We had the good fortune of connecting with Kimberly Alter and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kimberly, why did you pursue a creative career?
I think I pursued an artistic career for multiple reasons. I want to say it started in junior high when I had to change schools. I started tying in cooking to every project. So let’s say I had to build a diagram of a nucleus, I would make it out of cake and then I would make mini cupcake models to give to my classmates. I mean, who doesn’t like cake in science class? It made me be able to form relationships with the strangers in my class and when I saw them get so excited I got this instant gratification seeing how happy the cupcakes made them. I also like getting creative with food and how many outlets it had. Growing up in a very artsy town, most of my friends went down the creative pathway.
Once High School started I decided I hated math and really didn’t agree with standardized testing, I thought I was so punk rock…..so I started working in restaurants at 15 and loved the lifestyle I thought they offered. When I was 18 I moved to San Francisco to go to culinary school and I loved the city and the different way of thinking it encompassed. Ironically now math is a part of everything I do in cooking and how I run my business and I love that I get to be creative and I get to use the other side of my brain to run a financially successful restaurant. I would say though, the real joy is being able to work with my hands, have my menu change with what is at the farmer’s market, and be able to apply all the techniques I have learned to each dish. Being able (precovid) to travel monthly to work and see and experience new things really changed my point of view and made my cooking evolve constantly.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
My restaurant has definitely been a struggle, from permitting issues and construction problems delaying the opening by 2 years or wrong choices in partners at the beginning, which luckily led me to be a sole owner I have had to put my life into this business. It paid off though, I have been able to pay off my investors and been financially successful every month we have been open by working hard.
We have always tried to create an environment that is safe, diverse, and a good place to constantly evolve. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been a part of many coalitions trying to better our industry and I have definitely applied that to how we do business, whether that was paying for my staff’s health insurance throughout the pandemic, giving staff a better quality of life by not having them work 14-16 hour days like so many other restaurants do. I like to think we put our staff, farmers and customers first trying to give everyone an experience that is worth it, worth the money for our customers, worth the relationship with our farmers and worth the time and energy our staff put into Nightbird.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If someone had never been to SF we would have a lot to see. I would definitely take them to Wine Country and go wine tasting and eat at El Molino, taste wine at Unti Vineyards, and lay around a pool at Coppola for a day. We would hike Muir Woods and travel to Half Moon Bay, eat some lobster rolls and drive along the coast. I like old things so we would go to House of Prime Rib for martinis once we got back to SF. We would have to go to Anchor Bar for clams and beers. I would have to do a Chinatown crawl, go to Mister Juis, and then hit Buddha Bar and the Lipo Lounge. If we could make it out of bed the next day I would take the dogs to Fort Funston or Chrissy Field and just take in the scenery. I would say Rintaro would be our final meal and then hit some dive bars in the mission.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would say Suzette Gresham, she is my mentor and friend. She is one of the most talented chefs in San Francisco, but you don’t see her name as much as others.