In 1985, just as Bill Higgins was about to open his first San Francisco restaurant with partners Bill Upson and Cindy Pawlcyn, he posed with his 1-year-old son, Tyler, in front of the now world-famous Fog City Diner. Fast-forward 30 years to find more restaurant launches for Bill, real-world experience and training for the now grown-up Tyler (who is general manager of the classic eatery) and a yearlong multimillion-dollar transformation of Fog City (which dropped “Diner” from the name). With his son at the helm of his flagship restaurant, Bill keeps busy as co-owner of Real Restaurants, which includes Bix, Betelnut, Zero Zero, Tra Vigne, Buckeye Roadhouse, Bungalow 44, Picco and Bar Bocce. Taking similar paths is nothing new for the father and son, who both attended the University of Colorado Boulder and completed their training at the prominent Chicago restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You, and who both live in Marin.
1. How is it working with your son? Short answer, great.
2. How is it working with your dad? Our relationship has always been easy and honest, so working with him is the same as playing catch.
3. Advice on working with family? BH: Be grateful that you have this rare opportunity; show unconditional respect. Find time to laugh as much as possible and share a beer at the end of the day.
4. Bill, why restaurants? I started in college when I worked at a fraternity brothers’ sandwich shop. I wasn’t paid, but I learned the art of a good turkey sandwich. Despite the slave labor, I was hooked.
5. Favorites chefs? BH: It’s hard to answer, since I have so many great friends who are chefs, including those at Real Restaurants and my neighbor Tyler Florence, but I’d have to say it’s always going to be Cindy Pawlcyn; if it wasn’t for her, none of us would be here.
6. Key to running a successful restaurant? BH: That’s a hard one. Probably adherence to quality, attention to detail and a sense of urgency. Repeat daily.
7. Any other Marin folks at Fog City? TH: There are a few: Pat Frazier and Dustin Sullivan, our bartender, who created our very popular Something with Vodka, Not So Sweet cocktail.
8. Highlights of growing up in Mill Valley? TH: Walking to Park School. And I have great memories of Stinson and Little League. BH: There’s nothing like the Mill Valley Memorial Day parade.
9. Special occasion restaurant? TH: Every Monday night was Buckeye night — we sat in the red booth and watched Monday Night Football. Or we also went to El Rebozo, a Mexican restaurant, where Fireside is today. BH: They had crab enchiladas in the ’80s, which was impressive. We also did a lot of La Ginestra.
10. What do you order at Buckeye? Bix? Zero Zero? Bungalow 44? Picco? Bar Bocce? BH: Buckeye: woodgrilled rib-eye steak. Bix: lobster spaghetti with jalapeños and basil. Zero Zero: rigatoni with duck, bacon and chicories. Bungalow 44: Kobe beef cheeseburger, truffle fries. Picco: wood-grilled quail with corn bread stuffing. Bar Bocce: speck, burrata and arugula pizza.