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.
That wine training ended up paying off. My boyfriend, who’s a chef, got a job at a restaurant down in Los Angeles, and they needed someone there who knew about wine. So they hired me. That position led to a job at Suzanne Goin’s restaurant Tavern, and then eventually I got hired to open a restaurant called Mercato de Vetro. I had to go through 15 interviews to get that job. A part of me still doesn’t know how I got that job. But maybe it was because I am a pleasant person. I laugh a lot. There is a lot of sincerity in the way I talk. I had a good energy about me, and I felt like I was good to work with.
I learned the most from that job than any other position I’ve had. We would get to work at 8AM and train the staff until 4PM, and then the staff would leave, and we would work until 3AM. We did that for three weeks. I would get home at three in the morning, and I would have to be at work before eight. But it was really fun. We were all really excited, and I had a good attitude about it.
After we opened, all the managers left, so I had to step up and run the place by myself with only one junior manager. I took ownership over the restaurant. I enjoyed worrying about whether our costs were too high or how to manage the staff. I felt pride in our restaurant. I started to really think: Wow, maybe I can open my own restaurant.
The restaurant ended up closing after two years. But I learned a lot about what not to do. For example, we were spending, like, a thousand dollars on a trashcan, and 25 dollars on a single piece of silverware. They did a lot of things right, and a lot of things that didn’t work. I took the pieces that fit me and let go of the ones that didn’t.
After taking one more job — at a high-volume restaurant called Katsuya — I had two kids, took a year off, and moved back to San Francisco. At that point, I was still thinking about owning my own place, and my husband was, too. I figured that if you work the front of house, you can go two ways: you can be a food and beverage director at a hotel or you can own your own place. I chose the latter.
So I got to it. We got our family to be our investors, we found an amazing place near where we lived, and, on a pretty shoestring budget, we opened up Son’s Addition about two and a half months ago.
It’s not a perfect restaurant. We are still learning. It’s unbelievably hard. But I feel grateful for everything I learned leading up to this point. I am thankful for the breadth of experience that I got and my ability to put my head down and work through challenges. The thing about owning your own place is that you have to know how to do everyone’s position. You also have to know how to treat people — it’s important to breed loyalty. In this industry, there are too many restaurants and too many people. People will go for money unless they are loyal to you and that comes from treating people like people.