When it comes to addictions, you could do a lot worse than waking up each morning and scrolling through Craigslist—especially if, like Roger Tschann, you're opening a new restaurant and building it all from the ground up. A few months ago, having decided to open the tapas-style bistro Speakeasy in downtown Petaluma, Tschann and his girlfriend, Amber Driscoll, were in need of things like shelves and sconces and, um, a chef. All of which they found on Craigslist.
"Roger's good at waiting patiently for what he wants," Driscoll tells me on a recent Sunday evening. In fact, Tschann, longtime owner of local recording emporium Grizzly Studios, spent years waiting for the right restaurant space to open up, and when the site of the former Thai Ginger Bistro became available, "we dared each other to go for it," he says.
Since the kitchen is too small to hold a walk-in freezer, the food is guaranteed to be "amazingly fresh," as Driscoll puts it. The menu is also amazingly diverse, ranging from the classic French sandwich croque madame ($11) to vegetarian tacos with barbecued jackfruit and sweet and sour tempeh ($10). "It's silly to put labels on our cuisine," they tell me, "since tapas give us the flexibility to serve many different kinds of food."
At the gastronomic helm is Dindo Borja, the final—and best—interviewee out of over a hundred who answered their chef-wanted Craigslist ad. A native of Guam and an alum of St. Helena restaurants Tra Vigne and Brix, "chef Dindo elevated our expectations," gushes Tschann. "His food is art."
Open from 5pm until 2am every day of the week, Speakeasy is a gift to hungry bar hoppers and others tired of the same old greasy diner grub late at night. The cozy indoor eating area might only seat 20, but an outdoor patio spills into the Putnam Plaza courtyard, perfect for live music on summer evenings.
Though both long harbored dreams of opening a restaurant, Tschann and Driscoll met only a year and a half ago. "I'm actually shocked at how well we get along," Driscoll laughs, "given how much time we spend together." Despite having very different personalities, each plays to their strengths: he built the bar with redwood from an old barn, she built the website. Tschann (and his steely-eyed great-grandparents, whose framed photos grace the walls) is behind the turn-of-the-century décor, including a lovely piece of antique stained glass mounted into the wall.
In addition to the name, Driscoll is responsible for Speakeasy's wealth of vegetarian options, which include edamame hummus ($6) and a house-made vegan veggie burger ($9) good enough to satisfy her meat-eating partner. Despite her vegetarianism (she once worked as a corporate liaison for PETA), Driscoll insists on tasting every menu item, from the sweet and spicy pork belly ($12) to the lobster mac and cheese ($13), so as to be "genuine and sincere when talking to customers."
Absolute commitment, it turns out, is an area in which both excel. Tschann hasn't taken a night off since Speakeasy opened three months ago. "I go to bed at 3 and wake up at 6," he laughs, "ready to go into the restaurant and tinker around with the new junk I found on Craigslist."
Speakeasy, 139 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. Open 5pm–2am daily. 707.776.4631.