As the Mendell family of Burlingame’s Kerns Fine Jewelry marks a milestone, Gentry sits down with its two generations to reflect on the past—and the present.
For three quarters of a century, discerning clients have turned to Kerns Fine Jewelry for gifts to mark every occasion, from sterling silver baby rattles and engagement rings to holiday presents and momentous anniversary gifts.
Of how it all began, Patriarch Greg Mendell relates, “In July 1972, my father-in-law decided to open our own jewelry store.” Both gentlemen had been in the jewelry field for years and wanted to open up shop together. “We had found a store on Burlingame Avenue and decided to visit Mr. Kern, who also had a jewelry business on the avenue and let him know that we would be neighbors. He asked us, “Why you would do that? Why not just buy me out?” He’d been considering retiring, so my father-in-law and I made an on-the-spot decision and purchased Kerns, which had opened in 1944 during the height of World War II. We opened the next day on July 1.” That first month proved to be an interesting one. Greg recalls, “Mr. Kern had failed to tell us that he always closed the shop for the month of July and his customers knew it. It was a bit of a slow start, but by August the regulars returned and the business started to grow.”
As the business grew so did the Mendell family. Greg and Sue Mendell’s sons Eric and David spent their childhoods in the store. “Both of us started at six years old, wrapping Christmas presents,” smiles Eric. The store moved from Burlingame Avenue to a larger space on Park Road and most recently to their spectacular 7,000-square foot space on Lorton Avenue. Neither Eric nor David expected to go into the family business, but fate had a different plan for each. Initially, Eric entered university as a Poly Sci major, and David headed off to Broadway. Both felt the tug of the family business, but their father wanted to make sure that they knew their trade first. “I earned a graduate degree in gemology,” says Eric, but Greg wouldn’t give him a job. He said, “‘go work for another jeweler first,’ so I worked for two in Los Angeles.” After earning his stripes, Eric joined his parents at Kerns during a time of rapid expansion. “I knew we needed David on the team too,” says Eric.
Nearly two decades later, the Mendell brothers work side-by-side each day overseeing nearly 20 employees including a dedicated jewelry staff that appraises and repairs not only fine jewelry, but also watches. Kerns has the only official Rolex repair center in Northern California. When David and Eric are not in the store they are traveling to New York, Vicenza, Italy, as well as Basel, Switzerland in search of what’s next. “You don’t keep a business like this going without having beautiful one-of-a-kind pieces,” stresses Greg. “Our goal is to always surprise and delight. We strive to be ahead of the fashion curve,” adds David.
When asked what piece of advice Greg has offered that they value most, Eric and David say simultaneously, “Promise less and deliver more.” Their proud father quickly adds, “Sue and I thought we had done a pretty great job with the store, but we are amazed every day at the level the boys have taken it to—we couldn’t be more proud.”