Restaurants serving choice profits

Serving up a top-selling restaurant in The City is like following in the footsteps of Rice-A-Roni: you have to get tourists and locals believing it’s a San Francisco treat, according to local eatery owners.

That’s been one of the key ingredients fueling the four San Francisco restaurants named this week among the 100 highest-grossing independent eateries in the nation.

The list, published in Restaurants & Institutions, included Scoma’s (No. 23), Boulevard (59), The Slanted Door (70) and Cliff House (79) — four nonchain establishments that combined for nearly $53 million in sales in 2007.

The restaurants that made the list all share the benefits of size, location and history. Scoma’s and The Slanted Door are in heavily traveled waterfront areas, the pulse of tourism. Boulevard is in the heart of the Financial District, and Cliff House, though on the less-frequented ocean side, is clung to the edge of national parkland.

Nevertheless, restaurateurs say it’s not easy getting a San Francisco restaurant on a national top-sellers list, mainly because visitor traffic is less affected by the seasons in other cities as it is in San Francisco. During the tourism-scarce winter months, local restaurants must be able to bring in the locals.</p>

“San Francisco residents favor independent restaurants, you don’t really see many chains here,” said Kevin Westlye, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

Mariann Costello, Scoma’s vice president, agreed that the restaurant’s success is in its balance as a favorite for visitors and locals. She said a restaurant has to exhibit longevity and tradition to become regarded as a must-see experience for visitors. But the dual challenge is to stay creative and flexible to keep Bay Area residents interested.

“[Scoma’s] has a long-standing family tradition as its foundation, and with that foundation we can move forward in a progressive manner,” Costello said.

TaoLas Vegas topped the list with more than $66.5 million, and three New York City restaurants made the top five: Tavern on the Green (No. 2), Smith & Wollensky (4) and TAO Asian Bistro (5). Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami Beach was third, with sales of about $29.6 million, according to the report.

maldax@examiner.com

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