Part of Bernal Cutlery has been turned into a “mission-driven pantry.” (Photo/Molly DeCoudreaux)
Part of Bernal Cutlery has been turned into a “mission-driven pantry.” (Photo/Molly DeCoudreaux)

Bernal Cutlery adds ‘mission-driven pantry’; Hanukkah food events; etc.

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

Thirsty Bear, a favorite hangout for lovers of organic, craft beer and tapas in SoMa, quietly closed last month after 25 years in business.

Opened in September 1996, in its heyday it was an after-work hangout for many. (This columnist, in fact, remembers meeting a friend there shortly after moving to the Bay in 2000 to be a J. staff writer.)

Thirsty Bear was recognized for its commitment to sustainability, being the first brewery in the area to brew beer from organic ingredients and be certified as a green business.

“While it wasn’t the hotspot it used to be, we were still doing fine before the pandemic,” said owner Ron Silberstein, Jewish beer impresario.

Silberstein took advantage of the PPP loans in the early days of the pandemic, but without the tourists, conventions and office workers, business has been slow, to say the least.

a smiling man holds a beer in one hand and a handful of grain in the other
Thirsty Bear’s 25-year owner-brewer Ron Silberstein will be putting his energy into malting barley.

Given that “we never distributed our beer, nor did we have room for a canning line, and our food was meant to be eaten here, we didn’t have the right infrastructure to pivot,” he said. “My decision was made for me.”

While he is looking to sell Thirsty Bear, Silberstein is not out of the beer business — far from it, in fact. All of his energies will now go to Admiral Maltings in Alameda, which he describes as “the first malting barley facility to open in California since before Prohibition.”

Yet another restaurant affected by its downtown location is Bluestem Brasserie, which announced a significant change when it reopened this month. Owned by Jewish restaurateur Adam Jed and his wife, Stacy, it’s now got a new name and concept called Bluestem Restaurant & Market. In addition to the restaurant and bar is a retail market, a few items influenced by “Jewish culinary tradition” (like chicken liver), and from Jewish pastry chef Lori Banker a cinnamon crunch babka muffin. Guests can order by mobile device if they prefer, and either dine in or find high-quality prepared foods to-go for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including cocktails. Bluestem Restaurant & Market is also worth knowing about since it’s right next to the Contemporary Jewish Museum, at 1 Yerba Buena Lane, S.F.

The Jewish owners of Bernal Cutlery have turned part of their knife shop into a “mission-driven pantry,” with $1 from each transaction going toward Zero Foodprint, a nonprofit started by Karen Leibowitz (whom we wrote about in 2016) and her husband, Anthony Myint, to address climate change. The pantry is stocked with items that come from artisanal producers; all either have a commitment to ethical sourcing and/or are people the owners or head buyer know personally.

“We tend to be moved by either our principles, or the heart, or are spiritually motivated,” said Kelly Kozak, who runs the store with her husband, Josh Donald (we wrote about them recently when they began offering sharpening for kosher knives).

Josh Donald is co-owner of Bernal Cutlery, the only place in the Bay Area certified to sharpen knives for use in kosher kitchens.
Josh Donald is co-owner of Bernal Cutlery, the only place in the Bay Area certified to sharpen knives for use in kosher kitchens.

The pantry was dreamt up during the darkest days of the pandemic, when Kozak was fretting over how to pay her employees.

“I was doing a lot of practical things then, like helping my staff get connected to unemployment, but I tried to see this as an opportunity, and working on this gave me something positive to focus on,” said Kozak.

The pantry makes an excellent place to buy holiday gifts for your food-loving friends. It’s at 766 Valencia St., S.F.

Two food-centric Hanukkah events caught my eye. The first is a mochi doughnut-making workshop sponsored by the interfaith organization 18 Doors, led by Kristin Eriko Posner, whom we’ve written about before. Posner, who lives in San Francisco, is the founder of Nourish, a lifestyle brand that encourages multicultural families like hers to create their own new rituals. Posner can often be found in her kitchen, creating new recipes that combine her love for Japanese and Jewish foods, and the mochi doughnuts are the latest one. The workshop will be at 5 p.m. on Dec. 2 on Zoom, for $18.

The second is an olive-oil tasting happening in Berkeley, sponsored by the young adults group at Congregation Netivot Shalom and put on by a member of that group, Yael Cohen, founder of the food blog Nosherium. Cohen has invited olive-oil expert Roberta Klugman, whom we’ve written about here, to select the oils. The tasting will be done outside in the synagogue courtyard on Dec. 5 at 5 p.m. Vaccination cards will be checked, and masks must be worn while not tasting. The event is free, and people can sign up by RSVPing 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."