Sterling Salon and Spa – a sanctuary for you and your hair…

Maureen SterlingIt has often been quoted that “You can never go home again”. Luckily for her clients, Bay-area native and master stylist Maureen Sterling made the decision to do just that.

As you walk through the front door into Sterling Salon and Spa you feel a sense of relaxation and calmness. Maybe it is the sea breeze that wafts in as you park your car, or the waterfall in the shop with the relaxing music in the background. Either way, Sterling has successfully created a “sanctuary by-the-sea” where she practices her masterful talents as a hair colorist and stylist supreme.

Raised in the Bay area, Sterling has been mastering the art of color and style for more than 25 years. Working in NY, and California, as well as internationally, she has worked in private salons, and as a stylist for hair, make-up and skin care in the advertising, magazine, high-fashion runway, television and motion picture industries, even garnering an Emmy award nomination as part of a television stylist team. She also has the experience of working as a stylist at the Grand Ole Opry (Nashville), and has provided customized styling services to professional athletes and business executives.

Sterling was introduced to the industry at an early age. Her mother was the coordinator for the Skyline College cosmetology department and Maureen was exposed to the world of competition hair design shows. By the age of 10, she was involved first-hand as a “hair model” working with her mother and the other stylist students. It was during this time that she got to meet the legendary stylist/teacher Yosh Toya, whose “Yosh for Hair” salons were the place for SF/Bay Area hair design for over 30 years. They remain friends to this day.

Her fascination with design and style is a major factor in the evaluation she undertakes with each client. “When I meet a client for the first time, I like to spend a good deal of time with the person, as I want to get a feel for what the person wants their hair to be, and how they want to be viewed by others”, said the stylist, who added, “It is important to look at the texture of the hair, the shape of the head, facial bone structure, and the patterns in which the hair grows on different sections of the scalp.”

She terms her styling as a “geometric framework cut” that takes all of the factors into account to create a style that is tailored to each individual client.

Recently moving back to the Bay Area from the East Coast, Sterling is excited about the opportunity to not only “run a business in the town I grew up in”, but to also be able to give back to the Bay Area community. She conducts workshops such as “Days of Beauty” for corporations, community organizations and in senior-based communities. She also mentors students at Skyline College where she teaches in the Cosmetology department.

Located within the Paul Strom Salon “just down the hill” at Rockaway Beach in Pacifica, she offers daily appointments as well as specialized appointments at normally “off” times for people that cannot be fitted into the normal schedule.

For a limited time, she is offering free color (an $80 value) with each haircut.

If you want to escape the ordinary, and work with a styling master, take the short, 20 minute, ride down the coast and experience the serenity of Sterling Salon and Spa.

Sterling Salon and Spa (at Paul Strom) is located in The Shops at Rockaway Beach in Pacifica, (450 Dondee Way). Maureen Sterling is available for appointments Monday through Friday and can be reached at 650-219-5776 or via email at:

September 2009

Ken Topping Home Improvements Example Kitchen

Remodeling the Westside
of SF for 55 years!

In this day and age, businesses come and go, and this is especially true in the Bay Area, where the cost of real estate has skyrocketed over the past 30 years or so. So when you find a business that is celebrating its’ 55th year in business you know it is one where the owners and staff concentrate on meeting the needs and expectations of their customers.

Ken Topping Home Improvements is a perfect example of a well-run business that puts their customer’s needs first. Run by Ken Topping and Kathy St. Clair, KTHI focuses on interior home remodeling, from kitchens and bathrooms, to family rooms, home offices and entertainment areas.

Topping started in business in 1953, building homes in San Francisco, but quickly was bored with the concept of just building houses from the ground up. “Ken was doing well building homes from start to finish, but really wanted to do something where every job was new and different, so he decided to concentrate on the remodeling business,” explains St. Clair, who works closely with Topping and manages the day to day operation of KTHI’s projects.

“Remodeling is different in that each homeowner has a different sense of taste and design values, so every project is unique and you don’t find yourself doing the same thing every day; houses that are built next door to each other with the same layout can end up being radically different due to the taste and scope of what the owner wants,” she added.

The team at KTHI have been “fixtures” in the neighborhood for many years, as Topping started out of his garage on 48th Avenue, then eventually opened a storefront showroom on 24th Street. In 1965 he moved to a larger location at 25th and Lawton (due to a fire in the 24th St. building) which he operated for 25 years. The business has been located at the current Vicente Street showroom for 19 years, since 1990.

Any business that has operated in a neighborhood for 55 years must rely on top-notch performance at a reasonable price, and KTHI is no exception. Their credo is that “Designs are only as good as the people who install them. Our success is based on Quality Workmanship, Design Expertise, and Personalized Service to each of our clients.”

St. Clair has known Topping for over 30 years, with the last 18 working with him at KTHI. She is a Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer, accredited by the National Kitchen and Bath Design Association. When I asked her about the “Master” designation, she explained that the designation is one she is proud of, “The certification comes from a testing board, after an 8 hour test, that measures knowledge and proficiency in all phases of design and installation, including foundations, mechanical and electrical systems, framing, as well as interior design experience and color rendering.” She went on to say that a designer has to have 7+ years of business prior to being tested, and a “Master” designer is someone who has over 10+ years of experience after initial certification. Currently, less than 1000 designers in the US have been certified as “Master Designers.”

Walking through the showroom with St. Clair, I asked about new trends in Home Improvement. “Green” remodeling is at the forefront, with new materials (such as “zodiac” quartz based counter top material), bamboo flooring, and even kitchen backsplashes that are “poured glass” made from recycled glass bottles. Granite flooring is still a natural alternative, although cork and a new type of linoleum manufactured from linseed oil and hemp is an example of a new alternative. There is even a countertop that is made from recycled paper products, called Richlite.

“Being “green” is now a huge part of our industry, from new flooring, countertops and cabinets, to energy-star rated appliances that use much less electricity and water. It’s really exciting to be involved in this industry at the present time,” said the master designer.

Projects completed by KTHI have been featured in several magazines and trade journals, such as Better Homes and Gardens, Women’s Day, Kitchen and Bath Magazine and Kitchens by Professional Designers.

Walking through the showroom, there is a myriad of choices and finishes, but one underlying fundamental is the same; Quality Materials, Personalized Service and a Commitment to Excellence for each and every client. It’s easy to understand why Ken Topping Home Improvements has been successfully bringing “affordable excellence” to SF homes for over 55 years.

Ken Topping Home Improvements is located at 3101 Vicente Street (at 42nd Ave.). The showroom is open Monday – Saturday from 9 AM to 4:30 PM. More info: 415-731-3930, or

July/August 2009

Baby Street…for Babies on the Go! Owner Al Picache and daughter Alexis

Sunlight and bright colors greet you as you walk into the door at Baby Street. The store, located at 207 West Portal Avenue has windows on 2 sides, which helps to create a bright, cheerful environment. The colorful baby/child accessories welcome you in. Baby Street is not a typical kids accessory store. “We are primarily a store that carries specialty baby carrier bags,” says Al Picache. The walls and tables are lines with bags that look like fashionable purses and shoulder bags, certainly not like the baby carrier or diaper bags that most of us grew up with.

A new product that is being featured is “The Sidekick,” an attractive shoulder bag that is a combination Baby Carrier and Diaper Bag, made by the Kemby Company. At first glance it just looks like a purse, but the straps swing around so that the shoulder strap becomes a waist strap that allows you to fold open the bag and turn it into a most effective baby carrier. Picache expects that to be a big seller as it is one of their newest products. It retails for $150, and is available in bright green, light blue or burgundy. Baby Street also guarantees to have the lowest prices for their customers.

“Our products are made for babies on the go, focusing on carriers and bags to move babies from home to work, to childcare, to the grocery store, etc.,” said the owner, who added “ In fact, we are expecting a new product that is a combination Baby Carrier and Car Booster Seat.” He then took the bag off of the front table and showed how it transforms itself from a bag to a carrier.

Another interesting garment is the “DiaperVest” from a company called “DADGear.” While it looks like a typical fleece vest, it has pockets/compartments large enough for a size 5 diapers; a place for diaper wipes; and even a cushioned changing pad built into the back. I almost forgot, it also has a pocket and grommet for your iPod and headset. It’s a very ingenious piece that is popular with local Dad’s. For the SF Giant’s fans there is even one in Orange and Black.

Al and Julie didn’t exactly get into the retail business in a traditional way by working in a store, etc. Al, a UC Davis grad, was formerly an instructor and educator, teaching at the College of Alameda and the University of the Pacific Dental School, focusing on ergonomics and patient management. Julie is also a UC Davis alum, with a background in Economics. Cutbacks in teaching programs caused him to look at a change in careers and the couple attended a Baby Products convention in Las Vegas, saw an opportunity and opened an online store last September.

The bricks and mortar retail location came a few months later. “We had started the online venture and it was going well, but in order to carry some of the product lines that we wanted, the manufacturers wanted to have a retail outlet where customers could see the products in person, so we started to look at sites on Union Street, and in the South Bay,” said Picache. “Then this location became available and the street and neighborhood looked like a good fit for us.” He went on to say, “ The customers have been great since the store opened. Even people who have come in and didn’t need bags or accessories are telling their friends and relatives who either come into the store or have ordered online from the website. The ‘word-of-mouth’ response has been great.”

They are also “customers” with three children, 10-year-old Alexis, 3-year-old Jayden, and 5-month-old Kai. Alexis joined her Dad to show off the Sidekick bag in the photo.

With products from companies with names like “DADGear” and Diaper Dudes” Baby Street carries bags, shoes, and accessories for both Mom’s and Dad’s with “Babies On The Go.” In fact, the store will be having a Fathers Day sale where everything is 10% off the listed price, including items currently on sale. They are also currently featuring a 10% off coupon for all customers who mention their ad in the Observer…

Baby Street is located at 207 West Portal Avenue, next to Zephyr Real Estate. They are open Monday - Saturday from 10 AM to 6 PM, and on Sunday from 11AM to 5 PM. You can also reach them at 415-564-4008, or on the web at

June 2009

Alfred’s — The Classic SteakhouseINterior at Alfreds

The word classy came into the English language in 1891 — slang — meaning “superior; high class.” Just 37 years after the Oxford English Dictionary recognized the word, Alfred’s Steakhouse opened in San Francisco. “Classy” was how people described it from the beginning. That was 1928. 81 years later, the word still fits. And there are reasons, according to how the word class is defined and redefined over the centuries, according to the O. E. D.

Back in 1928, a waiter everyone in the city liked, named Alfred Bacchini, wanted to have his own restaurant, and he knew just how he wanted it to be. He found an ornate Victorian on Broadway, high on the hill over North Beach, above the spot where the Broadway Tunnel is now. But there was no Broadway Tunnel then. The plans for the tunnel had been laid in 1863, but the city officials wrangled for 85 years, and it took a total of 87 years for construction to be finished. Meanwhile, Alfred’s stood proud on that steep hill while the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge were built. By the time you could drive through the Broadway Tunnel Alfred’s had been the classic steakhouse for 24 years, minus a brief time when the police shut it down, for a violation of Prohibition. The shut—down lasted barely more than a week, because the politicians couldn’t go long without those steaks, and those vibes — and no doubt those martinis.interior 2 at Alfreds

Albert Bucchini presided over his restaurant for 45 years, until 1973, when he retired and sold it to another Italian family, Art Petri and his son, another Al, Al Petri. If you go in on a Thursday, when the lunch crowd is thinning, you’ll probably see Al and his wife Pat sitting down, at last, to enjoy lunch in each other’s company. Al’s sister Teri’s husband, Will Growney, might be the person who greets you: he’s also a partner in the family restaurant. The new Al and the Petri family have kept up the original Alfred’s tradition — adding their own delicious touches.

Now it’s not just the place where San Francisco dignitaries go for the comfort of a great martini, the best steak in town, and a sophisticated wine list, but the spot other restaurateurs and celebrity chefs go when they get a night off.

I first tasted that steak—like-no-other—steak when Alfred’s was still in that old house above the Broadway Tunnel. There were red leather banquettes so plush you wanted to cozy in and spend the night. The décor was so fancy it was decadent: chandeliers, red—flocked wallpaper, a sense of a time you wished you’d lived in. The steak was sizzled by fire to a thin crisp on the outside, bursting with juices when you bit in.

Then Alfred’s moved. This was twelve years ago — 1997. I was mad. I couldn’t imagine anything as good as the old place. The new place was in the Financial District — on Merchant Street, the little alley between the Transamerica Pyramid and Kearny, the site of a lifelong institution, The Blue Fox. Good, but not Alfred’s. I dug in my heels and couldn’t be dragged there. Except — some friends from the East had long heard and read about Alfred’s. They begged. I called upon my kind heart and gave in…for their sake.

And so we walk in.

My heavens. The air changes. There’s a hush — combined with an electrifying energy. The ceiling is midnight blue, lit not by stars or chandeliers but by repeating circles of inset golden globes. The drama of it stuns, because of the understatement. In a much more modern way, it’s plusher than the old place. In this light, the women are beautiful. The food is bright. The steaks glisten. The scampi glisten. The vegetables have all the color — and taste — that nature gave them. My favorite is the creamed spinach — green as green. It’s creamed, but with just a dream of cream. I tried to get the recipe for you but the chef said no. It’s a secret. And at Alfred’s the Caesar’s salad is the real thing — nothing like anything you’d have in a common restaurant.

Which brings us back to the word “classy” — or, to go back further, “classic.” That word started in Roman times, when people actually spoke Latin. The word then was classis, coined by Servius Tullius when he divided the Roman people into six orders, for the sake of taxing them. The word classic came into English (originally as classick) in 1656. By 1772 it had come to mean “the division of society according to status”; soon it came to mean “of the first rank and of acknowledged excellence.” Even more relevant to Alfred’s, a later definition of classic is “purity of art and design.” Alfred’s has kept its focus sharp. After all these years (81) — through Prohibition and the Beatniks and the hippies and the dot—coms, through fast food and slow food, through Julia Child and Alice Waters — through all these changes, Alfred’s has never tried to be anything but Alfred’s. The classic steakhouse.

Alfred’s Steakhouse, 659 Merchant Street (415) 781-7058. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 5:oo PM (cocktails) and 5:30 PM (Dinner). Alfred’s is also open for lunch on Thursday only from 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM. Reservations are recommended.

May 2009

Take a tour of India at Restaurant Roti Exterior, Roti Indian Bistro

The aroma of exotic spices is the first wave that tickles your senses when you walk through the door into Restaurant Roti at 53 West Portal Avenue.

Walking through the front door feels as if you are being transported to another time and place as you enter a beautifully decorated space of dark wood, pillows, and marvelous photographs, with the smell of exotic Indian spices filling the air. Owner Rustom Swaleh and his staff have created a great place for dining; an attractive environment, friendly service, and best of all, a varied and enticing menu with something for everyone.

Most of us associate Indian cuisine with the many forms of curries and kabobs, and Roti features many delicious ones, but there is so much more. The restaurant prides itself on serving dishes from both Northern and Southern India. Northern Indian cuisine is represented by the Tandoori dishes cooked in the traditional way using a clay oven that is fired by mesquite charcoal, while the vegetarian dishes originate from the Southern end of the country. Seafood, rice dishes and many curries are also featured in the extensive menu.

MInterior, Roti Indian Bistroy wife and I recently dined at Roti, and were struck by the large assortment of choices for appetizers and dinner. The helpful server assisted us in trying to narrow down choices to give us an overview of the cuisine. We decided to try something from both the North and South, and share the entrees.

Not only are there many choices, the volume of the portions is also very generous for the price. Our entrees were the Seekh Kabab ($16), (grilled portions of ground lamb, seasoned with cumin and cilantro ); and the Vegetarian Thali ($20), an assortment of Bengan Bharta (Tandoor-smoked eggplant sautéed with onions fresh tomatoes and ginger), Dal (yellow lentils sautéed with garlic, ginger and tumeric), Mixed Vegetables, Raita (a cucumber yogurt with caraway and cumin), Pulao (basmati rice cooked with saffron, cumin, cardamon and bay) and Kachumber (a mixture of fresh tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, herbs and lemon juice). On the side we had several kinds of Indian flat bread, Naan, and wine with dinner.

Although I am not normally a practiced aficionado of Indian cuisine, (due to several exposures to very spicy curry), I loved the dinner. The portions were large (we had leftovers), and the combinations of the curries, the spices, the tandoor cooking and the atmosphere were enough to make me a “Roti fan” for life. I admit, even as an avowed meat-eater, the vegetarian dishes were superb and I really enjoyed all of the components of the Thali. The kabab was also terrific and a large portion.

The restaurant website describes the restaurant: “Roti is about experiencing a feast – a celebration shared with family and friends in a warm modern setting; a place where authentic Indian cuisine is prepared using high quality local and organic ingredients, and served in a refined style.”

I can attest to the high quality, refined style and courteous service; I’ll take their word on the authenticity of the food. It’s a romantic, terrific place to share a meal with someone special, or just to treat yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

(A note: we dined at Roti incognito – no one at the restaurant was expecting us or knew about this article being written.) MB

Restaurant ROTI is located at 53 West Portal Avenue. The restaurant is open Sunday through Thursday from 5:00 – 10:30 PM, and on Friday and Saturdays from 5:00 -11:00 PM. To book a reservation, call them at 415.665 ROTI (7684). Reservations are highly recommended.

April 2009

Customized Massage for Everyone at MASSAGE ENVYstaff at Massage Envy

Walking through the front door at Massage Envy in the Westlake Center, you immediately feel a sense of relaxation and calmness. A waterfall glistens within the wood and slate appointed lobby and calm music fills the air. Only minutes from the freeway and the hustle and bustle of San Francisco, the clinic feels like an oasis from the stresses of the everyday world, not unlike any number of “spas” that are in the City. But Massage Envy is different.

Owner Angeline Stafford and her staff are bringing the therapeutic and health benefits of massage to everyone. Unlike “high end” spas that charge high-end prices, Massage Envy brings quality massage to its clients at a very affordable price.

A former marketing executive in Silicon Valley, Stafford knows first-hand about stress and its effect on our health. She says that she was looking for a change from the boom and bust cycles in the high tech world. After seeing a Massage Envy location in San Mateo, and experiencing the quality of the massages as a client, she and her husband decided to buy a local franchise from the Scottsdale (AZ) based company. “The ups and downs of the high tech world were stressful to the point of where my future was cloudy and I felt kind of hopeless in high-tech,” she explained, adding, “as a client, I was very impressed with the professionalism and consistent quality of the services as well as the low price of membership, so we decided to open a franchise. We picked this area for the clinic as we believe there is a pent-up need for affordable, quality massage.”

Stafford and her staff opened the location in December and have been steadily building the business ever since. Staffed by 20 massage therapy professionals, the staff offers customized massage treatments to assist clients in battling stress, to recover from injuries, or to maintain balance and well-being. The three tenants of Massage Envy’s philopophy are providing services that are affordable, professional and convenient.

The chief clinical therapist, Jilliann Uhrinak, has taught at massage schools for over 12 years, and formerly owned her own spa. As a key member of the team, Stafford knows she is fortunate to have such an experienced professional helping to oversee and coordinate the client services side of the client experience.

The program at Massage Envy works like a “massage membership club.” For an initial membership cost of $49 a client can experience a 1-hour massage. Monthly fees after joining are $59 per month, but that entitles clients to one, 1-hour massage and an unlimited amount of additional massages during the month at a price of $49 each. Although most of the programs are 6 or 12 months, there are 3-month gift memberships available also. Massage Envy also takes walk-ins off the street, at a price of $98 per massage.

How popular has Massage Envy been since it opened? In five months over 2000 people have visited the location, with over 400 members joining. Stafford says that most clients schedule 2 visits per month as a tool in maintaining their health care management. “Working on a computer is one of the worst things we can do to our bodies,” explained Stafford. “We end up all bunched up with wrist and back problems, headaches, and undue stress.”

As part of a national network of franchises, Stafford and her staff benefit from the marketing support and branding that comes with being part of a nationwide group, but in the end it’s all about the customer service and value. “We have to provide quality each and every time. People are entrusting their bodies and health to us. It’s not like buying a book or television,” she said, adding “we can work with each client to provide any combination of massage techniques from the 12-15 types that we offer, such as Swedish, Shiatsu and Deep Pressure.” The group now offers a hot stone therapy that radiates the heat into the deepest part of the muscle groups to allow the therapist to get deeper to better loosen up the muscles. This hot stone work is $98 for a 90- minute session.

In visiting the clinic and observing the calm and relaxed people coming out after their sessions, one can see that the friendly and professional staff are making a difference in the well being of their clients, all at an affordable price. In these stressful times, Massage Envy looks to be a great antidote for everyday life.

Massage Envy is located in The Shops at Lake Merced at 494 Westlake Center. They are open Monday through Friday, 8 AM- 10PM; Saturday, 8AM-6PM and on Sunday from 10AM – 6PM. To book a reservation, call them at 650.757.ENVY (3689).

March 2009

Now is the time to Shop Locally

taraval bisuniss district photo

In a departure from our monthly highlight of one local merchant, this month we take a look at our local retailers in general and discuss why it is more important than ever to support and shop locally.

The “Westside” of the city is fortunate to have a diverse mix of locally owned retail shops within walking distance of our neighborhoods. West Portal Avenue, Taraval Street, Ocean Avenue, and 19th Avenue provide many opportunities to support our locally owned stores and restaurants. Most of the stores are small businesses, owned by people we know, or can connect with. They value their businesses and help to form the fabric of living in SF.West Portal businesses

When shopping or dining we are most often dealing directly with the owners (or family members) working in the shops. They are knowledgeable of their products and provide helpful and personal service that the large box retail locations or chain stores and restaurants cannot match. A common complaint is that the small stores are more expensive than the “big box” because they cannot buy in the same volume. In some cases this is true, but when one looks at the true cost of retail, the pricing equation is not as clear.West Portal Business photo

In articles presented by the International Council of Shopping Centers it is expected that over 150,000 store locations will close this year and many will be smaller independent retailers although the big box sellers are not immune, as we have seen with the recent bankruptcies of Linen and Things, Mervyns, and Circuit City.

When we shop at larger chain stores, the stores are part of a larger corporate that doesn’t generally use local services such as architects, planners, suppliers, etc. They are “cloned” from cookie cutter designs and the profits generated are almost always exported to out of state headquarters.

In contrast, independent stores typically spend much of their profits locally, give back to the local communities, and create jobs for local planners, suppliers, accountants, ad agencies, and other service providers.

As reported in the January 4 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, a 2007 study in San Francisco by Civic Economics detailed the premium that cities receive from local ownership. The study found that dollars spent at independent businesses yielded 3X local economic benefit and created about 80% more jobs than those spent at chain store competitors.Portola businesses

Another problem is the unfair “advantage” that online suppliers have over “brick and mortar” businesses. We, as consumers, avoid sales tax for items bought on the web from companies outside California. Although it saves each of us money, is it doing more harm by contributing to California’s shortfall by denying the state a chance at sales taxes, and creating an atmosphere where local business owners have an uphill battle just to survive. Lakeside business district photo

If, as consumers, we value the ability to walk to a local store, interact with local merchants, and maintain the retail portion of our unique neighborhoods then maybe we should forego the car trip to Home Depot, Marshall’s, or Petco and instead walk up the block to Papenhousen Hardware, Little Fish boutique, or Sunset Pet Supply.

In the end, we all benefit from a vibrant, local retail economy. It’s good for our neighborhoods, San Francisco, and California.

Feb. 2009

“Just Because” Gift and Card ShoppeCynthia Pagan of Just Because

We live in a time when many of our independent stores have been replaced by “cookie cutter” chain stores that offer somewhat lower prices, but also a set selection and often questionable levels of service as the employees are not vested in the success or failure of the store. This month we visit “Just Because” Gift and Card Shoppe – a store that excels in service and selection and where you can plan events and design invitations for four or four hundred.

The owners and staff at the West Portal’s store have taken the time to expand the concept of the corner card and gift shop to provide one-stop shopping for your card, gift, and event planning and design needs.

Located at 162 West Portal Ave. owner Cynthia Pagan has assembled a friendly, professional and well-trained staff that creates a retail environment that is warm, friendly and very different that the typical “card store” that handles singular products with cheesy branded gifts that go along with the corporate ID.

“We provide Grab and Go gifts that you can be proud to give”, says Pagan, who added, ”We’ve expanded our wrapping paper selections to create wraps that are complementary to our gifts and are fun. We want our customers to have fun with gift giving and to make a statement about the thought and planning that went into picking out a thoughtful gift.”

Walking towards the back of the store one is struck with the attention to detail in the layout and selection of the cards and gifts, not the usual assortment, but stand out stuff that is fun and quirky, in fact the word “cute” is one that may best describe the environment…but wait, there’s more…

A sign hanging in the rear of the store reads “Invitation Station”, and this is where the store really sets them apart. Although the shoppe has been providing custom printed invitations for almost 4 years, they have expanded the emphasis on this part of the business due to customer demand. From weddings, to birthdays, graduations to retirement parties Cynthia and her staff can assist you in designing invitations and other printed materials to ensure that your event is a success.

Depending on your needs, the staff can help you with “Plug and Play Invitations” set up for easy browsing and design, or custom designed invitations using distinctive paper stock and multiple layering and printing options.

By training all of their staff members and handling quality paper stock and albums, Just Because has created an all-in-one event planning and consulting service that allows a customer to create a “theme and tone” that carries throughout the invitations, envelopes, party favors, thank you cards, and albums.

Your imagination is the limit as they can custom design virtually “anything you want” from ivory or white to polka dots, stripes and other designs.

Pagan feels strongly about working with local vendors to source the paper, card stock and to have it cut and printed. “Our desire is to Buy Local items that are US and California produced”, said the owner, who is also the outgoing President of the West Portal Merchants Association.

She summed up their capability by explaining that, “No invitation order is too big or too small; from planning and designing an event for four or four hundred, we can do it all!”

Just Because Gift and Card Shoppe / Invitation Station is located at 162 West Portal Avenue. The store is open Monday-Saturday from 10-6 and on Sunday from 12-5. They can be contacted at 415-566-4483.

December 2008

Spotlight on: SUNSET PET SUPPLYsunset pet supply

Walking on the 2200 block of Taraval Street, you first see a sidewalk sign with a chalk message advising you to “Have a Great Day”. This cheery welcome is the first sign that Sunset Pet Supply is a different kind of retail store.

Once inside, the store is overflowing with a wide selection of pet foods, toys, furniture and other accessories. While it may look typical, it isn’t. Co-owners Sanford Johnson and Kimberly Lesher have succeeded in doing what every retail store should strive to achieve- give customer focused service and sell great products in a fun, holistically-based environment.

Johnson and Lesher recently celebrated the 5th anniversary of opening the store, although it kind of started by accident. “Kimberly and I were partners in a dog walking service (Pro Dogwalkers) and when we found out that the store (Petcetera) was closing, we thought, let’s try running a store, it shouldn’t be too difficult”, says Johnson, who added, “we underestimated the degree of difficulty, but we are fortunate to be in a great neighborhood where the customers are focused on value and service and we believe the store offers products and services that provide a real value to our customers.”

While there are many reasons to shop at Sunset Pet Supply, a big difference between them and other retailers is the degree of caring and the focus on quality that the owners and staff undertake in selecting the pet food and products for the shelves. “We’ve decided to carry products by small regional manufacturers that are US based and incorporate more natural products with natural preservatives. The shelf life is less, so we have to be much more aware of our selling cycle as to not have spoilage in the products.

By handling these smaller brands, we can better control quality, and with pet foods this is very important. If the product isn’t good enough to feed to our own pets, we will not stock it” said Johnson.

One only has to look at the recent pet food recall where products were tainted with Chinese-based industrial chemicals and caused a worldwide panic among pet owners, recalled products, and the death of dozens of animals to see where small batch quality control is important.

Their philosophy on natural products extends to all of the products they carry. Their pet toys are also made from natural ingredients, like rubber, instead of PVC, and are also kid safe because when pets leave toys around it is not uncommon for the children to also play with them. SPS also stocks biodegradable dog poop bags (not packaged in a plastic enclosure), organic catnip, and handmade toys for cats and dogs that are made by a local SF vendor. The philosophy of buying locally extends to other things, “It took us 4-5 months to find quality cat furniture that was not imported, made of natural ingredients, and not containing industrial chemicals like melamine and formaldehyde.

Indeed, Johnson and Lesher have taken the practice of integrating environmentally friendly products to a level not readily seen in retail stores. “Everything on our shelves is the result of a conscious decision based on the needs of our customers, our holistic beliefs, and to really focus on the health and welfare of our customers and animal clients.

Observing the customer experience at Sunset Pet, it appears to be a happy experience for all. Music wafts throughout the store and each and every visitor is greeting more like an old friend than a customer. The staff members also seem to get along well in the friendly and relaxed atmosphere. By the way, bring your pet, as the store is extremely pet friendly.

Community Involvement is also the rule of thumb at the store. They have participated in the recent Outlands Music Festival in GG Park, the Pet Pride festivities, and last week’s Taraval Street Fair.

The owners and staff are currently working with the SF Homeless Youth Alliance to collect jackets, blankets, sweaters, socks and sleeping bags to help homeless kids get through the upcoming winter season. If you have items to donate they can be dropped off at the store.

With great products, a friendly atmosphere, and experienced, trained staff members who can answer all of your pet related questions, Sunset Pet Supply should be your first choice when looking for products that support your pet in the very best way. The store is located at 2226 Taraval Street, between 32nd and 33rd Avenue, and is open Monday through Friday from 10 am – 7 pm, Saturday from 9:30 am – 6:30 pm, and from Sunday from 11 am -6 pm. You can reach them at 415-661-4236 or on the web at

Coming up in future issues: Just Because Cards and Gifts and Massage Envy

November 2008

The Italian-American Social Club
Italian American Social Club

A restaurant for everyone that makes you feel like you’re in the family dining room

In these modern times, restaurants come and go, each one trying to be sleeker and more cutting edge. Too often, they fail to catch on and are quickly gone with a “For Lease” sign in the window of an expensively remodeled space.

This month we take a trip to ‘old Italia’ at the Italian American Social Club, a place where generous servings of food, friendly staff and a great bar offer patrons an evening of dining the way it used to be…and still is.

Located in San Francisco’s Excelsior District, the restaurant is located at 25 Russia Avenue, off of Mission Street in the Southern end of the city, just before Mission crosses into Daly City.

Like the neighboring Crocker-Amazon area, the district was originally home to many families of Italian ancestry and it was a merging of two fraternal men’s clubs that created the modern club and location.

Starting in 1928 a group of men met in the basement of Mario Blengino’s home to organize a social club that would be a credit to their community. They soon outgrew the space and rented a spot on Russia Avenue they called The Aurora Club. When this club merged with the Alfieri Club in 1935, the Italian American Social Club was born, and the group took on the task of building and financing their own building.

In 1940 the present building at 25 Russia Avenue was completed and opened, with a week of celebrations including a parade and a banquet attended by many city officials.

Flash forward 68 years to 2008, and the I.A.S.C. is still going strong, with a membership of over 200 and a restaurant and banquet hall that is well known for hosting wedding receptions, birthday parties, and large banquets for over 250 guests.

Even though the location sounds like an exclusive venue, the restaurant is open to the public on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, with lunch being served from 11 A.M. until 2 P.M. and dinner from 5 P.M. until 9 P.M.

The restaurant benefits from having its’ own free parking lot across the street, with plenty of parking at most times. With an “old time” 40 foot long bar, the IASC is a great place to meet friends for a drink, or to strike up a conversation with one of the regulars before settling in for a sumptuous Italian dinner.

Dinners are very reasonably priced, with “Specials of the Day” being priced at $16.95. Unlike many modern day eateries, these specials include soup or salad, and ice cream in the pricing. Entrees such as Italian Sausage and Polenta, Lamb Shank, Veal Parmigian, Calamari Steak, or Red Snapper are typical of the specials. They also have other entrees such as New York Steak, Salmon, and a variety of dinner salads. The serving sizes are large, and it’s doubtful that many people walk away without getting their money’s worth.

Rich Guaraldi, the long-time Manager of the IASC is most welcoming when hosting people and talking about the club, “We really try to treat everyone as if they are members of our family. Families have been coming here for generations. Everything we do is about family.”

Sitting at a table having dinner, there is music coming from the speakers, and it almost feels like you are having dinner at your Italian Nana’s house, even if, like me, your ancestry isn’t from the old country. It’s not uncommon to have people sitting at the table next to you speaking Italian.

Guaraldi and his staff handle catering events in their four banquet rooms, holding events for between 40 and 250 people.

Headed by Paul Guistos, Chairman, and Frank Cena, President, the I.A.S.C. celebrated the 77th anniversary of the club’s existence in 2008. It’s easy to see why they remain a San Francisco tradition.

Located at 25 Russia Street, you can contact the I.A.S.C. at (415) 585-8059. For more information, visit the website at

October 2008

Back to Sports – Therapy and Fitness

Owners of Back to Sports in front of their business

We live in an era where packed waiting rooms are much too common when dealing with most medical practitioners. And when you finally get in, in many cases, you don’t get to see the medical professional, as aides, and assistants do most of the evaluations.

Located at 254 West Portal Ave. (in the former Copperfield’s location) owners Cynthia Pagan and Darren Badong have assembled a friendly, professional and experienced PT and chiropractic staff that strives to provide individually-tailored therapy programs for each of their clients.

Clayton Wu (D.C), Nora Cacinindin (MPT) and Kristin Henry (MPT) have all worked in the large “assembly-line” types of clinics where “hands on” type of work is not possible. Each of them loves the environment at the West Portal therapy and fitness center.

As Cacinindin described, “In my 28 years of providing PT I have been in all types of clinics. I love the environment at Back to Sports because we can really simplify the treatment processes and provide targeted individual service so that our clients don’t feel like they are being shuffled around”. The UC trained Kinesiologist and Therapist went on to say that by providing a smooth effortless transition from recovery to fitness each of the staff can chart each person’s progress and needs.”

Kristin Henry, who studied at the University of Michigan and Northwestern University, has been working in PT for over 12 years, and in addition to general therapy, she also works with women who are new moms or moms-to-be.

“I like to work with both pre-natal and post-partum women as they face different health issues, especially with muscles that can be tweaked during pregnancy. Often times, they try to do the same workouts that they “used to do” and end up with a muscle or tendon injury. That’s where I can help them get back to good health”, said Henry, who can relate to her clients as a mom herself.

The third member of the team is Clayton Wu, who earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from the Palmer West Chiropractic College, in California. As a chiropractor he can evaluate and diagnose injuries and recommend a course of treatment for the patient and therapists’ to follow. He also enjoys the close patient contact that he can have. “Unlike a typical “office” with examination rooms, our rooms are adjacent to our working areas. It’s more like a gym than a clinic. We use state of the art equipment such as ultrasound, bio feedback, electrical stimulation units, inversion tables, traction and the basic cold and hot packs to work the muscles, but unlike most places I have worked, we can then personally show our clients the specific exercises for strengthening by just walking them around the corner and doing the exercises with them”, stated Wu.

With the ability to tailor recovery and fitness programs to each individual client, the staff members can help everyone reach their own specific goals, such as increased flexibility, pain relief and management, or increasing the level of fitness. They see themselves as guides to help each of us on our journey to good health.

Cacamimdin summed it up best when she said, “Invest in yourself. Your health is your biggest asset, and after all you can’t fully enjoy your life if you are in poor health.”

Back to Sports Therapy and Fitness is located at 254 West Portal Avenue. In addition to the staff members listed certified personal fitness trainers are available to structure a fitness program. The center is open by appointment only. Contact them at (415) 759-8978 to schedule an appointment.

September 08

The Dog SpaDog Spa Owner Jeny Huynh

By Mitch Bull

Is your canine companion looking a little scruffy; perhaps in need of a flea bath; or just a little pampering? If so, consider booking an appointment for ‘Rover’ or ‘Princess’ at “The Dog Spa”, a pet salon specializing in dogs, located at 169 West Portal Avenue.

Owners Jenny Huynh and Ada Wong opened the salon two years ago with the purpose of providing dog owners with a one-stop venue for cleaning and grooming services for any type of canine (except biting ones…).

The Dog Spa offers a large menu of services such as shampooing, flea treatments, nail clipping and grooming, as well as de-matting and skunk spray de-odorizing and skin treatments.

When asked what sets their business apart from other grooming providers, Huynh explained, “It’s the personalized level of service. I started in this business after I became a pet owner and really enjoyed the care and grooming aspect of caring for my dog. I looked around and there didn’t seem to be many services that provided personalized service for dogs, so I decided to take the training to become a certified groomer and eventually opened the shop with Ada (Wong) who I met through a mutual friend.”

Both Huynh and Wong understand that working with many breeds and types of dogs can provide different challenges. From puppies having their “first haircut”, to older pets that may be suffering from vision or hearing loss, the two professionals are well prepared to provide their services in a caring and personal way.

In fact, in addition to being “Certified Groomers”, they are also trained and certified in canine CPR and first aid for treatment in case of emergencies.

Providing extra care and a personalized touch also sets them apart from other large grooming services, “It can be a little stressful for the pet client when their owners drop them off for grooming, so we work by appointment only. This gives the pet companion and their dogs a clear window of time (usually about 2 hours) for the grooming or cleaning to occur since we don’t want to just have a pet client dropped off early in the morning and left all day. It’s a lot less stressful for the pets this way”, said Huynh, who added, “Sometimes we have cancellations, so if someone needs help in a last minute type of situation, we will try to accommodate their needs if we can.”

In addition to the myriad of grooming services, the store also features a large selection of dog accessories such as beds, toys, clothing, leashes, and collars and of course, doggie treats.

The Dog Spa is open 7 days a week, from 10-5, at 169 West Portal Avenue. You can find them by following the doggie footprints on the front window, or by calling them at 415-661-8333. They also are accessible through their website @

September 2008