Owner of carnival-themed restaurant has a second high-wire act: Outside Lands

Outside Lands in San Francisco bills itself as the world’s first gourmet music festival. While taking in Paul McCartney or the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Aug. 9-11 concert weekend, attendees could enjoy stadium-type fare such as hot dogs and nachos. But no overboiled franks or stale chips with Dayglo orange glop posing as cheese are found at this festival — no way. At Outside Lands, the nachos are Malaysian, and the hot dogs are 100 percent grass-fed.

Ari Feingold has been coordinating the food vendors for Outside Lands for four years, and during his tenure the number of local food businesses represented has risen from 50 percent to 95 percent.

Mainly, Feingold looks for the food options to reflect the city’s culinary diversity. While some foodie destinations like Rich Table and Namu Gaji participate, so do smaller vendors like food trucks and pop-ups.

“I try to make it a cross-cultural epicenter of the Bay Area’s culinary scene,” he said.

While coordinating something of this magnitude is a “huge amount of work,” Feingold said, “I look forward to it every year. I’m working with such talented and interesting people. All of these small-business owners are doing creative things, and putting on an event like this is really special. It’s rewarding in a way I’ve never experienced in anything else I’ve ever done.”

And Feingold has done a lot, when it comes to the local food scene. In addition to his role at Outside Lands, the 33-year-old is a co-owner of Straw, the carnival-themed restaurant in Hayes Valley.

He started in the food business when he was just 15. Raised in a kosher home in Philadelphia, where he attended Jewish day school, Feingold began busing tables at a neighborhood Italian restaurant when he was in high school. While attending the University of Maryland, he worked in a variety of restaurant jobs: dishwashing, fry cook, sauté cook, manager.

Ari Feingold

He moved to San Francisco shortly after graduating and did some b’nai mitzvah tutoring while working with at-risk youth. But he wasn’t earning enough to pay the bills, so he began tending bar and doing miscellaneous restaurant work in the evenings. He briefly considered law school before realizing he was better suited to the industry he began working in as a teenager.

“Instead of looking outside the restaurant industry for my next thing, I realized that maybe I should make a career in it,” Feingold said.

He opened Straw almost three years ago. The restaurant now has several co-owners (including Feingold and a friend who works at Google), but Feingold is the one who manages it. “I do a little of everything,” he said, from helping with catering to working the line. “I cook much more than your average owner. I love cooking; that’s how this all started.”

Feingold’s wife, Maura, is the marketing director for the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, and has employed her marketing savvy to benefit the restaurant. Straw has gotten a lot of attention for its theme. “I thought it would be cool to base a restaurant on an emotion rather than a cuisine,” he said, “and to have the vibe of an outdoor festival or carnival, as I’ve always loved carnivals.”

The menu features a hamburger on a doughnut-bun — people scoffed at first, but now it’s widely copied, Feingold said — and a prize-winning peanut butter bacon mousse pie. He sent news of the award to his mother with a note: “Sorry, Mom.”

Everyone’s parents flew out to the restaurant’s opening party and have been nothing but supportive, Feingold said. At the same time, “after the restaurant was proving to be successful, all our parents admitted they were frightened we were going to lose everything.”

Straw is doing fine, Feingold said. Not only does it give 10 percent of its proceeds every Monday night to a local nonprofit — the restaurant has donated more than $10,000 to 30 nonprofits to date — but with the help of Hebrew Free Loan, another restaurant is in the works.

SAY CHEESE: Lauren and Jon Bowne have been busy since appearing in a j. profile of Jewish food pop-ups in 2010, when they operated the food cart Pearl’s Kitchen, selling such Jewish classics as brisket and kugel. Since then, they had a baby, moved to Valley Ford in western Sonoma County and started their own cheese company.

Lauren and Jon Bowne with their latest product: Gypsy Cheese photo/alix wall

Lauren is mostly at home with their son and Jon telecommutes to his law job while they work together on the new venture, Gypsy Cheese. They’ve begun selling at the Point Reyes Farmers Market.

Lauren, who grew up in Novato, said she’s loved cheese since she was a child     and once worked a stint in Whole Foods’ cheese department.

“Cheese is not something people think they can make; [they see it as] a magical substance that gets created in a creamery. It’s the last frontier of home self-sufficiency,” she said. “People will can, or make jam, and cure their own meats, but cheese is harder for some reason. It’s chemistry and it’s intimidating.”

The Bownes never tried to make it, either, until they apprenticed with master cheesemaker Patty Karlin in Bodega Bay and joined the small cadre of North Bay cheesemakers. You can find out more by following them on [email protected]

FOOD LESSONS: Campers at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City learned about food justice and hunger as part of camp this year, helping to grow food for the needy.

Gan Tzedek, or the Justice Garden, has been growing food for InnVision Shelter Network, a local nonprofit working to end homelessness in San Mateo County. Since the first planting in April, more than 400 pounds of organic produce have been provided to InnVision.

“Most of the children in our program do not have to worry about where their next meal will come from,” said Stephanie Levin, PJCC director of programs. “The garden is a tangible way for them to learn about issues of hunger and food justice in our community.”

On Oct. 20, the PJCC will be holding an event to celebrate the launch of the garden as well as other aspects of its new, multi-pronged “Grow Justice: Fight Hunger” initiative.

Alix Wall is a personal chef in the East Bay and beyond. Her website is www.theorganicepicure.com. Send story ideas to [email protected]

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."