A Bit of North Beach on West Pier

Maureen Donegan at the North Beach Restaurant | photo and post by Lynn Lohr

“When I walk home down the pier, I am walking away from a noisy, hectic world, away from the dirty sidewalks of San Francisco. I am walking above the water, by the birds, seeing the weather approach me, towards my view of Mt. Tam—to quiet and peace.”

Running a restaurant in the city in the best of times is a contact sport that Maureen (Mo) Donegan has played at every level for more than 30 years. She wasn’t afraid, at age 19, to take on a bullying bartender who taunted her for wearing a red sweater after her shift. And she wasn’t cowed in April 2021 by the prospect of engineering a top-to-bottom renaissance, in record time, of one of the Bay Area’s most beloved Italian restaurants.

Right now, Mo, a six-year resident of West Pier’s Whale, is seeing all her experience and talent converge as she wraps up the restoration of North Beach Restaurant to its authentic heritage, complete with artisans from Florence crafting ceilings worthy of a Venetian villa.

When the pandemic shuttered the Stockton Street landmark, North Beach Restaurant was due to celebrate its 50th birthday. The durable legacy of the partnership between Lorenzo Petroni and Bruno Orsi had persevered even after the founders’ deaths, within six months of each other, a few years previously.

Most of the country has the supply lines blues. How can you build back better on a budget? Helps to have a three-part bachelor’s degree in Oenology, Viticulture and Marketing from Napa Valley College, and it really helps to have a Doctorate in Determination from the College of Hard Knocks (restaurant version). From the upside of a five-year stint with the lovable Wolfgang Puck at Postrio to the downside of having a director embezzle from a restaurant that she’d raised the money to turn around, Mo ended up with knowledge to the bone. And used it.

North Beach Restaurant reopened upstairs on July 28, 2021, as Mo and her team then finalized the three downstairs banquet rooms—The Cellar, Prosciutto Room, and a private suite for eight. Is the latter now called the Brown Suite because of the décor or because habitué former Mayor Willie Brown knows it’s the perfect gathering place?

“What I love about our floating home community is everyone helps each other,” says Mo, and in like manner she sources from the North Beach Community including the third-generation Little City Market down the street.

Mo adds, “It takes a different mindset to live on the water, you have to be open-minded, to love the creak and the rock of a storm.“ Just like it takes a different kind of person to pitch in and ready the tables and windows of a venerable restaurant to open wide to a new and uncharted time.