This feature is part of a regular series called “How I Got Promoted,” spotlighting the stories of how top hospitality professionals took their careers to the next level. Today, we’re talking to Anna Cobarruvias, the general manager and co-owner of Son’s Addition in San Francisco, who went from server to owner, thanks to her directness, resolve, and willingness to be a jack-of-all-trades.
I have been around restaurants my whole life. My uncle owns a chain of restaurants on the East Coast, so I helped out with those growing up. And then when I turned 18, I decided to really give working in restaurants a try. I moved to San Francisco and started as a host at a restaurant called Chevy’s. Hosting is one of the hardest jobs for anybody — you don’t make as much money as everyone else, and you are getting yelled at by managers, customers, and servers.
Soon, I moved up to serving tables, which allowed me to travel. I moved to 13 cities, and I started bartending, too. With bartending, you have to fake it until you make it because the nature of the job is that you can’t get a bartending job until you have bartending experience, but you can’t learn how to bartend until you actually bartend somewhere. So I kind of fibbed and waited for someone to give me a shot, and eventually, they did. I realized that I really liked bartending: your whole job is talking to somebody and making people feel comfortable and teaching them about the menu. I was always a little shy, and it was the first chance I got to be like, “Let me tell you something.”
Eventually, I moved back to San Francisco — I was only going to be there briefly, and then I was going to go back to Buenos Aires. But then I got a job at Hotel Nikko as a bartender and server. I excelled quickly, and I started to get confident that I could be a manager. Of course, at that time I didn’t have any management experience. When I asked the general manager at the time, she was like, “Why?” because managing a restaurant is hard: you have opposite hours of everyone, there are not a lot of benefits unless you really love it, and it’s not the most fun job to do.
I was clear with her: I told her I have a strong personality. I am direct. I can tell people what to do without upsetting them. I want to learn. She had seen me serve, and she knew what I was capable of, so she agreed.
Managing turned out to be great. The back end of restaurants is fascinating to me — it’s not just saying hi and talking to tables; there is so much that goes on in the background, and I loved the pace of it all. That’s when it clicked for me that I wanted to work toward owning my own business. I knew that business was meant to be in the restaurant industry — I couldn’t do the 9 to 5 or work a desk job.
After two years, I decided that I wanted to try a more mom and pop shop. I found a tiny wine bar and restaurant in the Mission called Maverick that was looking for an assistant general manager. I did not have the qualifications to be an assistant general manager, but I told the owner once again that I was willing to learn and excited about the opportunity. He gave me a shot.
The position ended up being more like a glorified host job. But the owner did teach me a lot: He educated me on wine, we did all the ordering and invoicing together, and I learned how to fix things. At a large hotel, you don’t really deal with any of that. At a small place, if you break it, you fix it; if you order it, you pay the bill. It was a 30-seat restaurant, so we were hustling to do as many turns as possible every evening. You had to know how to adjust your books at all times on the fly, to make sure you were fitting in as many people as possible. It’s San Francisco! If there’s an empty seat, you’re losing money. [Read more…]