Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Food & Drinks
Published on April 27, 2020
New podcast explores San Francisco restaurants' struggle to survive in pandemicMarcia Gagliardi speaks at a James Beard Foundation event. | Photo: Marc Fiorito/Courtesy of Marcia Gagliardi

A new podcast is exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on some of San Francisco's most vulnerable businesses: restaurants.

For nearly 15 years, Marcia Gagliardi has written Tablehopper, an "e-column" about the Bay Area's food and beverage industry. While she's done radio spots on KGO (her segment was called "You Gotta Eat This"), she'd never hosted a podcast before. But seeing the impact of the crisis on her friends in the restaurant industry inspired her to action.

“I thought it was so important for people to get a closer look at how hard these people are working to keep a few people employed, to keep the lights on," Gagliardi said.

Launched in less than a month's time, Gagliardi's podcast is appropriately titled "On the Fly." The name is inspired by kitchen slang for when a dish is forgotten or needs an urgent last-minute addition, but it also reflects how SF's restaurants have had to improvise in a difficult and uncertain time.

Marcia Gagliardi, host of "On the Fly." | Photo: Scott Saraceno/Courtesy of Marcia Gagliardi

The podcast’s first guest is Laurence Jossel, the executive chef and co-owner of Divisadero's Nopa. The restaurant opened in 2006, the same year Gagliardi launched Tablehopper, and the pair have long had a bond. 

“Laurence is just the heart of our community," said Gagliardi, who's lived near Divisadero for 25 years. "[For the first episode], I wanted someone who would be inspiring for people to listen to, because he’s just so interconnected with all his relationships with the farms and all the people in the neighborhood, and fellow restaurateurs and customers. He is able to really leverage all those relationships to help them through this time right now.”

In his episode, Jossel discusses how his Divisadero neighbors have banded together to assist one another. Arcade bar Emporium lent Nopa stanchions to control its pickup lines, while neighboring Italian restaurant Che Fico, which has been offering free meals to families in need, tutored him in safe pickup practices.

“The consumer doesn’t know how to act in this situation," Gagliardi explained. "'Do we come in? Do we stand at the table?' So it’s important for restaurants to lead the consumer in how they want us to comport ourselves."

Laurence Jossel (left) and Jeff Hanak, co-owners of Nopa. | Photo: Nopa/Facebook

"On the Fly"'s second episode features restaurateur Laurie Thomas, who owns Cow Hollow's Rose's Cafe and Terzo and serves as the executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. She and Gagliardi discuss the 15 percent cap that Mayor London Breed has placed on commission fees for third-party restaurant delivery apps.

Other episodes have featured Kim Alter, chef-owner of Nightbird, and Evan Kidera, owner of Señor Sisig. Alter discusses pivoting her small fine-dining restaurant to cook hundreds of meals a day for front-line healthcare workers and people in need, while Kidera explains the challenges of running both a brick-and-mortar restaurant and a fleet of food trucks during the shelter-in-place. 

Kim Alter prepares meal boxes for people in need at her Hayes Valley restaurant, Nightbird. | Photo: SF New Deal/Facebook

Gagliardi has also been the beneficiary of assistance from her community. Volunteer Lola Yen is acting as her show's producer and editor, while designer Erik Schmitt created a free logo for the podcast.

“Everyone is going through a hard time, but I want 'On the Fly' to help give people some inspiration in some form, or a way to do things,” Gagliardi said. “Stories of people helping people during one of the hardest times of our lives.”

Gagliardi says she's feeling that inspiration every time she drops by her favorite local restaurants for to-go food. She recalls seeing Jossel’s smile the first time she picked up one of Nopa's famed burgers to take home.

“It was a very interesting touchstone moment about an iconic restaurant in our city and an iconic dish," she said. "It’s like everything just has a lot more meaning right now."

Listen to "On The Fly" here, or subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast services.