New Decade, Same Smile – Alex Biro Meets 90
The “Biro” in Biro & Sons celebrated a big birthday this month. Ninety! Yes, that’s right, 9-0.
In true Old-World fashion, we hosted a dinner party adorned with custom silver and serenaded by a Hungarian violinist.
It wasn’t just being with close family and friends that warmed our hearts, but rather, celebrating our father’s legacy.
In our reflections, we jumped from decade to decade, realizing how far we’ve come and how much has changed in the world of antique silver.
An Evening to Remember
We’d be remiss if we didn’t first set the scene.
As silversmiths well-versed in the art of fine dining (thanks to the decades we spent polishing silver for some of the best restaurants in San Francisco and resorts in Carmel), we knew we had to make the evening extravagant for Alex.
First things first in our event planning: decorating with antique silver.
We filled the table with silver serving trays for appetizers and dessert, silver cups, and an ornate silver vase. We also brought out our mother’s candelabras, an heirloom passed down to her from her mother. Incorporating silver is a great way to elevate any event – no matter where you are – while also adding that sentimental element every celebration needs.
The Hungarian violinist really brought the party to life, as the atmosphere filled with Hungarian folk tunes that our father heard while growing up.
Family and friends flew in from far and wide to celebrate the man who started it all: Alex Biro.
Where We Began
It all started at Shreve’s Jeweler’s Silversmith Factory in San Francisco, where Alex Biro first worked. After piecing together other silversmith work, Alex fulfilled his dream of having his own business when he bought the Burridge Company in 1965.
In 1977, the Berge Company became Biro and Sons and we moved to the Folsom Street location where we remain today.
“I worked in the shop when I was a kid,” Martin reminisces, “I would sweep the floors, learn how to package and ship items – that kind of thing. I started doing that when I was 12 years old. I was always around there. We grew up with the company. My brother and I, when we were needed, we were always there.”
Biro and Sons really began to hit its stride in the ‘80s.
“After we incorporated and moved to this location,” explains Martin, “we were in full swing with the hotel business and putting our catalog together. We started selling hollowware that we made here, particularly for hotels and restaurants at that time. That went from national to even worldwide.”
Still, the industry has changed a great deal since then and so has Biro and Sons.
Old San Francisco
Being silversmiths in The City for the past four decades, we got a glimpse into an elite world of luxury that made up “Old San Francisco.”
Characterized by high-end silver, dinner parties in historic mansions, and a much different restaurant scene, Old San Francisco was extravagant and lavish.
“In those days, high-end restaurants bought and used silver,” Martin explains, “we serviced a lot of traditional restaurants in The City, like the old Poodle Dogs. These were all very high-end, exquisite kind of places of dining in the old style.”
“Old style” dining – as Martin refers to – is much different than dining today.
In those days, if you went into a nice restaurant, you would get an elegant booth, set away from other people. Of course, you dressed up to go out to dinner.
Often the food was French, a distinct contrast from the California cuisine we see in many San Francisco restaurants today.
“They would have a guy in a tuxedo cutting the actual piece of meat you are going to get on your plate,” remembers Martin.
Of course, all the cutlery was silver.
Places like Doro’s and Ernie’s, which was in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Vertigo, epitomized this Old-World style in San Francisco.
Another staple of the Old Francisco era was Gump’s – a longtime client and partner of Biro and Sons. Its antique silver department was unrivaled.
“Anything related to silver repair or restoration, we did for them,” says Rick, “so we would go there weekly.”
The silver industry was booming.
At its peak, Biro and Sons restored Dianna Feinstein’s mother’s silver, they restored pieces for the Aliotos, and Dirk van Erp – all well-known names in San Francisco.
“We took in repair work for Shreve’s also and then we took in a lot of repair work from small jewelers,” Martin describes, “there was a jeweler called Sidney Mobell. He made jewelry for ‘the stars.’ We did work for him and a lot of the other small jewelers in San Francisco. Small jewelers across California and even the nation were sending us a repair work.”
Since then, fine dining has changed and Gump’s closed for a long time – its absence leaving a massive void in San Francisco until it reopened last year.
The antique silver industry waned and the traditions of Old San Francisco began to die out.
“Millennials are minimalists,” reports Martin, “they don’t do table settings of silver and all of that kind of thing.”
However, there is still a tradition of handing down heirlooms.
“We see a lot of the older generation from the Old San Francisco era coming in to restore their silver to be passed down to their children and grandchildren,” Rick explains.
While this period of luxury silver and old-world dining may be over, silversmithing is here to stay as we work to restore the custom silver the older generation passed down to us.
On our father’s 90th birthday, we recommit to preserving antique silver and the legacy our father left us – Biro and Sons.