Former chef of Ella comes back home to open two new restaurants on K Street

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Ryan Donahue
After a stint working in the Bay Area for Food Network star Tyler Florence, chef Mike Thiemann has returned to his hometown of Sacramento to launch a pair of restaurants downtown.

After six months in Mill Valley as the culinary director for celebrity chef Tyler Florence, Mike Thiemann, former head chef of Ella Dining Room and Bar, is returning to his hometown of Sacramento to launch two downtown eateries in the next year. “I am finally laying roots down,” says Thiemann. “I have been all over the place cooking everywhere, and so it is nice to end that journey in a place that I really care about.”

A team including Thiemann and his wife Lisa, Edible Sacramento editor Ryan Donahue, Crest Theatre owner Bob Emerick and investor Yulya Borroum will partner on both restaurants. The first to debut will be Mother, a vegetarian lunch spot opening this November on K Street near the Crest. Then Empress Tavern, the larger of the two ventures (Donahue calls it a “beast” in size, with 160 seats planned), will open in spring 2014 in the bottom floor of the movie theater, where it will replace the two screening rooms that were shuttered last fall. “The opportunity to develop a couple of concepts in a really, really cool location in the shadow of Crest Theatre is pretty awesome to me,” says Thiemann. “I’m excited about it.”

The projects are rooted in Sacramento’s legacy and its vibrant dining scene, from the name (the Crest was originally called the Empress) to its emphasis on local ingredients (Thiemann says Sacramento’s top-notch regional produce inspired him to make Mother exclusively vegetarian). The partners will be involved in the capital city’s culinary community through future events like field trips to local farms and “chef takeovers,” which will allow up-and-coming chefs opportunities to run the restaurants’ kitchens.

Thiemann will design the menus, with Mother offering a variety of light lunch fare such as fresh pasta dishes, creamed collared greens, pickled vegetables and more. Empress Tavern will serve homier, heartier food like rotisserie-cooked meats and pot pies. Empress will also boast an extensive list of wines on tap, as well as one of Sacramento’s largest and most varied beer lists that Donahue says should please “the ultimate beer geek.” And while many details of Empress’ décor and design are still in the planning stage, one of its key features will be a private room with a butcher table connected to the kitchen, where diners can watch food be prepared and allow for experiential dinners and cooking demonstrations.

Thiemann’s work over the years has taken him from Hawaii to New Zealand. But don’t expect to see Thiemann head off on more globetrotting culinary adventures anytime soon. “I’m coming back home for good,” says Thiemann. “I am betting my life on Sacramento.”