Why does one restaurant thrive while
its neighbor sinks faster than an iffy soufflé? In this
highly competitive restaurant climate, it's not only what's
on the plate, but what's on the walls, floor, and ceiling
that makes the difference.
When San Francisco chef Nancy Oakes first saw the site that her
designer/partner Pat Kuleto had found for her new restaurant, she
walked up to the building and hugged it. It was a historic but
run-down 1889 French-style brick building called the Audiffred, one
of the few structures spared by the 1906 earthquake and fire.
Once the lease was signed, Kuleto set to work crafting a gorgeous
belle époque-style interior, with hand-blown art-nouveau glass
light fixtures, decorative ironwork, and perfectly framed views of
the Bay Bridge. Now, more than 10 years later, Boulevard remains
one of San Francisco's most cherished restaurants, thanks to Oakes'
French-influenced modern-American cuisine and Kuleto's dazzling
"We created Boulevard on the foundation that diners need to be
comforted by their surroundings as well as by their food," Kuleto
says. With that simple sentence, Kuleto sums up the primary goal of
good restaurant designers and architects everywhere: to create
successful and compelling restaurants that comfort and flatter
their guests. Whether it's a sophisticated 60-seat jewel box or a
hangar-size space for 250, designers agree that unless customers
feel good - and feel they look good - in the restaurant, they'll
never return, no matter how icy the gelato or how hot the chef.
"Even if the place is made of cardboard and burlap, it's the people
who must shine," says architect Hugh Hardy, who has created some of
the country's most majestic and important New York restaurants,
including Brasserie 8 1/2 and Guastavino's, with its magnificent
100-year-old vaulted ceilings. "It fatigues the diner if everything
is overly theatrical. The room can't upstage the people or the