Hotel Biron’s grape ace: Meet Chris Fuqua

Intrepid reporter Justin Juul hits the streets each week for our Meet Your Neighbors series, interviewing the Bay Area folks you’d like to know most.

biron3aa.jpg

Most wine bars suck. They’re stuffy, over priced, and full of pretentious assholes and bad food. But not Mid-Market hideaway Hotel Biron, located at 45 Rose Street. This place is awesome. Biron’s beer menu features obscure wheat brews from Germany, Pilsners from The Czech Republic, and even cans of Tecate, which means I can take my girlfriend there for a fancy date and enjoy myself at the same time. But that’s not all. Hotel Biron’s cheese/meat selection is insane and its wine-list is off the charts. Zins, Cabs, Pinot? Sheeeit. If that’s all you know about wine you need to get out of California and into Chris Fuqua’s brain. The dude may look like a truck driver from Alabama, but he knows more about wine than a sommelier from Paris.

biron1aa.jpg

Fuqua has been running Hotel Biron for years now, but business life hasn’t changed him much. He’s still a cook at heart.

SFBG: So what’s your deal?
Chris Fuqua: My name’s Chris Fuqua. I’m the owner and operator of Hotel Biron.

SFBG: So how did that come about? Do you have family contacts in the SF restaurant industry or something?
Fuqua: No. I grew up in a small town in Iowa, actually. I decided not to go to college after high school, probably because my dad wanted me too. So, like a lot of people, I eventually ended up in the food service business, working as a dishwasher and then as a busser and a waiter and eventually as a cook. At some point, I decided I wanted to cook for a living. So I enrolled in a culinary school in Vermont where I learned about San Francisco’s reputation as a culinary capital. After graduation, I wanted to work at either Zuni or Oliveto. As it turned out, I got a job at Zuni, which is how I found this place. I used to hang out here every night after work because it’s in the alley behind Zuni, about twenty paces away.

SFBG: How did you go from a dude who used to hang out here to becoming the owner?
Fuqua: Well, I was friends with the people who used to run Biron and I actually worked here to help them out sometimes. When one of them decided to move on, I was approached as a potential partner. It was a total shock. I mean, I was a cook, and I had never really thought of myself as the owner of anything. But my girlfriend and current partner in the bar, Jess, convinced me it was possible. So I just went for it. I was a partner in Biron with one of the original owners for a while and then I actually bought her out when she decided to move on. This situation totally fell in my lap. I’m really lucky.

SFBG: What’s it like owning a wine bar in San Francisco? It seems like there’s a lot of competition.