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Storied: San Francisco

Apr 19, 2022

Emmy Kaplan and her friends in the restaurant business just wanted somewhere to go after their shifts.

In this podcast, Jeff fulfills a 20ish-year dream meeting and recording with Emmy, the namesake behind Emmy's Spaghetti Shack. Today located on Mission Street just below Cesar Chavez, the restaurant recently celebrated 21 years in business.

Emmy was born in San Francisco and shares her and family's stories with us. Her mom is from Alameda. That family goes back generations in the East Bay, coming from places like Germany, Scotland, and Ireland. Emmy's mom came to SF State in the '60s—"a real, bona fide hippie."

Her parents met at SF State. Later, her dad was a cable car driver. His family also went back a few generations here in The City. Both her parents were young free spirits, and didn't stay together for very long. After having Emmy and her brother, they split up. Then her mom took Emmy and her brother up to Sonoma, where Emmy grew up.

Later in life, her dad owned several restaurants in the Mission—Bruno's and Mission Villa, to name a couple. When she was a kid, Emmy would often join him at his restaurants. When she was 17, after splitting time between The City and Sonoma, Emmy moved back to her hometown.

As a teenager, she started working in restaurants, first in Sonoma, and later, in San Francisco. She realized that she needed to fend for herself at an early age. Without going into too much detail, Emmy says that her teen years were "wild." She and her friends were punk rockers—they went to shows and got into trouble, as you do. Her mom threatened her with either incarceration or joining her brother in Europe. She chose Europe.

Her time overseas taught her that the world is a big place. When she got back home, her priorities had shifted. She graduated high school early and worked a lot in The City. She toyed with art school, but that didn't stick. She took a business class at City College, where she pitched an idea that essentially was the restaurant she has today. The idea didn't go over well in class, though.

She worked at the Flying Saucer, a long-gone restaurant at 22nd and Guerrero. It was while Emmy worked there that the first location of Emmy's Spaghetti Shack opened.

​Check back Thursday for Part 2 and more stories from Emmy Kaplan.

We recorded this podcast at Emmy's Spaghetti Shack in the Mission in April 2022.

Photography by Michelle Kilfeather