Interview with Harper Matheson of City Counter

 Can you share more about the inspiration behind City Counter?

City Counter has always been grounded in the idea of delivering quality, modern convenience for our guests.

I’ve worked 14 to 16 hour days most of my career. I have always felt that when I needed a meal, I had to choose between something good and something convenient. City Counter is my answer to that conundrum.

Death to the #saddesklunch! I want City Counter to bring happiness back to your office lunch. We’re going to make #happydesklunch a thing.

I was definitely inspired by the classic American diner experience. What I loved most about those spots was how easy they were.

Our menu focuses on wholesome, healthy ingredients combined to create delicious, satisfying meals you can feel good about indulging in every day.

I also know everyone is crazy busy these days, so we’ve made sure you can get your meal in about 5 minutes flat. We even offer online ordering and delivery. No one has to wait in line again.

I hope to bring everyone the convenience of a classic counter experience with a healthy menu that doesn’t skimp on the fun. 

For those not familiar with San Francisco’s new hot spot, City Counter, what are a few things you want readers to know about City Counter?

City Counter is a fast-casual restaurant, which means our to-go experience is as great as our dine-in experience. We spent a lot of time making sure that all our sandwiches and salads are tasty and satisfying, whether you eat them at your desk or our counter.

And despite being a fast-casual spot, we have a fun happy hour! With fizzy Counter Punch, take-home pot pies and pimento cheese dip, we love serving the evening crowd before they hurry home.

What was your first memory of hospitality that you credit to leading to your current role as a Restaurant owner at City Counter?

I don’t have one single memory, but I remember all the parties my parents threw when I was growing up.

Running a restaurant is basically like throwing a big party every day. And there is nobody better at hosting than my parents.

I always loved watching the two of them planning their next get together. As I got older, I used to beg to “work” as a cocktail waitress, where I mostly sampled hors d’oeuvres in the corner while my mom greeted people and my dad made sure every glass was full.

It is all those fun memories that led me to this industry and to creating City Counter.

When did you know you wanted to become a restaurant proprietor?

Honestly, I knew I wanted to own my own business from an early age. I was always considered “bossy,” when I was little and I think that translated into a fierce independent streak as I grew up.

I fell in love with restaurants working in New York in my early twenties. I learned as much as I could about the industry and this business until I felt confident enough to go out on my own.

I can’t imagine doing anything else. 

Before moving to San Francisco, you lived in New York City working at the legendary B.R. Guest Hospitality Group. What are the most important lessons you learned there? What have you taken with you to City Counter?

B.R Guest is a huge restaurant group that runs very large restaurants. They have amazing systems to keep everything running smoothly.

I learned a lot about how to teach, train, mentor and motivate people to stick with those systems so we could give 1,200 people a day a fine-dining experience without a hiccup.

I definitely hope I can bring some of those practices to City Counter. But more importantly, I hope to bring the mentorship and inspiration to help our team be excited about coming to work. 

You also spent some time working at Gap Inc. in San Francisco in Corporate Finance. How did that experience help prepare you to own your own restaurant?

At Gap Inc, I helped manage the budget for a $16 billion dollar company. It definitely did not make me popular, but it taught me a lot about how to track dollars and understand the impact of my financial decisions.

I credit getting City Counter opened on time and on budget to my experience at that iconic company.

Who has been the most influential mentor/restaurant proprietor in your career?

Mani Dawes and Heather Belz, the owners of Tia Pol in New York, taught me everything I know about how to run a small business. They also taught me how to take good care of your team so people can really love their restaurant jobs.

Doug Washington has also been a huge influence. There is no one more sincere, empathetic or generous. I really admire the way he can make any guest or employee fall in love with their experience. Everyone who encounters Doug leaves feeling special. It’s an amazing skill I hope to emulate.

 What is your favorite after work drink?

Honestly, I love sparkling anything. I can’t say no to bubbles. I also used to run whiskey bars in New York, so I developed a taste for bourbon. There are some nights when nothing but a bourbon with an ice cube will do.

What is your favorite local spot in San Francisco and your old home, New York City?

In San Francisco, I love going to Frascati or L’ardoise. They are the most perfect neighborhood restaurants. The menus are always delicious and the people at both spots are so nice.

In New York, my heart belongs to Tia Pol, on 10th Avenue. I was the GM there for 2 years and it’s the first restaurant I fell in love with. I go every time I am back in New York.

Tell us something that would surprise people about you?

I am actually a very picky eater. I love trying all the new and wonderful things in this amazing restaurant world. But left to my own devices, I would eat nothing but cereal and french fries.

Interview with Harper Matheson City Counter

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