The best-laid plans often go awry. That old adage felt like a vast understatement for Laurel Robinson and Jessica Sullivan in March 2020 when they began scouting San Francisco locations for their first restaurant.
Three years, three months and dozens of logistical hiccups later, the duo is finally getting ready to open the doors to Poppy—a modern love letter to the classic American luncheonette—by early September.
First incubated as a pandemic pop-up at wine bar Fig & Thistle, the restaurant’s name is both a literal nod to California’s state flower and an earnest homage to Robinson and Sullivan’s adopted home.
“It's going to be farm-to-table—as cliché as that is to say,” Sullivan said. “But it’ll center farmers’ market-driven local produce.”
Sullivan, who previously managed the pastry program for the Delfina Restaurant Group, leverages the Bay Area’s abundant produce in dishes like an Australian-influenced “brekky sandwich” with an omelet filling dressed with garlic-laden broccoli rabe and a chili cheddar sauce. The barley waffle is blanketed in tropical fruits and whipped kumquat butter. The restaurant’s namesake chop transforms the humdrum breakfast salad concept into a hearty helping of salami, heirloom beans and provolone cheese.
Poppy will also be a friend to the boozy bruncher, serving beer, wine and low-proof cocktails like a sherry Bloody Mary and a spirited iced coffee shakerato.
As the two restaurant veterans told The Standard, it was never their plan to open a business in the Mission. After a five-year tenure at Delfina, they said they had originally hoped to venture outside the neighborhood until they discovered a vacant building that was previously home to Evergreen Garden—a Vietnamese restaurant that closed before the pandemic. They said they fell in love with the building’s unusual layout and embarked on a full build-out.
Located at 18th and Harrison streets near Ernest and the Tartine Manufactory, Poppy centers on a skylit dining room that revolves around an L-shaped luncheonette counter. A rounded booth curves along the front wall, and the restaurant spills out through French doors into a spacious outdoor patio.
Robinson said she believes daytime dining is having a moment in San Francisco. Now that the city has reemerged from the pandemic, she said she’s observed how locals have shifted away from Downtown destination dining and toward casual joints in their own neighborhoods.
“I think young people particularly are more driven to connect in daytime spaces near where they live now,” she said.
Part of that impulse, Robinson believes, is driven by a desire to become a regular now that we have our third spaces back. With Poppy, she said she hopes to collapse the distance that has traditionally existed between diner and guest.
She and Sullivan told The Standard they also aim to carve out an equitable workplace for their employees—especially in light of discussions that have reached a flashpoint in the hospitality industry recently. As such, Robinson and Sullivan said they’re working out an auto-gratuity tipping system that will provide a living wage for their staff while maintaining financial sustainability for the restaurant. Robinson said this is one element of the healthy working environment she hopes to cultivate.
“It’s about creating structure within the restaurant that gives room for people who work there to feel protected and respected at work,” she said.
“I don’t want there to be the hierarchy of the classic restaurant setting,” Sullivan added.
Ahead of their late summer opening, Robinson and Sullivan plan to host a brief pop-up run at neighboring craft cocktail bar Trick Dog.