Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Retail & Industry
Published on November 06, 2015
Zazie Owner Addresses 'Toddlergate', Offers Dining-Out Advice To ParentsPhoto: Walter Thompson/Hoodline

Tuesday evening started out perfectly normal for Jennifer Piallat, owner of Cole Valley's Zazie restaurant.

"I got off work and went next door to [Kamekyo] the sushi restaurant that I visit before the clay class I take on Tuesday nights," Piallat told us yesterday afternoon.

According to Piallat, two women entered with two children between age two and four after she was seated. Before long, both kids were "running up and down the restaurant while screaming and yelling," she said. "It was exhausting and I asked the sushi chef to pack my food to go so I could just eat at the Muni stop while I waited for my bus," Piallat said, adding that the chef apologized for the disturbance.

"When I got to the stop, I logged on to Facebook and posted to what I thought was my page—but unfortunately, since I'm a [group] moderator, it automatically switched over to the Cole Valley group," she recalled. "I posted, 'This may shock you, but choosing to have children means you can't go out to eat for roughly 3 years. Please. Accept your fate-- you're killing me.'"

By the time Piallat got out of class, there were 75 responses to her Facebook post. The following morning, the story was picked up by Hoodline, SFist, SFGate and elsewhere. Her initial post sparked heated debate in her own Facebook group and a slow burn in local Facebook parenting groups, where she was accused of not wanting to serve children inside her restaurant. We spoke to Piallat yesterday afternoon to learn more about her side of the controversy.

Zazie Owner Jennifer Piallat with Michelle Obama (Photo via Zazie/Facebook)

"All of those articles were without any comment from me, and it was frustrating because they all referred to it as 'the owner of Zazie says about Zazie,' which I never was saying. I was saying, as an independent person going for sushi, I thought it'd be a sushi bar and not Chuck E. Cheese," said Piallat, who insisted that her restaurant is child-friendly. 

"We welcome children; we have six high chairs, which is four more than anyone else in the neighborhood," she said. "We have a children's menu, we provide crayons—I give out little ornament packages at Christmas so the kids can make them while their parents are having brunch. We always welcome kids. We have three kids that have been coming to Zazie since they were born who are named 'Zazie.'"

Piallat said she thought the attention was due to the fact that she owns a popular restaurant. "I'm not allowed to have my own opinions like every other person walking down the street. It was not well thought out for me to say that; it would have been fine on my own page, but not on the Cole Valley page."

Inside Zazie restaurant (Photo: Fernando Pujals)

Despite the controversy, Piallat said she's received a lot of support from patrons. "I've actually gotten 12 emails from Zazie customers who said 'We're so sorry you're going through this,' but I haven't gotten a single direct comment from an angry parent. No angry parents have spoken to me or reached out to me at all."

Anecdotally, it doesn't appear that the dispute is hurting business; this morning, many patrons waited outside for at least 30 minutes to score a table.

"I'm not taking [the post] down, and I'm not sorry, if that's what people are looking for," said Piallat yesterday. "Those children ruined my evening; I did not get to have a nice, relaxing sushi meal between work and clay class because two women didn't control their kids," she said. "There were two kids at at the bar about age seven or eight who were super charming, asking about the different types of fish and how to use chopsticks; I loved that, but toddlers have no place in a small neighborhood sushi place."

Photo: Ian McKellar/Flickr

"When you have children, you can't always manage their behavior, but you have to be strategic," parenting expert Peggy O'Mara told us. "There are certain ages at which you simply can't go to certain kinds of restaurants. When a child is two years old, they're running everywhere, so it's very difficult to take them to a restaurant and expect them to sit very well."

O'Mara suggests that parents dining out with toddlers bring "a restaurant bag, with crayons and paper or certain toys. It's also good to ask the waitress to bring their order out first so they get their food quickly." To avoid undue attention, O'Mara also recommends dining at noisy restaurants if you have toddlers in your party.

"Parents are home all the time with their kids and eating out is a great break for them, but I don't think it's responsible for parents to expect other people to watch their kids or let their kids run around and disturb the dinners or other people," said O'Mara. "They have to think more about where they go and what they plan to do when they get there."

Piallat encourages parents with children who visit Zazie to "bring them something to play with," which is why the restaurant supplies crayons and paper. "Two of my favorite regulars are amazing with their kids, doing puzzles with them, carrying on conversations. Kids want to run around and play, and they have a right to do that, but they should do that where it's safe." For Piallat, "children (6-12 or so) are my favorite guests."

People who dine out with small children are obliged to stay engaged throughout the meal, said Piallat. "You can't go out to eat as a break from your children. You can't say, we're going to have a conversation and let them explode over there. You really have to interact with them the entire time. You're not having dinner with your partner, you're having dinner with your kid."