Diane Ortega has been with Touchstone since 2005, and got her start managing when she opened The Studio Climbing Gym with us in 2012. Now, she’s bringing everything she learned in San Jose to San Francisco. She loves running, lifting, and all things food-related—the next time you see her at the desk, ask her for some great advice about BBQ!
So you’re now the manager of Dogpatch Boulders after managing The Studio since Day 1—just under 7 years. Has it been harder or easier inheriting someone else’s gym?
I think it’s easier. When I was transitioning to Dogpatch and was still part time at The Studio that was challenging. But now that I’m in it, this gym is really cool. And I couldn’t ask for better staff!
But you got your start with Touchstone working at Pipeworks?
Yeah, I started by running the summer camp back in 2005. I had a bunch of camp and climbing group experience through after school programs in Chico, and I moved to Sacramento when I got the job. I had planned on going back to Chico, but then Vaughn (Pipeworks’ manager) found out and said, “Why are you applying for jobs? You have a job.”
When a full-time staffer at Pipeworks quit I just absorbed all of her responsibilities. And then I was at the desk forever…until I wasn’t!
Do you feel like you’ve inherited a lot of your managerial style from Vaughn at Pipeworks?
Yes, a lot. There are so many things he taught me. I definitely chose to learn things the hard way, and he should’ve fired me a thousand times…but he stuck with me. One of my favorites is, “You can’t teach life lessons from the front desk.” When you get stuck at the desk sometimes you get tunnel vision, and he really taught me how to take the wide view.
Do you think the Vaughn Method of Management is spreading throughout Touchstone?
I hope so! A lot of his style encourages personal responsibility: “You’re a grownup, do your job.” I like that it encourages people to grow and improve, as opposed to coddling or micromanaging. I like employees who have a sense of ownership over the facility. They can be creative in their responses and are empowered to make decisions.
How did you get into rock climbing?
I got my start climbing on the beautiful limestone in Texas while I was living there. I had a fear of heights and I wanted to get over it. I never climbed in a gym until I moved to California, but that was more of a symptom of there not being any gyms in Texas when I started!
That was probably in 2000. It has been kind of a long time. I ended up getting injured—I dislocated my elbow, and never really came back from that. Since then I’ve filled my time with other fitness activities, like running and lifting. And of course, hip hop dance!
What’s your favorite song to dance to?
The Motto by Drake.
What’s your favorite thing about Dogpatch so far, both in terms of the gym and the area?
The expansion! The climbing terrain is so cool. The comp wall is really beautiful.
My favorite thing about the area is exploring all the food options! If I had to pick, my favorite spot is probably La Fromagerie.
Are you psyched about running big events like Battle of the Bay and Woman Up?
I LOVE big events. One of the things I was most excited about when I got this position was that I’d be managing the gym that will be hosting Woman Up this year.
Do you have any other ideas for events?
Yeah, it’s a bit of a challenge because I can’t do events quite the same way I did at The Studio. There were so few people compared to here, and if you over or underestimate participation it’s a huge issue. At The Studio it’s no big deal if you don’t get quite enough pizza or something…If you don’t get enough food for a Dogpatch event, you’re done in like 20 minutes.
I’m trying to do more events that work with other local organizations, too, like maybe a gym-wide morning yoga session. These are great because they’re flexible—if only 20 people show up, that’s fine, and if 80 people show up we can still do it and it’s great.
You had talked about one of the hardest things about moving away from The Studio is losing a small but very tight-knit community. Now that you’re at Dogpatch with a larger and more diffuse community, what are some of the ways you’re trying to bring that sensibility to Dogpatch?
I think that a lot of it starts at the desk. Just being really accommodating and welcoming to everyone. When people feel really welcome, they’re in turn welcoming to others—you know, that thing where if you smile at someone, then they’ll smile at someone else, and so on.
You’re also a big foodie. What would you say is your favorite thing about food?
I love prep: doing mise en place, opening a recipe and reading the procedures a few times before getting started. I love process and deciding the best way to execute it.
And I love a beautifully presented plate when I’m out. My goal is to get really good at making quenelles. I’ve tried a few times and so far they’re very…okay.
I think I started cooking or eating because my dad set the bar so high. One of the things that I wanted when I moved to California was the comfort of home, so I would spend hours on the phone with my dad trying to recreate meals and just being like, “What do you mean ‘cook it until it looks right’?”
What would be your last meal? Or what is the one thing you never say no to?
If someone asks me where I want to go to dinner, I’ll never say no to a burger or sushi.
But there was also this seared trout donburi I had at Ramen Shop that really changed my life, honestly. I still think about it. I even kept the menu from that dinner—it was that good.
Related: If you were a drink, what would you be?
Oh god, that’s so hard. I love all the things so much.
Something whiskey-based for sure. Whiskey, some sort of citrus…maybe a Frisky Sour: bourbon, lemon, amaro, bitters, and egg white.
Do you have any goals/hopes/dreams for Dogpatch?
I just want to do right by the amazing community at Dogpatch and at Touchstone, be a good coworker to people, and be willing to make changes.
What’s a question someone could ask you at the front desk that you would not be able to stop talking about?
Talk to me about barbecue and what kind you think is best, so I can tell you how my way is better.