Civic Center Newcomer 'August 1 Five' To Debut Modern Indian Fare Next Week

Civic Center Newcomer 'August 1 Five' To Debut Modern Indian Fare Next Week
Restaurateur Hetal Shah outside August 1 Five. (Photo: Lisa Amand/Hoodline)
By Lisa Amand - Published on October 31, 2016.

Restaurateur Hetal Shah is very clear about her hopes and dreams for August 1 Five. When her modern Indian eatery opens at 524 Van Ness Ave. on November 10th November 11th, she wants it to fill a void in Civic Center—catering to opera-goers, government workers and just-married couples who have few dining choices.

According to Shah, pre-curtain dinner needs to be quick and fun; lunch near the office has to be affordable; and after a celebratory City Hall wedding, friends and family want to party. She hopes to offer a space that will satisfy all three needs. 

Having quit her day job in advertising technology at Google three months ago, the 34-year-old mother of two, has a lot riding on the new restaurant—which is not her first, but has definitely been the most challenging.

Five years ago, Shah and her husband, along with a partner they met on one of their regular trips to India, opened Red Hot Chilli Pepper, an Indian-Chinese "passion project" in San Carlos. Chinese food in India is more assertively seasoned and spicier than it is here, Shah explained to Hoodline, and there was a niche to fill for the Peninsula's sizable Indian population, who quickly made the restaurant a success. 

Shah and her husband also chose San Carlos for Red Hot Chilli Pepper (no, the name does not refer to the band) because opening in San Francisco seemed too risky for a couple with two demanding jobs just learning the business. (Shah's husband, Rakesh Tondon, is in investment banking, and has his own startup.)

But after six years at Google, Shah was “tired of technology and wanted to do something different," she said. "We’re big, big foodies, and we have a lot of passion for starting stuff.”

Cornucopia of flavors coming soon.

A photo posted by August 1 Five Restaurant (@august1five) on

It’s a gutsy career move, yet organically connected to the way she was brought up in Bangalore, India, by an attentive mother who prepared three meals a day. “Until I had kids, I never cooked,” admits Shah, who now makes sure her five- and six-year-olds enjoy fresh ingredients, as she did growing up. These days, she makes "everything from scratch, nothing out of a jar.”

As for her choice of location, “historically and culturally, I just love Civic Center,” she says. The name August 1 Five pays homage to the date marking India’s independence from Britain.

Before coming to San Francisco, she and her husband, who is also from India, were New Yorkers. (These days, they live in Bernal Heights.) If all goes according to plan, they hope August 1 Five will fashionably hum like the big-city spots they enjoyed in Manhattan.

While London has a lot of contemporary Indian restaurants, New York has only a few and San Francisco has none, says Shah, who hopes that a "fine casual” restaurant can become a bustling scene for cocktails and appetizers, dates and prix-fixe menus (yet to be decided) for those rushing to the symphony or opera.

The daytime menu will boast lower prices for the lunch crowd, but “for dinner, we want to dial it up a few notches," Shah says. "We want to make it a destination restaurant."

When she originally set out to open her restaurant, Shah says, she thought, “How complex can it be?” Now immersed in decorating the 4,000-square-foot space and last-minute menu decisions, she has an answer to her own question: “Very!”