Bill Russell-Shapiro
, Proprietor, The Absinthe Group
Eric Vreede, Development and Operations Manager, The Absinthe Group
Adam Keough, Executive Chef, The Absinthe Group
Bill Corbett, Executive Pastry Chef, The Absinthe Group
Brian Gavin, General Manager
Vanessa Harris, Director of Events and Marketing, The Absinthe Group
Ian Becker, Wine Director, The Absinthe Group
Jared Schmidt, Bar Manager
Aaron Wasserman, Chief Sommelier


Bill Russell-Shapiro, Proprietor

After Bill Russell-Shapiro, now 65, graduated from Yale in 1969, he decided to study planning at MIT, envisioning a future promoting economic development and job-creation. He never imagined achieving his goal in the midst of San Francisco’s dynamic food scene. Continuing his career of nearly 20 years as an innovative restaurateur and food marketer, Russell-Shapiro at age 51 opened Absinthe, a South-of-France brasserie located in the city’s revitalized Civic Center, in 1998.

He entered the food business several years after first moving to the Bay Area as a public-affairs fellow with the Coro Foundation. Later he worked directly in politics and then urban planning. In the late 1970s, a meeting with one of the city’s first African-American firefighters who happened to have a popular family recipe for barbecue sauce changed Russell-Shapiro’s life. He saw an opportunity to put his job-creation theories into practice and formed a partnership to launch four Firehouse Bar-B-Que restaurants throughout the Bay Area.

Russell-Shapiro created Mad Will’s Food Company in 1979 to operate the restaurants and to market Firehouse Bar-B-Que Sauce, which he eventually sold to a national company that continues to sell it to grocery stores across the country. Today Mad Will’s produces about 60 bottled-food products, including other BBQ sauces, at a bottling plant in Auburn, California, specializing in private-label bottled foods.

With a decade of food-industry experience, in the late 1980s Russell-Shapiro began making plans to open a restaurant that would offer foods from his favorite parts of the world: Southern France and Northern Italy. In December 1990 he opened Rosmarino, a tucked-away Mediterranean restaurant in San Francisco’s Presidio Heights. Respected San Francisco restaurant critic Patricia Unterman called the food “sublime.” When the San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer referred to it as a “cult favorite,” the restaurant developed a devoted following.

After seven years in the small passageway location, Russell-Shapiro decided it was time to move to a larger, more central space. In December 1997 he took his talented team of industry stars from Rosmarino, headed by Executive Chef Ross Browne and wine expert/veteran front-of-house manager Eric Vreede, to the heart of the city’s performing-arts district to open Absinthe Brasserie & Bar on Hayes Street. Absinthe, designed to evoke the French Belle Époque, fits well with San Francisco’s Beaux-Arts Civic Center, and is spacious enough to offer a lively café setting, a full bar, and dining rooms suited for pre-opera dining and late-night lingering. His love of the South of France and its connection with the romance and mystery of the turn of the last century have inspired him to create a restaurant based on that enchanting time, blending a menu of French and Italian classics with California creativity.

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