Tadich Grill (San Francisco, California)

Photo by Thomas Vander Wal

In 1849, during the height of the California Gold Rush, a Croatian immigrant opened the New World Coffee Saloon on Commercial Street. Like the Original Starbucks in Seattle, the coffee saloon it soon eclipsed its humble beginnings and the little eatery changed hands from one Croatian owner to the next, eventually landing in the hands of an employee named John Tadich. Tadich bought the restaurant in 1888 and operated it as the New World Coffee Saloon until the great earthquake of 1906 when it was, like much of San Francisco, destroyed. After the earthquake, he rebuilt the restaurant in a new location and renamed it after himself.

In 1928 the Buich family purchased Tadich and it has been a family business ever since. In 1967 the restaurant was once again forced to move when Wells Fargo purchased the Clay Street location for redevelopment. The Buich’s moved Tadich to 240 California Street, and the restaurant has been in the same spot since. While the second move was undesired, the current space is one-third larger than the original and the mahogany bar running the entire length of the downstairs dining room was able to make the move along with much of the traditional charm.

Tadich has been described as “ultra-traditional West Coast,” and some of the seafood specialties like Crab Louis and Shrimp Newburg that are no longer seen in many other places add some authority to that title. Virtually unchanged since 1906 (despite the complicated 1967 move), Tadich has grown into a beloved institution that serves more than 600 guests a day. And as the oldest continuously operated restaurant in California and one of Oldest Restaurants in the United States, it is very likely that they will continue in the same fashion for years to come.

Remarkably little has changed in regards to the restaurant’s cooking techniques, and the Tadich as of 2011 had only had a total of seven different chefs since 1925. Once a sign of quality service, the servers’ white coats are one of the traditions the Tadich has continued since its early days. Another aspect of the restaurant that leaves it seemingly frozen in time is that many recipes completely unchanged for decades and now fall into the category of “traditional” as opposed to “outdated”.

Once a favorite night spot of movie stars, national politicians, and San Francisco’s movers and shakers, the Tadich is now essentially a fancy West Coast seafood restaurant in the Financial District of San Francisco with a long and storied past.

2015 Racism Scandal

In 2015 a story broke that the former owner has shunned his white daughter for 32 years because she married an African-American man, and the long beloved restaurant was vilified online after the Washington Post published a story detailing the long rift in the family. The story that played out in the press and on social media was that former owner Steve Buich and his daughter Terry Upshaw had been estranged since 1983, and that he demanded that she change her last name and never call them again.

Steve Buich was adamant that the issue with his daughter was not that his son-in-law was black, he said in an email to the San Francisco Chronicle, “This has never been a matter of race, but rather the sanctity of marriage and personal judgment of character. Simply because a dispute involves people of different races does not mean that the dispute is racial in nature.”

One of the problems with the story was that it made no distinction between the actions of the father, Steve Buich who had owned the restaurant for many years, and the son, Michael Buich who purchased it in 1994 and was seemingly not involved in any way. Many suggested at the time, that despite being one of the oldest in the nation the restaurant wouldn’t be able to survive the allegations, but the passage of time and the relatively short memories of the protestors have proved them wrong.

Gene (an Oakland Raiders offensive lineman) and Terry Upshaw were happily married and raised their two sons in their northern Virginia home, so despite family issues in California it seems that they had the last laugh by living their best lives. Upshaw went on to became executive director of the NFL Players Association and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987. He passed away in 2008 of pancreatic cancer.

Tadich Grill Facts

  • The Tadich serves approximately 600 meals every day.
  • The restaurant routinely uses as much as 160 lbs (72.5 kg) of mesquite charcoal a day.
  • In the 1920s, the Tadich Grill claimed to be the first American restaurant to grill seafood over mesquite charcoal.
  • The signature rice pudding recipe has not changed in over a century.
  • Turn up earlier than you want to eat as they don’t take reservations.
  • Tadich actively avoids selling fish that is overfished, limiting sales of fish such as sea bass.
  • Tadich was only closed for one month during the 1967 move.