After 21 years—and numerous accolades, including a James Beard Best Chef: Pacific award—chef-owner Traci des Jardins is closing Jardinière on Saturday. She says she’s “tired of fine-dining,” and as of the announcement made on March 25, she’s received overwhelming support from the restaurant community, food media, and her regulars. In the days when restaurant cooking was flashy and theatrical, and long before San Francisco’s Hayes Valley became a hotbed of trendy restaurants, des Jardins opened this quietly confident white table-clothed, French technique–driven, local produce–powered restaurant. It was a revolutionary move in 1997, and Jardinière soon became an institution. But it was more than just a groundbreaking restaurant; it was a home for all who came in to dine, and especially to those who came to work. How do you close a restaurant with so much history? Des Jardins is figuring that out. —Elyse Inamine
We’ve changed a lot of things at Jardinière over the years to stay relevant. We got rid of the live music and replaced the stage with a somm station. We turned the dining room downstairs into a lounge. Recently, I’ve been examining what works and what doesn’t at Jardinière. I was trying to figure out what else we could do to keep the restaurant fresh and current. I don’t think there was one moment, but I realized I didn’t want to change anything. I’m proud of the work we’ve done. The hospitality. The food. The wine service and the cocktails. I stand by it. So I decided to close Jardinière.
I’ve opened a lot of restaurants, but I’ve never had the experience of closing one. I reached out to colleagues who had and asked them: How can I do this graciously? How do I do this in a way that makes sense on my own terms? I’ve always been self-reflective and thought about my impact on the world; it probably came from my parents. “Treat people the way you want to be treated—with fairness and kindness,” they said. As I close Jardinière, I just want to make sure everyone, whether they’re guests or staff, feels like someone cares. That’s the person I want to be in this world.
So, we talked to the staff first about a month ago, and it was extremely emotional. It was an all-staff meeting, which doesn’t happen that often. They were wondering what was going on. I had remarks prepared, but the emotions took over, not just in terms of my own feelings but the staff’s. When you run a restaurant as long as I have, you have people who have been there for 19 years. It’s family.
The public announcement happened at the same time. With social media, you have to be mindful. If one staff member puts it on social media, then word gets out. We had to be cognizant of communication. Since then, I’ve been in the restaurant every night. Guests have come back, like a couple who had their first date, got engaged, threw their wedding reception, and eventually brought their kids here. Reliving that whole trajectory of people’s lives and understanding the role that the restaurant has played in their lives has been incredibly rewarding. I’m talking to dozens of people every night, some I know well and others I don’t. It’s exhausting, but it’s my way of letting go and saying goodbye as well as my way to give the staff support.
Some have left already, which is expected, but a lot of them have stayed on. They want to go out strong. The most important thing to me is that every single person who works for me has a job and a sense of work security moving forward. We have 65 employees. There are a lot of opportunities, so the management team and I are looking at each person and making sure there is a spot for them that is best for them. We know things, like where they live and what they think the ideal job is for them. We’re a close-knit community.