Here's something most local chefs can agree on: the talent pool for Sacramento chefs runs deep, and the area deserves a better reputation given its quality restaurants and access to world-class produce. The SacTown Dining Collective was born with this idea of rallying local chefs to better promote this town, but behind the scenes, it's been more like the SacTown Herding Cats Collective. What exactly will this collective do? Who will represent the group in front of media, and what's its agreed upon message? And who's up for meeting at 9 a.m. on a Monday morning to figure all this out?

That's to say, despite its good aims, getting a bunch of chefs together isn't so easy. There's overloaded work schedules to contend with, family obligations, not to mention the strong personalities which are a hallmark of many chefs. But, after a few months of figuring this out and a few hurt feelings, the SacTown Dining Collective board was recently formed: Mike Thiemann (Ella Dining Room & Bar), Adam Pechal (Tuli Bistro, Restaurant Thi13en), Pedro Depina (Ettore's), Kimio Bazett (The Golden Bear) and Amber Turner - a local food enthusiast with a marketing background who came up with the idea for this collective. Other members of the collective include Pajo Bruich (formerly of Lounge ON20), restaurant consultant Andy Soto, Michael Passmore (Passmore Ranch), Patrick Mulvaney of Mulvaney's B&L and about a dozen others.

"We all have ultra-full lives but we're ready to go that extra step because we care so much about this industry and what we're doing in this community," said Pechal. "All of us chefs are very supportive of one another and we want to raise the bar for all of us. It's all about pulling our resources together and hopefully get more into a national scale."

To introduce the group to the public, a kick-off dinner featuring the Sacramento Dining Collective will be held on June 7. The event will be held at Plate's Cafe (Depot Park at 14 Business Park Way, Bldg. 149, Sacramento), which helps support homeless women with children via job training in the hospitality industry. The event includes a cocktail hour and reception, along with appetizers and a three-course menu created by some of Sacramento's most prominent chefs. Thiemann will serve as head chef, with all others collaborating on various dishes.

"It'll be fun," said Pechal. "I love being under another chef, like, 'What do you need, chef?' In this situation, we're all out for a common good and there's no room for stepping on toes."

Tickets cost $45, and can be purchased here.

The SacTown Dining Collective is brainstorming more events, possibly to include an outdoor summer festival and bike crawl through local restaurants.

"We've done pretty well in keeping our structure and organization," said Pechal. "We're looking to bring in more members. It's all about educating people and making them aware of the things we're doing with an emphasis on local products. That's our ace in the hole."

Chris Macias is the Bee's food and wine writer. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias

Step into Plates Cafe and you will be promptly greeted by one of its friendly employees. Only open for lunch, Plates offers a variety of sandwiches, salads, sweet potato fries and a soup of the day.

Plates is located in what used to be an army depot mess hall and was recently renovated into a quaint eatery with colorful chairs, circular tables and brown, leather couches.

The food is superb. Plates' Reuben sandwiches consist of juicy, peppered slabs of pastrami, oozy Swiss cheese, layers of thousand island dressing and sauerkraut on toasted rye.

Not only is the Reuben delicious, but it is also offered at the reasonable price of $8.75 and it comes with a choice of regular fries, sweet potato fries or a mixture of the two.

The sweet potato fries are unforgettable and are cooked to perfection; they are crisp and warm – not soggy – and also not too salty like at other eateries.

Plates is unlike any ordinary sit-down eatery. The restaurant is a part of St. John’s shelter program for women and children that provides former homeless mothers the opportunity to gain valuable skills for employment.

“The idea is to get the women marketable skills and experience to potentially gain work,” said Plates business manager David Losé.

Losé also added that the program’s goal is “to get the women off of welfare, CalWORKs or any county or state funding so they can support themselves and their families.”

When Losé was offered the manager position, he said he was unsure of what he was getting into. Now Losé said he is a support system to the women.

“It has been an incredible experience,” Losé said. “I’m being a support system for them since they do not have a great support system at home and with their family members.”

Server Diane Williams has been working at Plates since November and said she believes the St. John’s program has been helpful after she lost her job.

“My job fizzled out and I couldn’t pay my bills,” Williams said. “(Here) they really care and help you step out into the working world.”

Williams also explained how the program has drastically helped her improve her work and social skills.

“My hosting skills have boosted up my morale,” said Williams. “Now I am more confident and outgoing.”

Despite the cafe's hidden location, the restaurant has increased its popularity through word-of-mouth and catering events. Plates is more than just a restaurant; it assists to motivate women in need while offering delicious food to its customers.

Plates Cafe is located at 14 Business Park Way and is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Jordan Riturban can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

© 2012 The State Hornet. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Big portions of good food at fair prices. We found that rare triumvirate at the 5,500-square-foot Plates Cafe in the Depot Park commercial complex.

The former Army Depot commissary is huge, yes, but it's so well put together that you really don't notice. Well, not much, anyway.

Plates is a restaurant, yes, but it's also an "employment-learning program" run by the St. John's Shelter for Women and Children. It opened 18 months ago as a teaching ground for homeless mothers, who learn the basics of the culinary and hospitality industries.

The program trains 25 women at a time in various restaurant positions – dishwasher, cashier, prep cook, line cook, baker, server, hostess and the like. The current sous chef is a graduate of the program.

"These women are homeless, but not helpless, and we give them a pathway," said executive director Michele Steeb. "Of the 17 who have (graduated), 14 were placed in jobs."

Though off-site catering is the majority of the business, "we can open the restaurant for special events at any time, and seat 300," she said.

Plates seated 215 diners on Nov. 3, when restaurateur-chef Randall Selland (The Kitchen, Ella) teamed with Spoto Napa Valley Wines and cooked on Guest Chef Night. The charge is $45 a person for family-style dining on the first Thursday of each month, 6 to 8:30 p.m. Coming Dec. 1 are the Red Hot Mamas and Rail Bridge Cellars.

The day we visited, staff members in the front of the house were smiling and relaxed, but focused and on task. The menu offers salads, sandwiches, hot entrees, sides and from-scratch baked goods ($3 to $9.75). The cookies and cheddar-jalepeño biscuits were terrific.

There's also a $5 weekly lunch special, like this: "Warm spinach salad with smoked bacon, hard-boiled egg, red onion, garlic croutons and balsamic vinaigrette."

We also tasted the soup du jour, a deep bowl of steaming-hot potato and white cheddar cheese topped with a white truffle oil float and chopped parsley ($5).

Our bowl of spinach fettuccine was mixed with fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, corn kernels, goat cheese, chili flakes and house-made basil-walnut pesto ($8). The from-scratch fresh pasta is handmade by Susan Korec of Sacramento, a.k.a. the Pasta Queen ( Korec maintains a Pasta Queen kiosk at Plates. Her pasta and sauces also are sold at area farmers markets, Mama Ann's deli in El Dorado Hills and the Placerville Co-op.

WHERE: 14 Business Park Way (off Fruitridge Road) in Depot Park, south Sacramento
HOURS: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays-Fridays
FOOD: 2 1/2 stars
AMBIENCE: 2 1/2 stars
INFORMATION: (916) 381-2233, Read more: click here.

ed_goldmanGimme Shelter — When my recent “clogs” about favorite places to have business lunches appeared, Michele Steeb wasted no time in inviting me to her favorite restaurant: Plates, which is operated by St. John’s Shelter for Women & Children. Steeb just happens to be the organization’s executive director.

First things first: the meal was terrific. I had pasta carbonara, one of the daily specials, and one of my favorites — for dinner, though, not for lunch. I’m not one of those people who can eat this luxuriously at lunch and still fit into their business suits (or front seats, for that matter).

Plates is located in the remodeled, still-cavernous commissary that served the U.S. Army Depot. It features a diverse menu (five different salads, five different sandwiches, “stove-top” entrées, satisfying side dishes — French or sweet potato fries, pasta or garden salads, fresh fruit — and house-made desserts. The restaurant’s open for lunch from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, and is available for events “just about anytime.”

I think this is a fine place for a business lunch, awards banquet or annual meeting because of the food and the site: just 10 minutes from downtown if you drive (rapidly) on Highway 50, take the Power Inn Road exit, head south to Fruitridge, turn right and right again at Business Park Drive. The signs will guide you in from there.

It’s also soul nourishing. St. John’s Shelter gives women and children from broken homes — and sometimes, more than broken, downright devastated — a chance to learn job and life skills. These women are your restaurant crew. “The idea is for women to gain and maintain employment,” says Steeb over a Chinese chicken salad that appeared larger than she is.

While the shelter’s been around for 26 years, the restaurant opened on June 23, 2010. Steeb says it’s on track to be profitable in the next six months.

I believe her. The former vice president of public affairs for the California Chamber of Commerce, she says that when her grandfather died, she felt moved to carry on his legacy of community activism. Joining the shelter’s board of directors in 2006 — at a time when the phones were shut off for nonpayment of bills and “the shelter bounced two payroll checks” — she realized she’d found her calling. “I don’t want to make this sound too dramatic,” she says, “but I felt very ‘led’ to step in.”

When Plates first opened, restaurateur Patrick Mulvaney spent two weeks donating his time as a mere-mortal line cook. In the time since, he and his wife Bobbin have donated hours, equipment and expertise to the enterprise. But what’s even better than that? “The Mulvaneys have hired nine of our graduates,” Steeb says. That certainly sits well.

Ed Goldman, president of Goldman Communications Inc., is a Sacramento writer and marketing consultant.

Click to see article

sunset-cover-nov10-m Plates was mentioned in the November 2010 issue of Sunset Magazine. See article (pdf).

Helping the Homeless
St. John's Shelter has opened the doors at Plates Café in Sacramento. The restaurant is staffed with formerly homeless women. Rob shares their inspiring story of hope and rehabilitation.

Watch the full episode. See more Rob on the Road.

eat-1Eat at Plates. Portions are prodigious enough to be dessert prophylactics. The service is bubbly and efficient. Its salads, lettuce and pasta are spot-on. More importantly, at Plates, a meal—or 50—is good for the soul. And it's good for St. John's Shelter and the formerly homeless women with children it serves. Like the menu says, Plates serves inspiration.

Open a skosh over two months, the breakfast-and-lunch-only eatery occupies the former mess hall at Depot Park on Fruitridge near Florin-Perkins Road, the business park created after the Army Depot on the site was shuttered in 1994. If it isn't already, Depot Park ought to be placed somewhere high on the Best Base Closure Bounce-back list. Not to get mushy, but Depot Park's landlord allows Plates to operate rent free. St. John's picks up the utilities. (read more).

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