Life On The PIER - Humans of PIER 39

Life On The PIER

PIER 39 is 39, and we’re celebrating with 39 weeks of festivities for the record books! But aside from magnificent views, tasty seafood and noisy sea lions, what makes PIER 39 “PIER 39”? We asked a familiar few faces about their favorite PIER 39 memories over the last 39 years, and what life is like on The PIER.

We’ll be adding new stories each week, so be sure to check back. Also, see what’s going on at PIER 39 for our 39th Anniversary celebration here.

Trish of Trish's Mini Donuts in a bathtub of donuts

Trish Conklin

What’s the story behind those amazing mini donuts at PIER 39? Meet Trish, owner of Trish’s Mini Donuts and The Hook. Her family owned the largest carnival business in North America in the 1980s. Trish grew up on the fairgrounds, went to carnival school, and was on the road most of the year. She describes growing up in this environment as, “surreal and unbelievable.”

When Trish’s father gave her brother the carnival business, she was left to create her own destiny. Trish and her mini donuts recipe headed to San Francisco and in 1994 she introduced Trish’s Mini Donuts to PIER 39.

“Opening at The PIER was amazing and the best thing to ever happen to me,” she tells us. She never misses Fleet Week or Fourth of July because she loves the energy and being around happy people. In her 23 years at PIER 39, Trish says it has grown to become her second home.

And The PIER isn’t the only thing that’s done some growing. Most people recognize Trish as a little cartoon with ponytails and freckles, but Trish has grown up herself too. Although she has mostly remained behind the scenes and somewhat of a mystery to her brand, Trish is ready to step out into the spotlight, donuts and all.

Disclaimer: Authentic Tub. Authentic Donuts. Authentic Trish in the tub with donuts. Non-photoshopped California Dream.

Whale Watching Tours Exterior

Joe Nazaar

Meet Joe, owner and captain of San Francisco Whale Tours. Joe was eight years old when he was first taken out on the Bay and introduced to the life of a fisherman through the Police Athletics Fishing Program. Joe remembers meeting captains, taking fishing trips in the summer, and eventually working on boats through high school and college. He knew he always wanted to be out on the water so the transition from working on boats to opening a whale tour business felt organic.

Joe tells us that on every trip, his emphasis is on the beauty of the whales but ultimately, ocean conservation comes first. San Francisco Whale Tours is passionate about spreading awareness around protecting the ocean and sea life so their tours are meant to be educational in addition to memorable. Joe says his trips can be very emotional for people and he hopes to keep his business growing so that he can continue to provide unforgettable experiences for his guests.

Outside of SF Gold

Robert & Christine Yrani

Meet Robert & Christine, owners of San Francisco Gold, Charms by the Bay, and Wilder West, Urban Western Outfitters. They have spent over 35 years on The PIER running three successful businesses. They’ve watched their children grow and treat the waterfront like a playground.

The two take pride in being on The PIER because they feel like they are part of the San Francisco image. For Christine, it’s all about working the floor, making people happy and making the visitors’ experience in San Francisco memorable. Robert attributes much of their success to sticking to their customs and staying true to their original concept. San Francisco Gold is a PIER 39 original and although Robert and Christine are always finding creative ways to keep up with the trends and recreate themselves, their consistency and originality are what makes their stores unique.

Robert and Christine love that The PIER is always evolving with new ideas. They admit it’s not always easy, but all they have to do is interact with their guests to be reminded just how special the life on The PIER truly is.

Pearl Factory Exterior

Lucia Fontana

Meet Lucia, district manager of Pearl Factory and Na Hoku. Lucia has been at PIER 39 since 1992. In her 26 years of working in the jewelry business, Lucia has witnessed countless special customer experiences.

“People share very private and personal stories with us and it can get very emotional,” Lucia told us. Her favorite time of the year is in the summer when she gets to meet visitors from all around the world.

Lucia says there is nothing like The PIER atmosphere and one of the most rewarding things for her is leaving her customers with a memorable experience. She loves watching people’s expressions and their faces light up when they are able to open their very own oyster and discover the pearl.

Tiffany and Sal at Swiss Louis

Sal Chiavino & Tiffany Pisoni

Meet Sal & Tiffany, owners of Swiss Louis Italian and Seafood Restaurant and Wines of California. In 1936, Louis, a Swiss merchant marine, opened Swiss Louis Italian and Seafood Restaurant in the North Beach neighborhood up the street from PIER 39. When the business moved to The PIER in 1978, Sal thought he would only be on the waterfront for five years.

Today, it’s been 39 amazing years on The PIER and Sal accredits much of Swiss Louis’ success to incorporating “a little bit of the old and a lot of the new.”

“We still make our original house dressing because to this day, people come in and ask for it. That’s part of the old, but it’s not going away anytime soon,” Tiffany told us.

“And just today, just before you came in, we were up in the office and they were making oysters. We’re trying some new dishes and well, they were terrible! But just to give you an idea of how we’re still trying new things,” Sal said, finishing Tiffany’s thought.

While Sal brings in experience, Tiffany compliments him with new ideas. As Sal explains it, “I think it was a combination of the two that made a new Swiss Louis, but she has really been the driving force of this restaurant for the past decade.”

This June it will be 20 years since Tiffany came into the business with Sal. From the looks of it, there will be many more years of continued success amongst the two business partners.

Dave Hagerman and Daughter at Crepe cafe

Dave & Casey Hagerman

Meet native San Franciscan and owner of Crepe Cafe, Dave and his daughter Casey.

Dave’s journey on the waterfront began in the PIER 39 Marketing Department working for Warren Simmons over 39 years ago. He has seen it all from witnessing supervisor Dianne Feinstein cut the ribbon at the grand opening to getting electric cable cars on The PIER, and even watching the precision diving shows at the pool that was once located in the back of The PIER. Casey remembers hanging out on The PIER as a child and helping her dad welcome guests into their store.

For Dave, the memories are endless and the sunset views never get old. “PIER 39 is my life and I just love the waterfront. There’s no better energy than on PIER 39 on a Saturday afternoon. This place is brimming with energy and enthusiasm. You don’t get that in a regional mall,” he says.

Lefty's Exterior

Margaret Majua

Get to know Margaret, owner of Magnets, Magnetron, The San Francisco Keychain Store, Bow Wow & Kitty Too, and Lefty’s San Francisco. She first started working at PIER 39 a week after it opened in 1978. Margaret particularly enjoys the diverse crowds that visit The PIER year around.

Here’s what you didn’t know about Margaret:

Have you ever visited The PIER during Tulipmania? Margaret was the original PIER 39 landscape manager and came up with the concept after Warren Simmons asked her to bring more color to The PIER.

Despite owning the left-hand store, Margaret herself is actually right-handed.

In the Spring of 1979 when The PIER filled the diving pool with green jello for St. Patrick’s Day, Margaret was one of the few brave souls that took the plunge and jumped in.

Margaret tells us that she originally only planned to work at PIER 39 through the winter season, yet somehow, five businesses and 39 years later, she is still creating new memories here.

Eileen at The Eagle Cafe

Eileen Ho

Meet Eileen, manager at Eagle Cafe. She has been working at Eagle Café for over a decade but has been visiting PIER 39 since she was a child. She remembers running around with her brother and spending most of her time riding the bumper cars at the Palace of Fun Arts. This was an arcade that was located in the PIER 39 entrance plaza.

“For me, the best part about coming to The PIER every day is seeing my locals, seeing my regulars. Not just my pier family but also our locals who work across the street and down the street. We have locals from our Marina who’ve been coming here since their kids were in diapers and now they’re nine or ten. We even have some tourists who have turned into regulars and they come to visit us once a year from Germany, England, and Ireland. I love that type of loyalty.”

Eileen prides herself and her staff in building friendships, getting to know people by name, and learning her return customers’ go-to breakfast plate. Eileen’s go-to is the cable car combo: eggs, potatoes, Eagle’s famous corn beef hash meat, bacon, and sausage.

Moses at Dreyer's

Moses Lim

Meet Moses, Manager of Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Shop & Waffle Cone Shop. He began working at PIER 39 on opening day in October of 1978. What Moses enjoys most about his job is meeting people from all around the world. Moses speaks a few different languages and always tries to make guests feel welcome by speaking to them in their own.

“It’s exciting because ice cream is universal and it just makes people happy. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid or an adult, people really like ice cream and I really like making them happy. So that’s my job, to make people happy,” says Moses.

What’s Moses’ favorite ice cream flavor? Almond praline.

John Alter

John Alter

Meet John. His family has been involved in the amusement park attractions business for almost 60 years. His first interaction with The PIER was in the 1980s when his family introduced remote control boats and cars to The Palace of Fun Arts, an arcade that was located at the front of The PIER. (Some of you may remember this attraction!)

Just about five years ago, John returned to The PIER to open an interactive, simulated roller coaster and laser blasting game called 7D Experience. For John, one of the most memorable things about working on The PIER is being able to interact with the sea lions every day. “I still remember the day I installed our sign above our store. It was two in the morning and I was here with our sign company hoisting it up. It was a completely quiet night except you could hear the sea lions barking in the distance. I just remember thinking it was so poetic,” says John.

This February, John celebrated 7D Experience’s one millionth rider! What’s on the horizon for John? Just in time for our 39th celebration, John will be introducing, The Flyer, a brand new attraction to The PIER. The Flyer is a flying theater concept that will incorporate 3D media to take passengers on a fly over tour of the city by the bay. Stay tuned to learn more about when you can go for a ride!

The Shell Cellar Exterior

Erin Kosick

Meet Erin. In 1978, when Erin was about three years old, her parents, Bets and Tony, opened The Shell Cellar at PIER 39.

For Erin, working for The Shell Cellar started at home. She remembers lining up with all the neighborhood kids and stamping their logo onto paper bags. “It felt like every day of the weekend we’d get up in the morning, stop by our suppliers in Oakland to pick up shells, cross the bridge back to work, and my sister, Jessica, and I were just loose on The PIER. It was neat because we were just out there, walking around and talking to tenants,” says Erin.

She remembers visiting the candy store with Jessica and staring at the walls full of sweets talking about all the different colors, flavors, and which ones they would like to buy. One of Erin’s fondest memories growing up on The PIER was when the diving pool was filled with green Jell-O and she watched several divers submerge into the gelatinous sea of green.

Today, Erin continues to learn more about running the business and is looking forward to celebrating their 39th anniversary this October alongside PIER 39.

Mark Mauser

Mark Mauser

Meet Mark, Lead Gardener of the PIER 39 Landscaping Team. He and his team are responsible for the lovely tulips surrounding The PIER during Tulipmania. In the upper level alone, there are about 120 barrels, each with 100-125 tulips or bulbs!

Mark has been leading guided Tulipmania tours for over a decade. “It’s really a lot of fun to interact with people who come down for it. They love it and over the years it’s become ingrained in me. Everywhere I go, whenever I’m traveling, I’m always looking at the plants, the flower beds, the tulips, or whatever they have growing! It’s really integrated into my life. I love tulips now,” says Mark.

When Mark isn’t busy making The PIER vibrant, he is sailing on the Bay and maintaining his very own garden where he trains bonsai, some of which he’s been training for over 30 years!

Sheila Candor

Sheila Chandor

Sheila Chandor, Director of Marina Operations, has been working for The PIER since 1985. Ever since our sea lions‘ arrival in 1989, she has been responsible for overseeing the caretaking aspects of the sea lions. Sheila ensures the habitat is kept clean and in good repair for them. She loves that no day in the Marina is ever the same. What’s the best thing about the sea lions? “They choose to be here,” said Sheila. “This isn’t something we created, it’s a natural attraction we inherited.”

Roger Kaufman

Roger Kaufman

Roger Kaufman, owner of Alcatraz Gift Shop, has been working along the waterfront for over 39 years. “One of the historic things I remember is when Eagle Cafe used to be located on the corner of Powell Street & The Embarcadero [which is now the northwest corner of the PIER 39 Parking Garage],” said Roger. “Early one morning, the building was lifted up, put on a flatbed, and rolled down The Embarcadero to PIER 39, where it was raised up to its present spot on the second level.”

Ron Courtney

Ron Courtney, owner of the NFL/College Shop, was around when PIER 39 was first being built. “The most memorable part of being here at PIER 39 is the happy customers and the joy they experience during their visit,” said Ron. “People are on vacation, they’re enjoying themselves and they’re not in a hurry. They can take in the beauty of The PIER and its surroundings. It’s a great place to be, and I’m happy to come to work every day. For me, it’s a wonderful opportunity to be involved in a place like this.”

Simmons Family at PIER 39

Warren & Scooter Simmons

Warren Simmons, developer of PIER 39, and son Scooter in 2003.

Scooter, owner of Fog Harbor Fish House, Pier Market Seafood Restaurant, Wipeout Bar & Grill and Biscoff Coffee Corner, describes one of his early memories when PIER 39 was first being developed. “I was the very first laborer hired by the construction company that built PIER 39. I showed up to work on the first day of construction with a hard hat and vest. My first job involved going down the Embarcadero and tearing down all of the parking meters with a 90-pound jackhammer and compressor. I never operated a jackhammer before and was rattled to death, but it was an incredible learning experience. To this day, it remains one of my top memories when thinking about the development of PIER 39.”