainstorming and countless bad restaurant names, Brad called Veva one night and said “Firefly?” and both immediately knew that it was perfect. They walked into the restaurant known as La Roca, which in its prime was a bustling, immensely popular Latin seafood restaurant. But under different ownership, it was nearly empty every night. Both Brad and Veva really liked the setting, nestled in the blustery far-reaching outskirts, away from what most people perceive as Noe Valley. After looking around for about two minutes, Brad was ready to walk out. This was one ugly restaurant! Veva took out her sketchpad and began making some little scribble drawings. Brad said, “let’s go”. Veva said, “it could work”. Besides, it was the only place they had seen that they could afford to buy.
With a few dollars left over and a couple of talented friends, they began the work of creating a dream out of a nightmare. With Veva’s resourceful vision, the dining room became a land of comfort and whimsy. With Brad’s dogged determination, the layers of caked on grease were stripped off and the ancient cooking equipment was resuscitated.
On Nov 3, 1993, Firefly invited their friends and family to a run-through night. They ran out of most of the food by eight o’clock; napkins and menus alike caught fire from the open flames burning on the tabletops; Brad’s parents were aghast that when the bathroom door was opened, you could see inside it from the tables. The following day, Brad was thinking, “what have I done?” while Veva was hanging a regal velvet curtain to block the view to the bathroom.
Many Friends and even family were hired because Brad and Veva thought it would be so great to be surrounded by loved ones, working together to bring magic into a brief moment in their customers’ hectic lives. After a couple of weeks, they decided it would be better to hire people who actually knew what they were doing, but also the kind of people who they wanted to become their friends and family. Most of our employees over our 23-year history have become our family, and even when they move on to pursue their dreams, they remain an integral part of the spirit of our restaurant.
When they were looking for a restaurant, Brad and Veva were thinking that 20 seats would be nice. Then they could cook everything themselves, serve everyone themselves, and then clean up when they were done for the night. Veva would hand make all the plates and tableware, and there would even be particular plates designed for specific menu items. Suddenly they found themselves with a sixty-seat restaurant and no management experience between them. They discovered that people don’t just automatically do what you want them to without asking them. Or often even WITH asking them. They found that not all people are honest or trustworthy. They wanted to love ALL the customers and then found artwork missing from the bathroom at the end of the night. They found that when an employee didn’t show up for work, they had to work, no matter how much they had been working already. They found that often the day would leave them feeling like there was no way to go on.
But then, they began to see how beautiful their restaurant was. They felt what it was like to be appreciated by those they served. They had created a family, with all the good and bad that comes with it, and that had made it worthwhile.
Now Firefly has reached adulthood, but we continue to grow and learn.
Jay Beaman is our manager/wine savant/liaison to both the word of culture and the world of technology/weird (but favorite) uncle/conscience. His dedication to service and his unbridled passion for all that is good make a seat at the bar for dinner at Firefly the best seat in town.
Our Chef de Cuisine is Haley Sausner, who came to Firefly years ago as a humble line cook, and has now grown into a culinary force to be reckoned with. The joy and dedication she brings to her craft has energized the entire restaurant. There is no one in the universe who cares more about whether you enjoy your meal at Firefly, including you, yourself. We apologize in advance when she appears beside your table grinning wildly at the prospect of hearing that you enjoyed what she prepared especially for you.
It would be criminally negligent not to mention the dream world of magic (think unicorns and rainbows) flying out of the mind of our gifted pastry chef, Debbie Hughes. Always deftly balancing the warm comfort of tradition and the toe-tingling thrill of the new, Debbie is sure to bring your meal to the soft, glowy close afforded only by the best desserts.
Brad’s wife, Jennifer, joined the management team as Firefly’s bookkeeper and overall voice of reason. She is our anchor, our mast, and somehow manages to hold everything together no matter how hard the rest of us try to screw things up. She also does math so we don’t have to. But perhaps the greatest additions to the Firefly team are Brad and Jennifer’s daughters, Essie (10) and Elisha (8). Essie has already begun her restaurant management training and is feeling quite comfortable directing the staff to execute her vision of the perfect restaurant, which for now just means that everyone does whatever Essie wants them to do. Elisha is already the perfect host, making everyone feel welcome and loved.
At 23 years old, we’d like to say that we’re now all grown up. But, as with many 23 year olds, it’s just not the case. Sometimes it feels like we reinvent ourselves every day (as one often does in their 20’s), adapting to the realities of operating a restaurant in San Francisco in 2016, adapting to our evolving palates as well as the ever evolving palates of our neighbors and a constant re-evaluation of why we’re here (again, have you ever been 23 years old?). How can we be better stewards of the environment? Better citizens of the culinary community, Noe Valley, San Francisco, the world? Sometimes we know, sometimes we don’t. Come by and tell us how we’re doing.