I Left My Heart In San Francisco

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By Alexis Chavez | Photos by Hemali Zaveri

Eager to break into the restaurant industry, twenty-something Robin left the fashion and home
design industry in New York City to set her sights on the burgeoning foodie culture back home in
Marin. Armed with a passion for food and wine, but not many connections in the Bay Area, Kirby took
matters into her own hands, with a sense of ambition that continues to
propel her through life.

One cold call to the management at Buckeye Roadhouse in Marin led to an
interview with Patrick Coll, the opening general manager and now managing partner of Marinitas.
Sitting across from the gruff Irishman, Kirby was well aware that the two could not be from more
different worlds. “I think he took one look at me and thought, ‘You don’t get your hands dirty,’”
she remembers. This was 1993. The two would eventually work together in other ventures, and Kirby
knew she would have to work hard to prove herself, a lesson she never forgot.

Originally from New York, Kirby moved out west with her family when she was nine. The move to
California in the ’70s introduced her family to healthy eating, while the proximity to wine
country helped them cultivate a taste for wine, which Kirby would eventually inherit.

Living on the west coast inspired Kirby’s family to explore this half of the country. The family
would camp and travel, instilling a sense of adventure in her at a young age. When she was in her
teens, Kirby’s father left his corporate executive job to start his own venture capital firm.
Watching him take risks in business was inspiring for Kirby, who rarely shies away from trying
something new.

Throughout the mid-’90s, she managed multiple restaurants in the Napa Valley and the Bay Area,
helped open Plump Jack Winery, and worked with old friend Patrick Coll on a venture with Gap Inc.
until 2001. When the two left Gap,
they had planned to open a restaurant together, but after September 11,
plans came to a screeching halt. “Suddenly opening a restaurant seemed completely unimportant in
the grand scheme of things; meanwhile, investors were being financially conservative,” she says.

While trying to figure out her next career move, plans for Kirby and her
then-boyfriend-now-husband, Paul Kirby, turned personal. The two decided to start a family, and
Paul had an epiphany—for Kirby to work with him at Kokkari Estiatorio. Although they initially met
in the industry, she was hesitant to work together.

It’s been twelve years since they made that decision, and the two not only work together, but also
are proud parents of their eight-year-old daughter, Erin. These days, Kirby is a manager at
Kokkari, while Paul is managing partner of both Kokkari and sister restaurant Evvia Estiatorio in
Palo Alto.

Nestled in a brick building on the old Barbary Coast for the last 16 years, Kokkari thrives by
staying true to their mission, an extension of what the Greeks call filoxenia—providing a
good meal with warm service in a beautiful and welcoming environment. This spirit of generous
“what’s mine is yours,” is essential to Greek culture and part of what keeps customers, old and
new, from all over the world and up the street, coming in.

The familial feel isn’t coincidental either. Kirby’s husband has been at Kokkari since 2000, while
managers Dimitrios Kalessis and Doug Dietz have been there for eight and fifteen years,
respectively, an unusual feat in the restaurant world. The atmosphere of family that Kirby, her
husband, and their restaurant team have created extends to each customer, creating an ethos of
community within an international city. “There is a culture we have created that has not changed,”
she says. “And I think that’s wonderful for a place, to have that sort of permanency and roots.”

Driven by the idea of nurturing customers and creating special moments, a Greek restaurant is a
natural fit for Kirby. Yet despite having settled down, she hasn’t lost her sense of adventure.
Always up for a challenge and opportunity to learn, Kirby is considering the possibility of
starting a new venture in the near future.

“We would love to open up another restaurant. It’s important to us that whatever we choose, the
strength of our concept will not be compromised,” she excitedly says. “But it’s time for us to
share something else with the
Bay Area.”

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