From restaurants to vinyl records

For Michael Thiemann, the restaurant scene couldn’t have been more promising in February 2020. He ran the kitchen at the highly regarded Empress Tavern on K Street and had just opened Jim’s Good Food on 16th Street. How about a third location in downtown Sacramento? According to one account, restaurants were opening weekly in the area.

And then a virus engulfed the country.

When COVID-19 tore through the restaurant industry like a hand-beater in pudding, Thiemann, a restaurant veteran since his teenage years, took it as a sign. Empress and Jim are closed. “It was time to take a break from the food industry,” he said. Along with his wife, Lisa, he quit restaurants to help found a record pressing factory. The change wasn’t all that surprising for a guy who played in a band in addition to cooking dinners for hundreds. “I had two career paths,” Thiemann said. “I’ve always been interested in music or food.”

The couple’s longtime friends and sometimes collaborators in East Bay, Marie Davenport and Mike Lucas, were opening a record pressing plant in a former commercial building on G Street. So the Thiemanns joined them to start the Sonic Archives Consortium, one of the few record pressing factories in California. It took months to get the machines and install them, but once they opened, Thiemann said, orders poured in, thanks to growing demand and few factories.

Where the Thiemanns once worked in the loud din of a crowded restaurant, they now work in a cavernous industrial space, pressing vinyl after vinyl. Thiemann sees a similarity, however, in repetitive production. “Cooking is basically staring at a wall for eight hours,” he said.

The Thiemanns, who have worked in the food industry in New Zealand, Maui and San Francisco, are now happy to dine at other people’s tables, especially at smaller establishments serving global cuisine in South Sacramento. But they always talk about another restaurant, especially a small family restaurant. In front of the pressing plant there is a small display case from a bygone era with vintage linoleum. “It’s a shame not to use this space,” Thiemann said as he walked through the empty room. Another restaurant, perhaps?

Jack L. Goldstein