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Chef and GM at highly anticipated SF restaurant have strong local ties

Published: Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 - 12:07 pm

Duncan Holmes, whose mother, Karen Holmes, owns the beloved Karen’s Bakery in Folsom, has made a name for himself as the chef at Sons & Daughters, a Michelin-starred restaurant in San Francisco.

Now Holmes is teaming with Matt Walker, the former GM at Hawks in Granite Bay, to open a new restaurant in North Beach called Square. The two restaurants are owned by Teague Moriarty and Matt McNamara, and Holmes, at age 27, will preside over both as executive chef.

Walker, a single parent, entered into the equation when he departed Hawks in September so he could be closer to his daughter, who was starting school in the Bay Area. Appetizers published a piece at the time that pointed out Walker’s tremendous assets as a front-of-the-house presence, from his way with people to his ability to lead and motivate his staff.

Duncan Holmes said his mother sent him the blog post and, once the new venture took off, Walker was hired as general manager.

Square, which will take over the space in North Beach that was once the Washington Square Bar & Grill, where Herb Caen and a host of other journalists and cronies held court. Over the years, the restaurant had frequent mentions in Caen’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Square, with seating for about 100, according to Holmes and Walker, will seek to embrace the neighborhood by emphasizing great service and showcasing approachable food. That will be somewhat of a departure from the smaller and more intimate Sons & Daughters, which has tasting menus (one is vegetarian) that cost close to $100 per person. Square will have an a la carte menu with small plates, larger plates and, most noteworthy, a selection of sharing options for groups of four, six or even eight people.

“It was a real gathering place for people all over the city,” Walker told me by phone, referring to Washington Square. “We want to capture that excitement and spirit of a gathering spot where everybody can go and have fun.”

“It’s a lot of work,” Holmes said of Square. “We got the keys in early January and are shooting to be open March 1, so everything has to happen very quickly. Everybody is really excited to be part of it.”

Holmes is still working out the menu, but gave hints of what might be found, including baby back ribs or whole roast duck for four people or a leg of spring lamb with portions for six to share.

Referring to landing Walker as GM, Holmes said his parents dine at Hawks about once a week and passed along Walker’s name when the Appetizers blog post appeared.

“He’s a very confident person and he’s had experience with larger restaurants,” Holmes said.

“I’m absolutely thrilled at the opportunity,” Walker said. “When I first met Teague and Matt and we talked about our personal philosophies, everything just clicked. The service style that I trained and put into action at Hawks is the same style I want to put into action here — a style based on great hospitality, product knowledge, attention to detail and personality.”

Walker is in the process of hiring staff and says he is looking for candidates that want to grow with the restaurant and who are committed to the concept. It seems that commitment will be reciprocal, as Square will be adding a 15 percent charge to the bill so employees can be paid a living wage. Sons & Daughters started implementing that policy about 18 months ago.

“Our servers will have health care, sick time and vacation time,” Walker noted.

To read my earlier piece on Walker when he departed Hawks, click here.

Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.

Read more articles by Blair Anthony Robertson

About Appetizers

Chris Macias has served as The Sacramento Bee's Food & Wine writer since 2008. His writing adventures have ranged from the kitchen at French Laundry to helping pick 10 tons of zinfandel grapes with migrant farm workers in Lodi. Chris also judges regularly at food, wine and cocktail competitions around Northern California. His profile of a former gangbanger-turned-pastry-chef was included in Da Capo's "Best Food Writing 2012."

Read his Wine Buzz columns here
(916) 321-1253
Twitter: @chris_macias

Allen Pierleoni writes about casual lunchtime restaurants in The Sacramento Bee's weekly "Counter Culture" column. He covers a broad range of topics, including food, travel, books and authors. In addition to writing the weekly column "Between the Lines," he oversees the Sacramento Bee Book Club, in which well-known authors give free presentations to the public.

Read his Counter Culture reviews here
(916) 321-1128
Twitter: @apierleonisacbe

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Sacramento Bee's food critic.

Read his restaurant reviews here
(916) 321-1099
Twitter: @Blarob

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