With a New Name and Other Changes, the Former Boot & Shoe Service Is Reborn


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Images: Kristan Lawson

Years ago, Jennifer Cremer and Richard Clark had their first date at Boot & Shoe Service, which was then one of Oakland's best-loved Italian restaurants.

Last summer, they bought the place.

That was after original chef/owner Charlie Halowell was accused of sexual harassment by more than thirty employees. 

Cremer had managed Hallowell's other restaurant, Pizzaiolo. Clark had helped open San Francisco's Tartine Manufactory and managed Oakland's The Trappist. Having each accumulated ten-plus years of restaurant-industry experience, the now-married pair wanted not just a place of their own but also a chance to sustain what fans had always loved about the airy, brick-walled Grand Avenue restaurant while infusing it with new positive energy — "healing" and "exorcising" the space, as Feast Bay learned during a luscious dinner for local media that started with seasonal crudités alongside yuzu-seaweed butter and citrus-sesame "za'atar":

After adding brunch service in May, Cremer and Clark changed the restaurant's name in July to the much simpler, cozier Sister.

"It's been a year now, so we're starting to feel settled in," Cremer said. "That feels really good.

"And we hired a really good staff, and now they feel settled in as well — which makes a huge difference," Cremer said.

"We had a wide range of slots to fill, and we've done it" — with such stars as bar manager Alex Phillips, formerly of San Francisco's Locanda and Oakland's Camino and KronnerBurger, and executive chef Martin Salata, a Pizzaiolo veteran and Slow Food fan who studied fine art for ten years before starting his culinary career.

Among the changes Salata has introduced is a shift from thin, crisp Neapolitan-style pizza crusts to richer, chewier crusts — under such topping combinations as pecorino, fennel sausage, and black pepper; tomato, salametto piccante, mozzarella, and spicy honey; and squash blossom, zucchini, and stracciatella:

Other menu highlights include cured local halibut served with jalapeño and celtuce (a thick-stemmed lettuce cultivar); king salmon served with crème fraiche, trout roe, and fig leaves; and ricotta agnolotti with sungold tomatoes, basil, and lovage:

All the restaurant's pastas are made in-house. 

Part of the ongoing exorcism entails a very strict anti-harassment policy, applied not just to employees but also to guests — some of whom have been dismissed from Sister on the basis of inappropriate behavior. 

As for the restaurant's new name — "well, I have a sister," Cremer laughed. 

"And it's kind of an inside joke, because everyone always used to call Boot & Shoe Service 'the sister restaurant of Pizzaiolo.' We wanted to give this space a brand-new identity," not subordinate to anyplace else.

"We also like the family feeling that the word 'sister' invokes. We want everyone to feel like family here.

"As time goes on," Cremer said, "and we keep thinking about this new name more and more, it starts meaning more and more." 

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