Bernal Cutlery, a knife shop in San Francisco’s Mission District, feels more like a community center than a traditional store. It’s where chefs and sous chefs might bump into their line cooks. A place where kitchen newbies and seasoned professionals can both find the perfect tool for their needs. Whether you work in a kitchen or just binged episodes of The Bear or Chefs Table, you’ll be right at home here. Saucing spoons, culinary tweezers, fermentation crocks, and handcrafted knives cover every surface. It’s a place that can confidently sell you a $600 carbon steel chef’s knife but can also sell you a great knife for $60.
“We keep a selection that makes sense for [culinary] professionals at a bunch of different income levels. There are a lot of professional [cooks], that don’t necessarily have a lot of discretionary income–especially in the Bay Area. When they make a choice to add a knife to their kit, it’s a very intentional one,” co-owner Josh Donald told us. “We really try to get people the right knife, not the most expensive. Two years down the line we want them to be really happy with what they got.”
Bernal Cutlery was started in 2005 by Josh Donald and Kelly Kozak in the back of an apartment in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of SF. As their popularity and inventory grew they moved the business to progressively larger spaces until finding their current home Valencia Street.
In its present location, it has the feel of a classic barbershop or Italian cafe. Glass cases line the perimeter containing everything from Japanese santoku to vintage pocket knives. The front of the shop features a curated selection of tinned fish, books, and other curated dry goods. They have a separate room for traditional whetstone knife sharpening–a service that Bernal is famous for. Beyond just making the knife sharper, it gives them the ability to study how you use your knife and give you a custom edge that matches your personal needs. The process almost feels like having a knife psychic on staff. “There’s a lot of tea leaf reading for whoever is working the sharpening counter, ” Donald jokes.
The staff at Bernal is tight-knit and dedicated to their craft. Both Donald and Kozak feel a responsibility to look out for them. “We have a pretty stern ‘be nice or get out’ policy,” Kozak told us. “One time I chased a [customer] two blocks and made them come back and apologize to an employee. He’d just insulted my best sharpener and I can’t have people treating my staff like that or they won’t stick around.”
There’s also an educational component at the shop’s core. “I think that it’s really important to maintain teachability in what we do. We’re stoked to be learning with people, even though we might be the “experts” in that interaction. We try to really understand what we carry and the craft and history behind these things,” Donald told us, in reference to their vast selection of knives and blades on hand.
“It’s not just food professionals and it’s not just home cooks. People bring their kids in to get their first knives. There are teachers that come in with their class. I think that there is a little undercurrent of community that happens in our shop,” Kozak told us.
Donald and Kozak have spent years volunteering to teach basic knife skills at local schools, summer camps, and rehabilitation centers across the Bay Area. They also offer public classes at the shop on topics ranging from whetstone sharpening to chicken butchery. If you visit Bernal Cutlery, you might leave with a new knife, but you will certainly leave with a greater appreciation for the craft.
Bernal Cutlery is open 12-6pm everyday and located at 766 Valencia St, San Francisco.
Featured image: Molly DeCoudreaux