A view through Red Window's titular red window. (Photo/Mark Fiorito-Gamma Nine Photography)
A view through Red Window's titular red window. (Photo/Mark Fiorito-Gamma Nine Photography)

For this chef, when a door closed, a Red Window opened

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Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

Chef Adam Rosenblum was in Spain with his wife on a research trip in March 2020 in anticipation of opening his San Francisco restaurant when everything shut down.

With their two kids at home with their grandparents, “we had to cut my trip short before they closed the borders,” he said.

While it took longer than planned, Red Window is finally open, bringing Spanish tapas and low-proof cocktails to the historically Italian neighborhood of North Beach. As opposed to traditional cocktails made with spirits such as vodka or gin, low-proof cocktails are made with lower-proof spirits only, such as Amaro, vermouth or sherry.

The restaurant is in a prime location on Columbus Avenue, a block from Washington Square Park. Most of the seating is outside in parklets.

Rosenblum and his partner, Elmer Mejicanos, had planned to launch Little Red Window after the restaurant, featuring eight kinds of empanadas and other takeout fare, along with low-proof cocktails to go, but the pandemic changed the order of their plans. With takeout as the only option for months, Little Red Window became the initial introduction to the neighborhood.

Red Window chef Adam Rosenblum (right) and partner Elmer Mejicanos. (Photo/Mark Fiorito Photography)
Red Window chef Adam Rosenblum (right) and partner Elmer Mejicanos. (Photo/Mark Fiorito-Gamma Nine Photography)

Rosenblum, 39, is from the Jewish D.C. suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland. Though he had a bar mitzvah, his family wasn’t very observant.

“My parents used Judaism more to teach my brother and I good morals,” he said. “That’s really what I took away from our religious participation growing up.”

While Rosenblum admits he is “wildly biased,” he says his mother was known for her home-baked challah and was always asked to bring it to every holiday dinner. Jewish dishes such as pot roast and chicken soup were mainstays in his household.

“I’m very fortunate that I came from a home where we had a home-cooked dinner together most nights,” he said. “I have fond memories of that, and feel that it really played a role in my style, and that I got that first appreciation for food from my mom.”

Rosenblum had his first restaurant job as a dishwasher at age 15 in Silver Spring, and something clicked for him right away. He attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., after graduating from high school, and then worked in kitchens in New Orleans, Arkansas, New Jersey and Maryland before moving to the Bay Area to work at San Francisco’s Flour + Water in 2013.

In 2014, he went out on his own and became executive chef at Causwells, a bistro in the Marina that has proven to have staying power, even during the pandemic.

A spread from Red Window. (Photo/Mark Fiorito Photography)
A spread from Red Window. (Photo/Mark Fiorito-Gamma Nine Photography)

“There wasn’t time to figure things out in the reality we were in, and so we quickly made decisions. We thought about what was important to us, and we didn’t have to furlough our entire staff. We knew our Latinx workers would not be able to get benefits or support.”

Causwells managed to stay open during the early days of the pandemic, which Rosenblum attributes to a few things.

“It was challenging, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “It’s not something I’ve even been able to fully process. What’s gotten me to where I am today is that I see a job that needs to get done and I do it, and I looked at this pandemic in the same way.”

As chef/owner, Rosenblum felt responsible for the 32 employees on the Causwells payroll at the time. In some ways, he said, it was his famous burger that saved them. (It has made many best-burger lists.)

“I’m really happy with the way we pivoted and the decisions we made,” he said. “If we didn’t have the support behind our burger that we did, none of this would have mattered; we were very fortunate our burgers were already known and people knew how to find them online.”

Signing up with the SF New Deal in its infancy was another decision that helped him stay open; the nonprofit was launched to help restaurants and other small businesses during the pandemic. Rosenblum has stayed involved with the group since.

It’s still a bit too early to fully process what he’s been through as a restaurateur in the last year, Rosenblum said. But he feels grateful that with the right team in place, and support from his wife, he was able to provide for his employees and that loyal customers stuck by them.

“At Causwells, we’ve been fortunate with our guests being respectful of our rules,” he said. “We’ve been overly communicative with our guests about how the dining experience will go, and we had to ask maybe one or two tables to leave. But overall, we created an environment in which both our staff and guests knew how they were supposed to act.”

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."