I returned from San Francisco late last night. I took the Metro bus from the airport, which is a bit of an adventure after 10pm; this time it featured wannabe tough guy antisocial kids. The downtown transfer involved listening to a verbose guy conduct a mostly one-sided conversation with me, waxing proud about his well-behaved pitbull puppy, as his dog sniffed my luggage curiously.
When I arrived in downtown San Francisco on Friday, I checked in at my hotel, the Serrano, dropped my luggage off, then walked toward the ferry terminal to meet an old friend from college. I grabbed some food I could eat on the way, and about 25 minutes later met Jen out front of the Ferry Building. We obtained our preferred caffeine sources from the Pete's inside, and sat on a bench outside facing the bay, chatting about all sorts of things that have happened in the years since we've last seen each other, facing a stellar view.
My plane had been delayed almost two hours due to fog but it finally burned off by the time I made it this far. I had run into Greg, a colleague I had previously worked with on ad-related things at Microsoft, in the waiting area at the gate in the airport; he was headed to the Bay Area for some meetings. I learned about a job that had opened up related to a bunch of work they are having done in Shanghai.
Friday night I met my friend Sally, who works in apparel import, for dinner. We ate at a Catalan restaurant in an alley full of restaurants trying simultaneously to be large and cozy. We had some nice salad with olives and caperberries, a baked eggplant dish, an unseasonable butternut squash soup, a vegetable paella with pine nuts and currants, and a plate of cheeses with a quince-lemon paste. It was pretty decent, though I'd skip the squash soup for sure.
On Saturday, Sally took me to Japantown and Chinatown and I noted what kinds of weekly/monthly type papers were circulating targeting Japanese and Chinese immigrants and for Asian Americans. We also took a look at all kinds of stores and thought about which kinds of places might be best to approach for my Hong Kong sweet.
We had lunch at a place that serves Japanese-style western food, yet again modified to suit locally available ingredients. I had a doria, which is a rice casserole, with spinach and mushrooms and tofu. The scale was a little more American... it was too much food, and eventually a little monotonous. I just had this strange craving for doria after seeing the menu outside.
In Chinatown we looked through dozens of stores and chatted with a few shopkeepers. After a few hours we stopped at a dingy Hong Kong style cafe and bakery; my friend had some warm soy milk and I drank some strong milk tea. We ate a simple late dinner at Millenium, a pretty decent vegetarian restaurant closer to my hotel. We shared some salad and a quinoa croquette over lentils, which was adorned with a surprisingly refreshing green pea puree with lemon.
I splurged on some La Maison du Chocolat filled chocolates which I found at Nieman Marcus's food section. Apparently that's the only location of Nieman Marcus allowed to sell the chocolates; the only other places to buy are in New York, Paris, or Tokyo stores run by La Maison itself. I really wanted to see what people are paying for, since I will be selling a premium confection myself. The quality is really nice; it's very sparing with the sugar and is based on really good, carefully treated chocolate. My friend plowed through a number of them as well.
Sunday I met Sally again at Berkeley. Before she arrived by car, I wandered around and discovered that the town basically shuts down on Sunday. I did find a little soap shop called Body Time, which according to the employee working when I visited was created by a family that later sold their company name to the company now known as Body Shop.
Sally showed me another area along Fourth Street which has a stretch of gift shops and chain store concepts, and a yuppie food store. Actually the specialty food store looked like it might be an appropriate place for my Hong Kong sweet, so I'm going to try to set up an appointment with them the next time I'm in town.
We ate lunch at an inexpensive but nice taqueria; they had freshly pressed corn tortillas. I got a decent vegetarian chile relleno with fresh asparagus, and a nice fresh corn tostada. My friend had an omelette with nopales (cactus paddles). Thankfully they eschewed cheddar; they sparingly used a few types of Mexican cheese and some jack, depending on the dish; the only flaw I'd complain about is that their condiment bar didn't offer any fresh salsa, just stuff in bottles.
After I took BART back to downtown San Francisco, I met Jen, originally for a coffee, but due to a change in her evening plans we went to eat dinner at some Thai place instead. We stopped for coffee afterward. We parted around 9pm and I went back to my hotel, incredibly sleepy but I stayed up a little longer and chatted with a friend in Japan.
Monday morning I met with a soap supplier in the lobby of Courtyard Marriott in Oakland. We talked about different positioning strategies, and about which products I thought would be the most interesting. We also talked about packaging options to make the products look more compelling.
I had a little trouble getting there because I relied on my mapping software to find the place where she was staying in Oakland, and the mapping software was oblivious to the newer location of Courtyard by Marriott. I ended up having to spend money on a taxi fee to get back downtown after having changed trains to go to toward the other Oakland location of the chain.
Afterward I walked around downtown again and trekked on foot up to North Beach via Telegraph Hill; I wondered what kind of retail shops were in the historically Italian neighborhood. After wandering around fruitlessly in the area South of Market, I ate a late dinner at an Indonesian restaurant near my hotel on my own... vegetable martabak and gado-gado.
Tuesday I followed up on a couple of things I wanted to do in Japantown and Chinatown, but I was able to stop and meet Sally for lunch. She took me to the Gap corporate cafeteria and we ate typical corporate cafeteria fare facing the Golden Gate Bridge.
I also made a few media contacts when I was in town, mostly to get rate sheets and demographic information.
I basically met my objectives for this trip, but it was a fairly humble set of goals. Since I mostly wanted to get a feel for the market and see what kinds of venues might be best to approach, and my primary objective was to meet with the supplier, it didn't take much. Before I my next trip, I'll schedule some meetings to talk with potential customers.