Monday Profile: Pappo’s John Thiel
In honor of the Yom Kippur holiday, Monday’s regularly scheduled profile is running today.
Since he was 11 years old, Pappo’s John Thiel has wanted to have his own restaurant. The California Culinary Academy grad worked at some of the Bay Area’s best loved eateries – Bay Wolf, Zuni Café and Delfina – before landing in Alameda and discovering the Island had all kinds of room for an elegant little spot with great food and a lovely wine list.
Fast-forward four years, and Thiel looks like a bit of a prophet. His perch is directly across the street from the newly renovated Alameda Theater, and his arrival presaged a dramatic revival of Park Street that itself is riding a tide of new, urban families who pack its new baby boutiques and yogurt shops.
Thiel is celebrating his success with a four-course anniversary dinner this Thursday, October 1. The dinner is $44 per person, or $68 with wine pairings from Thiel’s new label, Thiel Family Wines. To reserve a space, call 337-9100.
How did you end up in Alameda? And what made you open a restaurant here?
My father was teaching at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School and he and my mom were living here when I returned from traveling through Europe. I lived back at home for a few months to save up some money. I began to go out to eat around town and discovered the opportunity for a place like Pappo to fit in.
How did you come up with the name?
It was part of a brainstorm with my friends and family. I studied Latin in high school and “pappo” is the Latin verb “to eat.”
What kind of dining experience would you say you are trying to create with Pappo?
I would say casual fine dining. We don’t have a dress code but all of our servers know what Chassagne-Montrachet is. It’s a blend of sophistication and comfort.
What have been some of the highlights of your experience here so far? And what changes have you made since you started out?
Being received so positively by the community makes me feel like it’s all worth it. (As for) the changes I’ve made … (I’m) not sure I’ve changed any one thing. It has been a series of small adjustments and tweaks. We did add a beautiful outside patio last year which has been very popular.
How did Culina come about?
I was a private chef and caterer in the years before I opened Pappo. I wanted to open another avenue for the community to have access to good, quality food if they weren’t able to make it in to Pappo. Culina offers prepared foods to go as well as full-service catering.
With two eateries in town to run, when do you sleep?
Sleep, you say … I remember hearing about that once.
What’s a little-known fact about you?
I hit a hole in one five years ago. I’m a golfer, or I used to be more of one.
Tell us a little bit about your October 1 anniversary dinner.
We are celebrating with a four-course menu to honor four years of Pappo. It is also the sneak preview of my new wine label, Thiel Family Wines. We will be pairing all of the food with wines from Thiel Family Wines. I am very excited about this. These wines will also be served by the glass at the restaurant.
What can we expect from Pappo this year, as we steam toward anniversary #5?
More good food, probably a few more health-conscious items and lots of duck. And Thiel Family Wines by the glass.
What are your five favorite places in town?
Pappo, Culina, Aquacotta, Little House Café and Yume.