Success at Bacchus Restaurants

By Carolyn Jung | October 01, 2013
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farm used by Bacchus Management Group

Driving up the twisty, jostling dirt roads to the hills above Woodside, Tim Stannard recalls the first time he laid eyes on the 1,200-acre SMIP Ranch.

“My jaw just dropped,’’ he recalls. “It was just majestic looking.’’

Indeed, it is, with its sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, as well as an irrigation pond big enough to swim in and clay soil so rich it could pass for warm chocolate cake.

Nowadays, a five-acre organic farm, fashioned on a fraction of that land, provides much of the produce used at many of the restaurants under the Bacchus Management Group. The restaurant and hospitality management company, which Stannard founded more than a dozen years ago, now encompasses Michelin-starred, The Village Pub in Woodside; Mayfield Bakery & Café in Palo Alto; Michelin-starred Spruce in San Francisco; Café des Amis in San Francisco; RoastCo, a wholesale coffee roasting company in Oakland; and multiple Pizza Antica locales throughout the Bay Area and Southern California.

Bacchus, which got its humble start in a spare room in Stannard’s old San Francisco apartment, now employs 1,000 people with its own offices in the SOMA district.

As he cradles a bunch of rainbow carrots and marvels at their candy-like sweetness, Stannard remembers how all of this almost didn’t come to pass. You see, the man who was raised by a mother who was an executive for some of the Bay Area’s best-known restaurant groups, and who was practically born into the industry, once grew so burnt out that he nearly turned his back on it all.

San Francisco–born Stannard toyed with becoming an investment banker instead. But fortunately, good food intervened—as it so often does—convincing him to invest in his own palate and instincts, and to embrace the restaurant industry again.

Strong Peninsula Ties

Food and hospitality have always played a pivotal role in Stannard’s life. When his father was a professor of American Studies at Stanford University, Stannard would bike through the campus and across El Camino Real to buy candy bars at the drugstore, the same spot where decades later he would open Mayfield Bakery & Café in Palo Alto’s Town and Country Village.

And he fondly thinks back to the times he tagged along with his mother as she made the rounds working for restaurateur extraordinaire Larry Mindel at Spectrum Foods, MacArthur Park and Il Fornaio.

 “You walk into a professional kitchen and there’s tons of energy, guys with knives and fire,’’ Stannard says about his childhood experiences. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever.’’

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that after years of working as a busser and line cook at various Mindel restaurants, Stannard found himself appointed manager of Il Fornaio’s retail-wholesale bakery in San Francisco. At age 19. With no previous management experience. He’ll be the first to acknowledge he was in over his head.

“I knew a lot about food. But I didn’t know how to delegate and manage people,’’ he says. “As a result, I worked ’round the clock for a year. I was the first in every day and the last out every night. I was miserable. I swore I’d never work in the industry again.’’

So, he decided to enroll at UC Berkeley to study the same subject his father taught, thinking he’d distanced himself as far from the restaurant industry as he could.

But then a little restaurant named Chez Panisse intervened. More specifically, Stannard’s appetite for the goat cheese salads there, an expensive habit that ate up his tuition money. He wound up needing a job to pay for college. Family friend Doug Biederbeck agreed to hire him as a bartender at his Bix restaurant in San Francisco.

“Bix was this very successful restaurant, and I noticed that Doug was not the first in each day and not the last to leave every night,’’ Stannard says. “I wondered, ‘How did he do that?’ He ended up taking me under his wing. And along the way, I fell back in love with restaurants.’’

So much so that Stannard ended up managing Bix for a few years, before departing to become director of operations for the PlumpJack Management Group, in which he oversaw not only several restaurants but a wine store and a winery.

Forging His Own Culinary Path

When it came time to venture out on his own, thanks to the advice of a longtime friend, Stannard set his sights on reopening The Village Pub (which had closed in 1999 after 40 years and multiple changes of ownership), much to the pleasure of local residents. Under Bacchus, The Village Pub has earned a Michelin star for the past five years and according to Evan Goldberg, founder and CTO of Netsuite, “The Village Pub is a delight. From the elegant atmosphere to the freshly curated dishes, the Pub is our go to place.”

After managing so many properties for PlumpJack, Stannard’s plan was to focus on one restaurant. Just one.

Of course, it didn’t work out that way. The developers of Santana Row in San Jose pursued him relentlessly for a year until he agreed to open a restaurant there. Stannard didn’t want to replicate The Pub, so he conceived of a casual pizza-pasta joint instead. What he didn’t count on was how wildly popular Pizza Antica would be. Its success led to another and another and another.

As the number of restaurants under Bacchus grew, so did the belief that it was essential to better manage ingredients. So, when Stannard realized the volume of coffee he was buying for the restaurants could support his own coffee roasting company, he did exactly that. RoastCo was originally founded five years ago to supply Bacchus’ properties. But as word got out about how sublime the coffee was, other restaurants and retailers came calling. As a result, the coffee is now sold at Whole Foods and served at places like Lolinda in San Francisco.

The same thing happened with the advent of Mayfield Bakery & Café. The bakery was originally designed as a retail space that also would supply the bread for all of the Bacchus restaurants. The bread proved such a hit that Mayfield now bakes round the clock to supply many others, such as Quince in San Francisco. Stannard has to turn down requests every day from companies interested in buying the bread, including the likes of Google, Apple and Microsoft.

Hands-On—to the Max

Creating his own coffee and bread businesses, not to mention his own wine with WillaKenzie Estate and his own bourbon with master distiller Julian Van Winkle, only served to reinforce what SMIP farm had already taught him: that raw resources matter, for many reasons.

Hiring your own farmers to grow your own French Rouge pumpkins and Eden’s Gem melons is far more expensive than buying them from a wholesaler, he admits. But it’s worth it in the end. Just ask Mark Sullivan, chef-partner at Bacchus, who has seen the difference it makes when servers and cooks volunteer their time to plant and harvest.

“It’s very labor-intensive work,’’ Sullivan says of the farm, which is 12 miles from The Pub. “They realize what grows there is a gift, and they take better care of it. There’s less waste. They actually end up crafting better food because they care more about it.’’

Dale Djerassi, who owns SMIP Ranch, generously agreed to let Bacchus use the land practically for free after Stannard struck out finding any other suitable property.

“My family had a cattle ranch on the property in the 1970s,’’ Djerassi says. “I’ve seen the land evolve over the years. To see what it’s become from then to now has just been fantastic.’’

Besides dining at the restaurants, the public can enjoy the bounty of the farm in two other ways. First, Bacchus offers a weekly community-supported agriculture (CSA) produce box from spring through early winter. Second, it hosts a dinner on the farm once a year, in which guests enjoy a multi-course feast cooked in the field by all the Bacchus chefs.

After having a hand in nurturing so very much, what’s next for Stannard?

Six more restaurants are in the works, some in the Bay Area and a few in Los Angeles, he says. Sullivan has expressed an interest in raising their own pigs or cows for the restaurants. Stannard also has mulled over the possibility of making his own chocolate.

“Do you do something you’ve learned to do well and just keep repeating it over and over again? That’s the mantra of business school,’’ Stannard says. “I know I should do that. But I still like doing new things. If all I did was bake bread and make coffee, I would feel that I missed out on something. I like to see how all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fit.’’

And for him, that puzzle is yet to be completed.

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