Original illustration by Kaz Palladino/Awkward Affections

A second look at articles that were worthy of a first.

By Charles Russo

There’s a new Shake Shack at Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo.

And from a publishing point of view, that little bit of info is the low hanging fruit of guaranteed high traffic. Not sure that I can fully explain it, but readers really lose their minds over news of the burger franchise’s perennial expansion.

But we chose to skip it this time around, not because we’re above covering it (we’re not) or that we don’t like them (we do), but because we think that—like fast food itself—perhaps we should balance out the particulars of our coverage and its influence on our readers’ media diet. After all, there’s an awful lot happening these days on the Peninsula to just be entirely obsessed with bread and circus (or…in 2019 speak—burgers and Netflix).

So, with that in mind, we thought we’d trot out a few of our least read stories this year. Why? Because popularity doesn’t always equate to merit (cough…Instagram…cough). Maybe these articles did indeed get overshadowed by the Shake Shacks of 2019, or perhaps we just headlined them wrong and they fell through the cracks of the news cycle. Regardless, we still think that they’re worthy of your attention. Take a look…

Aerial imagery of flooding within the Houston area in the wake of Hurricane Harvey; (right) McKibben’s new book on climate change, “Falter,” has been published on the 30th anniversary of his original book, “The End of Nature.” (Flooding image via Getty; bio pic courtesy of Macmillan Publishers)

Q&A with veteran environmentalist Bill McKibben

These days it is easy enough to experience…well, what should we call it…climate change awareness fatigue? Yes, the glass certainly seems more than half-empty as the oceans appear all-too-full and news of climate change comes across as increasingly daunting, disheartening.

So when author and activist Bill McKibben came to town for a book talk, we were excited to get his long view perspective on the matter. After all, McKibben—quite literally—wrote the book on it. In 1989, he published The End of Nature which was essentially the first work on global warming written for the general population. Thirty years later, the mere title of his latest work—Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out— says an awful lot about how poorly we have handled the crisis in the intervening 30 years.

Talking with McKibben, I was both fascinated and surprised by the candid assessments and unexpected nuances of his answers (like when he asserted the “odd truth” that Silicon Valley has really come through on the issue). So as we head into a new decade with climate change high (if not highest) on the list of our modern challenges, McKibben’s veteran vantage point is one that is well worth separating apart from the pack and taking a moment to consider.

A customers walks into Gryphone Stringed Instruments on Sept. 25, 2019. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)

Gryphon Stringed Instruments turns 50

Let’s face it—we all lament the shuttering of longtime local businesses even as we hustle over to Amazon to fast track our Christmas shopping (yes, I’ll be the first to admit guilt on this one). And while 2018 seemed particularly rife with disheartening closures of Peninsula institutions (Weird Stuff Warehouse, The Oasis, etc…) it was nice to see at least some signs of hope this past year. The Alpine Inn, Rose International Market, Woodside Deli and Su Hong all found a way to either revamp or reopen.

Over in the retail world, the half-century anniversary of Palo Alto’s Gryphon Stringed Instruments was a particularly wonderful example of Main Street enduring in the age of Amazon. And as our article explained, they accomplished this by being hyper local, super specialized and just all-around awesome. No, you don’t need to be a musician to appreciate the story of Gryphon’s longevity. It’s a local business legacy that speaks to a much bigger picture.

DoorDash’s new shared commissary kitchen will serve the Peninsula via a brick-and-mortar location in Redwood City. (Photo courtesy of DoorDash)

Door Dash and the rise of ghost kitchens

Our feature about how hard it’s become to open a restaurant on the Peninsula received a lot of attention, but not so much when it comes to this related story about the development of “ghost kitchens” and how they are impacting the modern restaurant business landscape.

When Door Dash opened a commissary kitchen in Redwood City this past autumn (that little bright red building as you head into downtown) it was with the purpose of offering a space for delivery-based food outfits to operate without getting bogged down in the difficulty of opening a brick and mortar location.

Yet, reaction from inside the industry was mixed. Some owners see Door Dash’s approach as a key component of the industry moving forward, while others cited their commission fee (some saying as high as 25%) as just another of the many steep hurdles for Bay Area restaurants. So expect to hear more on this development in the coming year…and be mindful of its potential impact the next time you decide to dine-in.

Just a couple of guys in tuxedos…..(Kaz Palladino / Awkward Affections)

The origin story of Bay to Breakers

Earlier this spring, when 650 intern Sarah Klearman said she wanted to put something together for the upcoming Bay to Breakers race, we got to talking about the origins of the annual costume-crazed local tradition. We had heard some rumors about the trend’s origins, but mostly it all seemed like urban mythology.

So in attempt to nail it down, Sarah not only dug out the story, but tracked down the two San Jose natives that started it all way back in 1974, while they were students at Santa Clara University. It’s a great bit of local history—predicated on cigars, tuxedos and a prank-inclined duo—that speaks to the silly serendipity of Bay Area culture.

Katy and Ricardo Osuna, creators of Copper & Heat, recently won a James Beard award for the podcast’s first season, “Be A Girl.” (Photo by Veronica Weber)

Copper & Heat gets its due

You may be coming across a lot of “Best of” lists right now…including which podcasts made their mark in 2019. In that regard, we’d like to not only point you towards the Copper & Heat podcast, but the local story behind it.

As a kitchen staff veteran of Bay Area restaurants (including Manresa in Los Gatos), Katy Osuna sought to explore the underbelly of the industry: the nightly pressure, the sexism, the financial uncertainties. From this insider introspection, Copper & Heat was born—a restaurant-focused podcast that dove deep on the story behind the served-to-your-table meals. Soon, Osuna (and her husband Ricardo) were rewarded for their efforts with a prestigious James Beard Award for their work (all of which is produced from their apartment in San Jose).

Today the local duo has released Season Two and is still receiving accolades, including a spot on an end of the year list from the NY Times.

Log on and listen in.

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More local life from The Six Fifty:

Charles Russo

Award-winning writer and photographer with extensive experience across mediums, including videography, investigative reporting, editing, advanced research, and a wide range of photography.

Author of Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America; represented by Levine Greenberg Rostan Agency.

Freelance clients include Google, VICE and Stanford University.

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