It is impossible to say what Jeff Rosen loved more: food or music.

“If he wasn’t doing one, he was doing the other, but usually it was both at the same time. He always said he moved to the Bay Area because of Jerry Garcia and Alice Waters,” said Rosen’s widow, Lindsey Sheehy, referring to the leaders of the Grateful Dead and Berkeley’s Chez Panisse respectively. 

Rosen, an Oakland resident for the last 11 years, died of kidney cancer on May 18, at age 59. Sheehy and Rosen’s children from his first marriage, Nika, Max and Noah Rosen, plan to create a nonprofit to ensure that live music will continue to be part of Pacific Fine Food catering in Alameda, the business he co-owned with chef Erin Traylor.

A Grateful Dead-inspired move

Originally from Spring Valley, N.Y., Rosen first came to the Bay Area during the Grateful Dead’s summer tour in 1987 and then stayed. After working with some well-known San Francisco chefs, such as James Beard award-winners Mark Franz and Nancy Oakes, he opened his own restaurant, Avenue 9, on Ninth Avenue, in the Inner Sunset.

“This small bistro is worth the hunt,” wrote The San Francisco Examiner’s food and wine critic, Jim Woods, in 1996.

His now 31-year-old son Max Rosen said some of his fondest childhood memories are from time spent at the restaurant, since “we would go there for dinner almost every night, because it was like that’s where our kitchen was.” He and his older sister Nika especially liked to stand behind the hostess stand and greet diners.

Jeff Rosen (right), with (from left) Noah Rosen, Lindsey Sheehy, Nika Rosen and Max Rosen (rear). Credit: Max Rosen

Rosen and Sheehy also met during that time. She would come in to dine with her close friend Peter Jarit, and they would sit at the chef’s counter; all three were from neighboring counties in New York and New Jersey and loved the Dead, though she and Jarit lost track of Rosen when he closed the restaurant in 2002.

Rosen and Sheehy bumped into each other again in 2008, and rather than a show, their first date was watching the Biden-Palin vice-presidential debate at a nearby bar.

A house-concert home in Oakland

In 2011, the couple moved to Oakland’s Moss Avenue. Both regular attendees of house concerts, they chose their home not only because Rosen shared custody of his youngest child, and between them they had four large dogs, but because they could envision hosting house shows there.

“When we walked in, right away, we could see not where the couch goes, but where the stage goes,” Sheehy said. “We knew right away that this is our ‘dinner-and-a-show’ home.” They moved in July, and held their first concert in February 2012. They married in 2016 after eight years together, with many of the musicians who played in their home performing at the wedding.

“Word got around that they were cool gigs, as musicians would get paid fairly and be fed amazing meals,” Sheehy said. “Musicians began to call us, we didn’t really have to look for anyone.”

I worked alongside Jeff as his sous chef at many of these events. I still remember the tuna tartare he created where he painted a Grateful Dead “Steal Your Face” symbol on the plate with two different color sauces. He was one of those chefs for whom there was no such thing as too much butter. And, despite the extra labor required, he insisted that whipped cream was best when beaten by hand.

Jeff Rosen’s tuna tartare with a Grateful Dead-inspired design in the center. Credit: Ting Vogel

“I play a lot of house concerts and I love them, but this was a house concert plus,” said David Gans, an Oakland-based musician, author and radio host. “We’d get fed this world-class meal with this lovely couple welcoming us, and, after the gig, we’d sit on the back porch and smoke weed and play more music, all focused on the pleasures of the community.”

They would go on to host around 60 such shows; most were by musicians in the Grateful Dead-inspired scene.

Rosen also regularly cooked for the musicians who played the annual Jerry Garcia tribute benefit for Ashkenaz, Berkeley’s music venue, as well as the volunteers who worked the phones at KPFA’s annual Grateful Dead marathon.

In addition to the events, the couple would also host informal jam sessions with Rosen, an amateur guitar player, leading them.

“He knew how to play and lead the song and always made space for people to enjoy music together,” said Jarit. “Even if you weren’t that good, and could only play two chords, you were allowed in the circle.”

Taking the show to a bigger stage

In 2014, Rosen took his live music and food business legit, with the opening of the Cannery Cafe in Hayward, with his business partner at the time at Blue Heron Catering, Debbie Pfisterer. The duo were recruited to open a restaurant and program live music at the Castro Valley Marketplace, which they did with the Cannery Cafe and Tap Room that opened in December 2020. In the fall of 2021, after an owner of the marketplace demanded they cease programming live music after one particularly crowded Jerry Garcia tribute show (Nosh covered the controversy), he exited the partnership, joining forces with Traylor at Alameda’s Pacific Fine Food in 2022. The tap room has since closed.

Meanwhile, in early 2019, Rosen was diagnosed with stage four renal cell carcinoma. He endured various immunotherapy and oral treatments for the next four plus years, but the cancer never went into full remission.

Jeff Rosen’s family is holding a tribute to him on Oct. 8 that will also serve as a fundraiser for a non-profit dedicated to his vision of promoting live music. Poster designed by Shane Edward Grogg

At Pacific Fine Food, he saw an outdoor patio “that was in disarray,” Sheehy said, and “just as we saw our living room, he saw that patio as a potential venue.”

Rosen put on six or seven shows there. The last one was March 17, when Stu Allen and other musicians played Van Morrison’s Moondance in honor of St. Patrick’s Day; corned beef and cabbage were on the menu. After that show Rosen became too sick to continue, and he died two months later.

He had hoped to build out the patio further and host music there as much as four nights a week.

Sheehy now intends to start a nonprofit to be a sister entity of Pacific Fine Food, and model it after Ashkenaz. One goal of the organization will be to build out the patio for concerts as Rosen envisioned. 

On Oct. 8 at 3 p.m., the family is holding a celebration of Rosen’s life as well as a benefit for the non-profit at The Fireside Lounge Outdoor Park at 1453 Webster St. in Alameda. There will be, of course, food for sale and live music. Stu Allen & Friends and other musicians will play a set list dictated by Rosen before he died.

“We’re hoping to carry on what he started,” Sheehy said. 

Alix Wall is an Oakland-based freelance writer. She is a contributing editor of J., The Jewish News of Northern California, for which she has a food column and writes other features. In addition to Berkeleyside’s Nosh, she is a regular contributor to the New York Times' Vows column, and her writing can be found in The San Francisco Chronicle, Edible East Bay, and more. Alix is also the founder of The Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is producer/writer of a documentary in progress called “The Lonely Child.”