Movers, Shakers and Makers

Carolyn Jung | June 29, 2017 | Story Restaurants

Read more from the Feast Issue here.

In recent years, the startup and tech boom has had a mouthwatering repercussion in the Valley: a thriving culinary scene marked by a fresh crop of chefs, buzzy restaurant openings and enterprising edible pursuits. Here, we spotlight a handful of individuals—both well-established and under-the-radar—impacting where and what we want to eat right now.

A New Spin on Small Plates

In a nondescript Santa Clara strip mall with a nail salon and pizza joint, there is an alleyway that few would normally venture down. But these days, people are doing so, intent on finding the entrance to a restaurant with no name on its door, only a sign of a winged rabbit.

It is here at Tapas Tokki that chef-owner Jin Jeong is hoping his contemporary Korean small plates take flight. He opened his 34-seat place here in November 2016 because he couldn’t afford any other location. Named for the Korean word for rabbit, the Asian zodiac sign he was born under, it is an unconventional spot for an unlikely chef turning out uncanny dishes. Think slivers of halibut sashimi that Jeong grates frozen wasabi over, covering them in moss-hued snow. Or Korean cioppino, a kimchee-fortified seafood stew with a bobbing mozzarella-filled grilled rice ball. Or halibut caprese, a Korean-Italian mashup of sea kelp-cured halibut wrapped with mozzarella and drizzled with balsamic-soy sauce vinaigrette.

“I try to come up with something unexpected to surprise people,” says Jeong. In some ways, it still astonishes him that he became a chef. When the former drummer left Seoul, Korea, for San Jose at age 26, he did so with a one-way plane ticket, $400 and the dream of becoming a graphic designer. To pay for school, he took a job as a dishwasher at a local Japanese restaurant. He started helping to make sushi, only to discover commonalities between cooking and design. It led him to work as a sushi chef at Morimoto in Napa, and as a private chef for a high-tech entrepreneur in Atherton. With no constraints on budget or menu, it was there that he ended up creating many of the dishes now on his menu.

His lean-mean operation serves dinner nightly, except Sundays. No substitutions are allowed. You get the dishes his way. And he hopes you stash the electronics while you eat. “Just enjoy the damn food,” he says. “Enjoy the moment and unplug.”

Evolution of a Restaurant Empire

Tim Stannard likes to call it “the accidental empire.” After all, his Bacchus Management Group—which now numbers nine Bay Area restaurants, an organic farm in Woodside and RoastCo coffee company in Oakland, with more endeavors on the way—was supposed to be only one restaurant. When he opened The Village Pub in Woodside in 2001, transforming a chummy watering hole into a Michelin-starred destination, that was supposed to be that.

He turned down offer after offer to open another place. But then Federal Realty approached him with a vision for a sweeping outdoor mall of upscale shops, residences and restaurants, known as Santana Row, that promised to be unlike anything else in the country. Fourteen years later, Stannard’s Pizza Antica in San Jose is still a hot ticket there. It was followed in short order by another Pizza Antica in Lafayette, then Michelin-starred Spruce in San Francisco, which came about when Stannard casually told his real estate broker to notify him if the stately Presidio Heights brick building ever came up for sale, only to have it come available the very next day. “At that point, I sat down with my team, and asked, ‘Are we done? Or are we going to build more restaurants?’” Stannard recalls. “Everyone said they were having too much fun to stop.”

They’re not hitting the brakes anytime soon, either. After opening the swank Saratoga restaurant in San Francisco in November, Bacchus will debut The Village Bakery in Woodside in July. Stannard, who lives in Woodside, took over the old Woodside Bakery and combined it with a former art gallery next door to create a retail bakery and restaurant with a full bar, pizza oven and garden, along the lines of his Mayfield Bakery & Cafe in Palo Alto. It will feature approachable fare such as roast chicken and seared fish, along with temptations such as rustic levain loaves and giant chocolate-chip cookies baked daily. Like its sister restaurants, The Village Bakery will make use of eggs, honey and produce from Bacchus’ 5½-acre organic SMIP Ranch in Woodside.

Three more restaurants are planned in the next 18 months—two in Silicon Valley and one in San Francisco, each 6,000 square feet or larger. “The way I approach a project is not to have any preconceived notions,” says Stannard. “The building, the community you’re going into and the people who live around there help you decide what the restaurant needs and wants to be.” It’s no coincidence that Stannard has an affinity for San Francisco and the Peninsula: He was born in the former and spent much of his time in the latter, as his father was a professor of American studies at Stanford University. His mother was a restaurant executive for some of the Bay Area’s best-known restaurant groups. As such, Stannard grew up in the business, working as a busser, line cook, bartender and manager at various establishments in San Francisco.

While he was director of operations for PlumpJack Management Group, Stannard met Mark Sullivan, then chef de cuisine of PlumpJack Squaw Valley. When Stannard decided to strike out on his own to open The Village Pub, it was Sullivan he tapped to be the chef. “To this day, with well over 700 employees in our group, Tim is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and run plates at a restaurant,” Sullivan, Bacchus’ chef-partner, says. “If the dishwasher is not functioning, he’s the first person to jump in and help. That’s an attribute others rally around.”

For Stannard—who only planned on one restaurant—is opening the ninth one as satisfying as the first was? “Yes,” he says. “The big difference is the first restaurant was just me. Now, there is an amazing team. The experience is so much richer now.”

An Appetite for Investing

She is the venture capitalist of food, a quiet presence turned potent influencer in the Bay Area culinary world. Allison Rose, a Palo Alto mother of three, may not be a familiar face, but she has been the financial backer and resolute champion of some of the region’s most celebrated restaurants. Her Rose Culinary Ventures, established five years ago, helped bankroll such venerated San Francisco establishments as Liholiho Yacht Club, The Progress, 20th Century Cafe, The Saratoga and Mister Jiu’s. She is also backing Protégé, opening this fall in Palo Alto by two French Laundry alums. All told, she’s invested in 16 Bay Area establishments and six food companies, including Good Eggs.

“When I meet a chef, then have them cook for me, I just fall in love,” she says. “How can you not when you see these young men and women pour their hearts into their food? How could you not want them to succeed?” Good food has always had a hold on the Santa Cruz native, who was mesmerized at age 7 by the mounds of butter folded into croissants at Gayle’s Bakery in Capitola. Even as college students, she and her boyfriend, Dan Rose—now her husband and a Facebook vice president—relished every bite of a $5 burrito, which they shared on their then meager income.

Rose grew interested in restaurant investing after talking to her husband’s friend, VC Marc Weiser, who helped fund San Francisco’s Restaurant Gary Danko, Frances and State Bird Provisions. She teamed up on his next ventures, Liholiho and The Progress, before striking out on her own. Nowadays, she turns down four pitches for every one she invests five figures in. Her upcoming projects are Che Fico in San Francisco, by a former Eleven Madison Park chef and pastry chef; SongBird in San Francisco, by a former Saison chef; and Camper in Menlo Park, by a former Cotogna chef. Rose likes nothing better than “to blow wind into the sails of someone passionate about what they’re doing,” she says. Take it from the woman who has proven a gale force to be reckoned with.

From Homework to Harvest

During the school year, Kevin Lynch is a mild-mannered seventh-grade science teacher at Palo Alto’s Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School. But come summer, he transforms into The Mulberry Guy, possessed of near magical powers when it comes to growing these candy-sweet, fanciful berries of nursery-rhyme fame. For the past dozen years, he has nurtured 28 trees in his Palo Alto backyard, coaxing hundreds of pounds of juicy fruit each summer that get snapped up at the Palo Alto Saturday farmers market. They are a favorite of Chez TJ in Mountain View, Pampas in Palo Alto and Madera in Menlo Park. This year, Palo Alto’s Bird Dog is experimenting with its first mother lode.

Few can resist the fruit, which comes in red, white and black varieties. Certainly not Lynch and his wife, Monica, who got hooked after moving into their house in 2003 and ordering a host of exotic trees from a rare fruit catalog to landscape the yard. “With the mulberry tree, we got only a few fruits that year,” Lynch says. “We tried them and had to get more. They tasted unlike anything we’d ever had.” Native to Asia, and grown abundantly in the Middle East, mulberries resemble supermodel blackberries—elongated and very slender. A thin stem runs down their centers. The black variety is the sweetest, with a honey-banana-raspberry flavor.

With a wife who is also a Palo Alto school teacher and two teenage sons, serendipitously, it turns out the mulberry season coincides perfectly with the family’s summer break. “I know how hard it is to hire young boys for summer,” Lynch says. “I thought that if we could grow enough weird fruit that nobody else has, we could sell it at the farmers market.” Even at $8 for a half pint, the mulberries sell fast. While the Lynches won’t ship the perishable berries, they do fill mail-order requests for the family’s mulberry jam and mulberry tea through an Etsy shop. “It’s expanded our friendships and experiences,” he notes. “It’s a break-even business, but we’re making a lot in things you can’t put a price tag on.”

Food and Family Matters

When it came time for Andrew Welch to name his new restaurant, he didn’t jump on the hipster bandwagon of pairing cutesy, incongruous words together. Instead, he took a much more poignant approach, naming it for his only child, a son he thought he would never have. Welch, proprietor of The Basin in Saratoga, will open ASA in downtown Los Altos this summer to serve from-scratch Spanish- and Italian-inflected food—and to honor his 15-month-old son, whom he calls a miracle.

Born in San Diego and raised in Palo Alto, Welch, 49, didn’t find the love of his life until late, marrying his wife Natalie only three years ago. At first, they didn’t think they wanted children. Later, they thought they wouldn’t be able to have any because of her health issues. Then, unexpectedly, Asa happened. His name, derived from Hebrew, means healer. “I can’t wait for him to see that his dad loves him so much that he wanted to name a restaurant after him,” Welch says.

The 2,000-square-foot restaurant is quite the testament. The building, designed by renowned architect Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig in Seattle, won a design award in 2016 from Architizer, an online architecture database. Kundig added a striking accent to the 1950s building: a double-height window wall much like a garage door that can be cranked up with a metal wheel guillotine-style to expose the whole front of the restaurant to the street.

Welch, who opened The Basin in 1999, had wanted to open a second smaller restaurant, preferably on the Peninsula, since many of his regulars already live there. When he toured the Los Altos space, which is half the size of The Basin, he fell for it immediately. But transforming the long-vacant spot into a restaurant has been a challenge; it has taken more than a year of work. “It’s like a Swiss Army knife, in which we had to fit in three extra blades because of rules and regulations,” he says. “It’s a tricky space because we cook everything to order.”

The 60-seat restaurant will feature black steel beams, black walnut butcher block tables adorned with candles and four glamorous feather-adorned feature lights to soften its industrial edges. Welch is also making the most of the compact space. Although there is a full liquor license, there is no bar per se. Instead, there will be a communal table with seating (no reservations needed), where a mixologist-chef carves out an area to craft artisanal cocktails.

Chef Steven Vu from The Basin will helm ASA’s open kitchen, visible from every table. The seasonally driven cuisine is similar at both restaurants; though the plan is for the menu at the latter to change more frequently, with sustainable fish butchered on the premises, and pastas and ice creams all made in-house. Although The Basin is open seven nights a week, ASA will be closed on Sundays—for a good reason. “I don’t want to be a crappy father,” says Welch, who was raised by a struggling single mom. “People can go to The Basin instead on Sundays if they want.”

The restaurant business has always been like a second family to Welch, who started working at a Redwood City establishment as a teen, helping to park cars even before he had a driver’s license, he sheepishly admits. He hopes ASA the restaurant will have an equally meaningful impact on Asa, his son. “I have a 20-year lease, so I hope he enjoys it all through high school before going off to college, and maybe even helps out here when we do events,” Welch says. “I want him to be someone who wants to work, and who gives back to his community before he goes off to create his own life. I want him to be proud of what his dad created.”

Originally published in the July/August issue of Silicon Valley

Have feedback? Email us at [email protected]
Follow us on Twitter @siliconmag
Follow Carolyn Jung on Twitter @CarolynJung


Photography by: