A KSA With Eric Ehler
Latest Posts Aug 01, 2023

A KSA With Eric Ehler

A KSA With is a series where we sit down with San Franciscans we admire and talk about life in SF over a KSA. 

To launch the series, our co-owner and Creative Director Dina sipped a cold one with chef/ skater/ true Frisco fan Eric Ehler. If you live and eat out in SF, chances are you've experienced something Eric has been a part of: Serpentine, Luke's Local, Mister Jiu's, Pizza Hacker, the legendary R&B and Ribs party, and most recently Outta Sight Pizza – the new slice shop he launched in the TL with friend and partner Peter Dorrance. Oh, and Eric was also our opening chef at Fort Point Valencia (remember party bread?), so it felt extra good to hang with a homie!

I kinda want to start from the beginning. What brought you to SF in the first place?

I came to San Francisco to cook professionally. I had an internship in Italy as a youngster – I was like 18 years old – and all the other young chefs in Italy were like, “You need to go work in a city.” So I sent a resume to the best restaurants in the country. You know French Laundry, and everything. And no one got back to me. 

I’d never been to San Francisco or even to California before, but I had a friend who hooked me up with a phone interview with his boss at Serpentine in the Dogpatch. He told me that if I made it up to SF in 2 weeks they’d train me up for a job. So that’s what I did.

Had they just opened?

Yeah…so, I moved to San Francisco.

And it’s been, what, 15 years? What’s your idea of a perfect day in SF now that you’re a true local?

I guess the idea of seeing things that are here naturally…the views, the ocean, the bay, the fog, the landscape of the northern part of the city. Having good food, seeing friends, running into people. 

I kinda had a perfect day yesterday. I biked like 20 miles and there were so many people out everywhere. The city felt vibrant and alive. Chaotic to a certain extent, but it felt good to have that energy. Like maybe SF just forgot how to be a city for a little while.

A KSA With Eric Ehler

Dang, this city is only 7 miles across, where’d you go?

I started out at 22nd and Folsom, and biked to Church, to Lower Haight, took the Wiggle to the Panhandle, the Panhandle to the Ocean, came back, went down to Market all the way to Embarcadero. And then I got lunch downtown at David’s Delicatessen on Geary. It’s the most slept-on diner in SF. It just bleeds kitsch, but it’s so good and everything is homemade. And then I went to the Design District because I wanted Dumpling Time Express.

It was still sunny out, so I biked to the ballpark, which I do all the time. I didn’t even go to the game, but the ballpark, the Giants, they’re things that just make you really love San Francisco. I almost feel like I’m cheating, that I can see the park almost every day of my life. 

A perfect day in the city doesn’t necessarily have to be about being on a bike the whole time because I know that’s not going to be applicable to everybody, but skateboarding and cycling are such a big part of San Francisco for me. I can get from one part of the city to another super fast, or go and kill a couple of hours in the sun without spending any money or just sitting at a bar.

How long have you been skating?

I’ve been skating for 25 years. Starting in Iowa.

When you came to San Francisco, was the skate scene part of the draw?

Well, I knew about it, but I quit skateboarding unintentionally, like a lot of people do. Like you’re hardcore passionate about it when you’re a teen, then you discover girls, music, and beer.

I thought girls loved skaters?

No, no…Avril Lavigne ruined it. But when I came out here I associated the old school version of becoming a chef to becoming a jedi. You have to put everything that you love and care about behind you in order to dedicate your life to the craft. 

My parents actually got me a skateboard for Christmas before I came to San Francisco, and I told them I didn’t want it. I was like, “that’s not what I’m going there for…I’m going there to be a chef.” 

And a couple of months later I was like, “mom, I need you to send me that board.” 

Eric Ehler at Outta Sight

What changed?

Being around skateboarders. My first group of friends here were all skateboarders, and I got to really appreciate the skateboarding scene. 

At this point, I feel like I’m part of the skateboarding community, which is really, really nice. You think the world is so big when you’re younger, all these cities are so massive but then you meet people who have overlapping connections in your own communities all across these other cities, and skateboarding is like that for me. 

SF is definitely a city of neighborhoods, and you’ve worked and lived all over different parts of the city. Can you talk a little bit about how that’s influenced your San Francisco experience?

I think I could enjoy pretty much any place I live or work in. You can find the beauty in anything. 

During the pandemic I was spending a lot of time in Hayes Valley because we were doing pizza at Fig and Thistle and originally I was like, “that's not my crowd.” But I ended up really liking it because it’s so small, and it’s all industry folks who are hanging out afterwards. 

What’s your experience been in the Tenderloin? Fox News wants to know... 

I read Fox News every day, for reference. Just in case I need to go toe to toe with somebody.

But the Tenderloin, I love it. I think that obviously, it gets a bad rap or whatever, but it’s helped me understand what the human condition is. The disparity of wealth, the poverty…it’s extremely sad, but it can happen to anybody. No one is immune to it, you know? It’s not that I love walking in shit or kicking needles out of my storefront, but as far as my growth as a human being, now I can talk to people more comfortably about why you need to have a little more compassion. 

I can go on all day about politics. But it’s all about the people who are down there in the Tenderloin. They love it, they’re passionate about the diversity, making sure it's welcoming for different communities and whatnot. 

It’s very, very nice to me that my business has people coming in from all walks of life, and I can’t say that it would be that way if I had a pizzeria in any other part of the city. We have our regulars who are unhoused folk, like there’s Doug, “how are you doing Doug? Staying out of trouble?” or, like Dean Preston and staff from his office, or people who work at the Federal Building. Everyone is in there at the same time, and that’s kinda special. 

Yeah, San Francisco is a city with everything on display all at once, which some people don’t really see in a positive light, but that’s what makes it real. How are you feeling about San Francisco as a food city?

I mean, there are realities. It’s difficult to live in San Francisco or New York or Los Angeles. We saw a lot of people leave or switch careers over the past few years, and I do feel that we lost a crop of cooks. I’m starting to see young cooks come back to the city, but I still don’t see as many restaurants opening up.

And menus feel safer. Which is maybe because of millennials - they’ve gone through fancy stuff, technical food. So now people are okay with smash burgers and fried chicken. It’s about the classics right now. 

That's Outta Sight Pizza

Yeah, it’s true, it’s harder to experiment in expensive places, it’s just riskier...but some people are doing it. What does San Francisco food mean to you? And I don’t necessarily mean things like cioppino or green goddess…but, how do you describe the food scene here?

Um, for me, in particular, and for people who know the city well and know where to go, it’s all about the ability to get a really, really good burrito but then also get good wonton soup or good pho or good Peruvian food, all in the same neighborhood, you know? 

The ability to knock out a global food tour in like an hour–I think that’s the most special part. It’s something I don’t think I could ever live without. And it’s even unattainable in New York, because everything is so demographically segregated by neighborhood, and the neighborhoods are so big. 

So…I recently ordered delivery from Outta Sight Pizza. I know I probably should have just biked over but it was foggy and cold, and I was being lazy. But anyway, obviously delivery pizza isn’t uncommon, but there is just something about your pizza that makes you feel like someone took extra care in preparing it for you. 

And it reinforced this thing about you that I noticed when we worked together: you really think about the details and channel your love into whatever you’re doing. Where does that come from for you?

I don’t know, I feel like my mom has that answer. 

I think it’s the fear of failing, because like a lot of people in small towns, maybe I was never given the opportunity to succeed. For a lot of people, when you start thinking about what “thinking outside the box” really means, that just means you have to create your own rules, break the rules, create your own norms or whatnot. 

So with food, I think about the steps or the details that I see other people missing, or not paying attention to. At a certain point I realized that I could just start doing those things myself. 

Eric Ehler at Outta Sight

Do you feel like you’re a perfectionist?

I think I was for a while. But in order to become a perfectionist in the kitchen, you need to demand perfection from other people. And perfection is really tough. Even if you see it, it’s impossible for other people to see your idea of perfection in the same way, you know? 

But like, I’ve always given 110%. I love staying up all night figuring things out, researching or eating to see what’s attainable. That’s just what feels right. I would love to someday have a small little counter restaurant, for maybe a year just to get my jollies off, maybe just me and one other chef, and we try to be perfect. 

I can relate to wanting a year of perfection. Do you cook at home? What do you like to eat when you’re not eating out, and you have full control?

Leftovers? From Chinese restaurants…lots from Mr. Hunan on 16th.

People say that chefs don’t cook at home, you just want to relax, not do what you do at work.

There's a truth to that, but like, I think what I realized is that cooking at home for a chef is kinda like Netflix. There’s so many options, and you’re scanning through them for so long, wasting so much time trying to find something that’s the “perfect watch”...or in this case the perfect thing to make.

So you just need to keep it simple. Some veg and meat in the wok with a nice bowl of steamed rice, and you know, some chili oil. Lots of breakfast sandwiches, breakfast burritos, pasta, noodles, steak. 

Eric Ehler at That's Outta Sight

Okay, I’m on the last sip of my beer so last question: what excites you about San Francisco right now? What’s the good stuff that you see?

Younger folks moving back and doing creative stuff. 

I love that I can go to gallery openings and art shows, and now I see a younger crowd there. Everyone always says, “I’m not getting old…” but I’m getting old. Sometimes when my friends and I are trying to describe a “Gen Z” issue, we describe ourselves as “boomers.” I see the kids at the skate spots, I get their resumes, I see them out and about, I know they exist, they’re here, and that excites me. 

That lets me know that another generation is coming to take a gamble on the city, the way my friends and I did.


Photography by Killian Page.


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Dina Dobkin
Dina Dobkin