First-time restaurateur Matt Semmelhack had some naive dreams starting out that he’d be able to open a restaurant within six months. That was in 2008, and three years and many lessons later, the project is finally close to complete. "I’ve always been interested in food and wine," he tells Grub Street. "But as my family can tell you, the switch from real estate consulting to the food industry was pretty abrupt." Semmelhack isn’t afraid of the well-stocked dining scene he’s entering on this fall with his new restaurant AQ (1085 Mission). He hired La Folie chef Mark Liberman, which is a smart move right there, and the area he’s chosen — Mission between Sixth and Seventh Streets — isn’t what you’d call a proven dining neighborhood with plenty of foot traffic. But that’s a challenge he finds exciting.
He says the motivating factor in choosing the location, a building not previously used as a restaurant, was the space itself, the bones of the building and the exposed brick. "We looked at a lot of locations all over the city," he tells us. "But in a lot of restaurants that have seen really long-term success in San Francisco, it’s all about the space itself." He points to Zuni, in particular, and how people always talk about loving that space because of its weird angles and corners, all the different dining environments to choose from — the bar, near the wood oven, upstairs — and he says it’s a lot harder in most newly constructed spaces to create that feel from scratch. AQ, he says, will have multiple levels and the kinds of corners and nooks that he hopes diners will respond to.
As for the food, we heard earlier descriptions and saw the draft menu and prices, and the first comparison that came to mind was Commonwealth. Semmelhack says they also hope to be similar to Sons & Daughters, but that they’re aiming for a bit more of a fine dining feel than at either of those restaurants, with a bit more physical space allocated to each diner. "The service is great at Commonwealth," he says, "And that will hopefully also be a hallmark of what we do."
Semmelhack hopes AQ will open by early November, but knows better at this point than to give any firm dates. In the meantime, there’s still a few days to donate to the restaurant’s Kickstarter campaign and get your name engraved on a brick in the dining room. He says he’s humbled and surprised by all the donations. "Some of it came from friends and family, but a lot of the money has come from people we don’t know," he says. "We’re happy that people were able to find out about the restaurant this way, and that they’ve been excited enough about it to donate a little."
Earlier: What’s to Come as the Weather Warms: A San Francisco Fall Restaurant Preview
Help AQ Restaurant Get Off the Ground, Get Your Name Engraved On the Wall
AQ Restaurant, Due This Fall, to Feature Former La Folie Chef
Coming Soon to 7th & Mission: AQ Restaurant