We’re speaking to the restaurateurs behind local eateries in advance of our third annual Peninsula Restaurant Week May 19-27. This is the third and final interview in this year's series; the first was a Q&A with Geoffroy Raby, owner of Cuisinett Bistro & Market in downtown San Carlos, and last week I spoke with Sandra Ferer, executive manager and co-owner of Ristorante Carpaccio in Menlo Park.
For more information about Peninsula Restaurant Week, visit peninsularestaurantweek.com.
Open since 2014, Local Union 271 in downtown Palo Alto offers seasonal farm-to-table fare that highlights local ingredients, including burgers, soups and salads, gluten-free Healthy Bowls and fresh pasta from Redwood City-based Saporito Pasta. The restaurant also offers brunch daily until 3 p.m., with dishes ranging from eggs Benedict and chilaquiles to a breakfast mac n’ cheese skillet. A full drinks menu includes beer, wine and non-alcoholic refreshers, along with a seasonal sangria, slushy and cocktails like The Perfect Spring (Tito’s vodka, lychee puree, Aperol and fresh lime) or Liquid Lilac (fresh lemon, rhubarb liquor, local raw honey and lavender tea-infused Bar Hill gin).
For Peninsula Restaurant Week, it's offering a $29 lunch or $49 dinner prix-fixe menu with choice of beverage, starter and dessert. Dishes include vegan lemongrass curry, spring linguine carbonara and an ahi poke-style bowl, among others.
Local Union 271 is one of several eateries owned by restaurateur Steve Sinchek, who also owned The Old Pro and Dan Gordon's.
I met with Nur Zayed, the restaurant’s general manager, and controller Clayton Adelhelm during a bustling lunchtime at the University Avenue eatery. Adelhelm has been working with Sinchek’s restaurant group since 2014, while Zayed has been working at the restaurant for about a year. With Peninsula Restaurant Week approaching, we discussed the restaurant's must-try dishes, how it weathered the pandemic and the state of the Peninsula dining scene.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Peninsula Foodist: Can you tell me a little bit about yourselves and Local Union 271?
Nur Zayed: I grew up in the food industry and started working in the bustling city of New York. For family reasons, I moved out here and worked for a French Vietnamese fine restaurant in San Francisco, Le Colonial, for 12 years. I got tired of wearing a suit and tie every day. I lived in San Mateo for a while right before I moved to New York. It was coming back home.
Clayton Adelhelm: I was working at a law firm in Redwood Shores and was bartending at night. I ended up meeting Steve (Sinchek). He was on the other side of the bar and told me that he needed some help. I came in and he hired me the next day. I've been doing all his financials for about 10 years now. It's been a long time. We've opened up a couple of restaurants and we closed down a couple restaurants. We just recently opened one in Florida.
Peninsula Foodist: Many restaurants have had a really hard time in the last few years through COVID. What are some of the things that you have done to adapt?
Clayton Adelhelm: During the pandemic, we took advantage of a lot of government loans. That kept us afloat for a while. We really relied on takeout and catering. That helped us out a lot during the pandemic. Expanding our space, adding a parklet helped us out tremendously. Really just focusing on what we do well: fresh local ingredients.
We've ended up losing two restaurants. We lost Dan Gordon's and also The Old Pro. We ended up taking our money and putting a restaurant in Florida just because it's wide open and has no restrictions. Employment numbers are much higher. It was really hard to even get employees during COVID. Now, everyone's come back to work, but those first two years we couldn't get anyone. It was rough. I was helping wait tables and bartending.
Peninsula Foodist: Are there any particular customers or groups that you're trying to reach out to?
Nur Zayed: Our restaurant name is Local Union. So our goal is to go to the locals. The challenging thing is there's a lot of companies working from home, which has affected our lunch.
Clayton Adelhelm: Pre-COVID, we had big, multi-thousand dollar catering orders going out every single day. And all of these offices out here, they're just not back. That's hurt us a lot.
Nur Zayed: Stanford is a good client of ours. Meta was actually doing very well before now. Right after the layoffs they are trying to lay low on spending. There's all this tech, we just want to go reach those crowds. We want to have our local frequent diners as well.
Peninsula Foodist: I've definitely been hearing that restaurants around here have been impacted by declining lunch orders.
Clayton Adelhelm: I would say we're down 80% from pre-COVID to now, what we used to do on lunches. We would have catering orders going out to all of these businesses. We get them once once a week – we used to get them every single day. And those are big orders -- that carries your sales, when you can do a good $4,000 to-go order for someone downtown, you can really boost your sales. They just don't happen anymore. And the cost of everything is going up. Produce is up 30%; labor, they're increasing that every year; rent is going up. It's really, really hard.
Peninsula Foodist: What do you have planned for Peninsula Restaurant Week?
Nur Zayed: For dinner we are doing a $49 per person three-course menu. We are featuring our very special house tomato soup. And then we'll have a mixed green salad with rustic avocado toast. The guests will have a choice of beverages. For dinner they can have a house red wine or white wine with our spring sangria made by our bartender from scratch. Also, we will do a piña colada slushy. They will have one of the entree choices followed by a dessert choice. For lunch, we try not to offer any kind of alcoholic beverages, but we have homemade strawberry lemonade and house-brewed iced tea or they can have one of our 0% mocktails followed by a starter and entree.
Peninsula Foodist: Are there any other menu items or things that you want to highlight? What are some of the dishes that to try while you're here?
Nur Zayed: We start from scratch and we try to focus on seasonal foods. We change our menu seasonally. Item-wise, our tacos are very well known for (being) organic and gluten-free. A lot of vegan and dietary-restricted people are guests that enjoy our Buddha bowl, it's one of our top-selling items because it's vegan and gluten-free. My personal favorite is the lemongrass curry. One thing that I hate is our burger because I'm gaining weight. Our burger is made with local free-range meat.
Peninsula Foodist: When you think about restaurants and dining on the Peninsula, is that something you have optimism or concerns about?
Nur Zayed: There's a lot of places that people are coming in to invest because there is good potential here. Last year San Francisco closed down more than 150, 200 restaurants, including some very well-known restaurants. The reason is exactly the same, but here it's actually evolving a little more. I'd rather go to Menlo Park, Redwood City or Palo Alto downtown instead of driving to San Francisco or even the San Jose area. Your local-oriented people want to walk around, have a little bite and go back home.
Clayton Adelhelm: Stanford helps us out a lot. There's a constant flow of people coming in and out, especially down our street right here, so that definitely helps us.
Nur Zayed: We just want to grow more and have a line out the door.