Noe Valley Voice December-January 2000

Jason Mark, Favorite Son at Local Cafe, Dies at 30

By Kathryn Guta

The neighborhood was shocked and saddened to learn that Jason Mark, son of Karen and Mervyn Mark, died on Aug. 9, 2000, from lung cancer.

Jason, 30, had worked in his parents' What's for Dessert Bakery-Cafe on Church Street for most of the 11 years the cafe was in operation. A year has passed since What's for Dessert was transformed into Amberjack Sushi, but Noe Valleyans have not forgotten the warm smile and friendliness of young chef Jason.

Jason Mark grew up in Daly City and went to Our Lady of Mercy Grammar School. Long-term patrons of What's for Dessert saw Jason literally grow up behind the shiny glass counters of the cafe. After he graduated from St. Ignatius College Prep in 1988, Jason signed up at City College of San Francisco and received his culinary arts degree.

His degree in hand, Jason left San Francisco for a year and cooked at the well-known resort of Greenbrier in West Virginia. When he returned to the city, he worked as a chef at the Watergate Restaurant on Valencia Street, Moose's in North Beach, and later at Silks at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. All along, he was a regular Sunday presence at What's for Dessert, serving up fruit waffles and frittatas to an admiring crowd.

"You could really see the professionalism when he served a dish," said his father, Mervyn Mark.

Christine Springer, a Sunday regular at What's for Dessert, agrees. "Jason made architectural arrangements with fruit and yogurt. It made me feel special."

Jason's flair and sense of style extended beyond his presentation of dishes at the cafe. "Jason once told me that he arrived with a limo to escort a girl to her 21st birthday celebration," remembers Springer.

"He was a generous, sweet-hearted person," said What's for Dessert regular Evelyn Clair. "I loved sitting down with Jason and talking with him about life, travel, and adventure. He was eager to gain from others' experiences."

In December of 1999, Jason became ill with a respiratory condition. In May, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and started chemotherapy and radiation. He died a short time later, in August, surrounded by his loving family and friends.

His sister, Jennifer Mark, said Jason was courageous till the end. "Jason was not afraid of dying. He was just afraid of the effects of the chemotherapy."

"He was a healthy person who never smoked," said his heartbroken father. "No one understands what happened." Still, the elder Mark wonders about possible environmental hazards, among them the brick wood-burning ovens in the restaurants where Jason worked as a chef.

Mervyn and Karen Mark want to express their gratitude for the warm and loving support they have received from people in Noe Valley. Three months after Jason's death, sympathy cards continued to pour in to their Daly City home. "I don't know how to describe it," said Mervyn. "It shows how unique and special Noe Valley is."

In addition to a memorial service at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Daly City, the family attended a gathering in the Noe Valley home of Evelyn and Richard Clair. Friends wanting to remember Jason spanned the generations from teens to octogenarians. They sang songs, recited poetry, told stories, and listened to an essay written by Jason himself. "Now I must face the idea of my college life," wrote the 17-year-old Jason in a theology assignment at St. Ignatius. "I will probably be on my own and have to take care of myself, but I am willing to take that chance and experience life to the fullest."

Mervyn and Karen Mark are interested in helping others with lung cancer as well as raising public awareness about the disease. (This year lung cancer will kill more people than breast, colon, and prostate cancer combined. Yet, in funding and research, it remains an invisible epidemic.)

To that end, they have started the Jason Mark Lung Cancer Fund through Dr. Paul Brunetta at UCSF. Donations sent to the fund will be used for research that will help doctors select chemotherapy agents which are sensitive to a patient's particular type of tumor, something that would have benefited young Jason. The fund has already received $8,000 in Jason's name.

Please send donations to the Jason Mark Lung Cancer Fund, c/o Dr. Paul Brunetta, Pulmonary Medicine, Room B501, University of California at San Francisco, 1600 Divisadero St., San Francisco, CA 94115. M