Chip Bergh’s dining boltholes

The president and CEO of Levi Strauss shares the dining spots – from San Francisco to Singapore – that make this $4.49bn-a-year company tick

Chip Bergh at Pabu in San Francisco
Chip Bergh at Pabu in San Francisco | Image: Aaron Wojack

“I’m a creature of habit and like to start every work day in the same way. I’m typically in the pool by 5.30am and, after seeing my seven-year-old daughter off to school, I’m at a breakfast meeting by 7.30am. Breakfasts are an ideal, informal way to stay in touch with my contacts. In San Francisco, I tend to gravitate towards relaxed, casual places like Rose’s Café in Cow Hollow. This Italian café is known for its breakfast pizza with smoked ham, fontina and eggs, but as I’m a vegan I always have the excellent oatmeal with berries and soy or almond milk.

Whether I’m meeting with customers, suppliers, board members, potential hires or partners, a meal outside the office has a very different vibe – you talk about things other than business and develop deeper, more trusting relationships. Lunches don’t tend to be a big part of my day, but I’ll host around four dinners a week, which often take over two hours. In San Francisco, Pabu is a sleek Japanese restaurant co-owned by Michael Mina that’s great for meetings; it’s quiet enough to have a meaningful conversation, and the izakaya-style food, including house-made tofu with matcha salt and Bloomsdale cold spinach with sesame, is delicious. I also like Mina Test Kitchen, which has a more formal atmosphere and a culinary theme that changes every few months. With just 40 seats, the room is very intimate.

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Another West Coast dining go-to is Andina in Portland, Oregon – an upscale, neo-Peruvian restaurant in the vibrant Pearl District that serves inventive dishes such as lime-scented quinoa salad and wok-fried wild mountain mushrooms. Two of my greatest hires – James Curleigh, our president, and Carrie Ask, head of retail – are thanks to dinners here. I flew up there specifically to meet them; going out of your way to show people how important they are to your business really works.

This is true wherever I am in the world. In Paris, meals at Ladurée always seem to impress. People tend to associate it with macarons, but the dinner menu is excellent – and vegan-friendly. I’ll have steamed vegetables with chia seeds, and carrots with organic spelt and za’atar. In London, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – the incredible molecular gastronomy restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental – is hard to beat. The dishes, such as braised celery with cider apple, are just beautiful to look at, as is the view of Hyde Park. I also spend a lot of time in Asia – especially in Singapore, where I used to live and where we have headquarters. Dinners there are almost always at Rang Mahal, which has an elegant atmosphere, and the tandoori Portobello mushrooms are outstanding.

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Some of my biggest deals have begun over dinners, including one with Jed York, CEO of the San Francisco 49ers football team, at Spruce, an industrial-chic Michelin-starred place in Presidio Heights. This meeting was to lay the groundwork for the naming rights to what is now known as the Levi’s Stadium but, after roasted beet salads and a bottle of Medlock Ames Cabernet Sauvignon, I walked away thinking it would never happen. They wanted $10m to $15m per year, which was too expensive for us. However, I sent Jed a follow-up note and we eventually struck a deal. Stadiums put a brand in the centre of popular culture, and during the Super Bowl Levi’s was seen in around 170 countries – so the partnership has paid for itself. Plus it’s great to take CEOs, merchants and bankers to our suite for a game or a concert; the Bourbon Pub there – a very traditional New York-style steakhouse – is excellent and we’ve entertained everyone from Alicia Keys to Lewis Hamilton at the stadium.”

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