Bob Shallit

Innovative dive bar set to rise from the Embers

Sacramentan Jeff Tochterman is joining with a boyhood friend to open a bar at the former site of the Embers on Auburn Boulevard.
Sacramentan Jeff Tochterman is joining with a boyhood friend to open a bar at the former site of the Embers on Auburn Boulevard. bshallit@sacbee.com

A trendsetting Bay Area restaurateur and cocktail innovator has picked an unlikely site for his first Sacramento venture: the former Embers strip club on Auburn Boulevard.

Tom Schnetz, a Sacramento native who owns five East Bay restaurants and bars, is teaming with boyhood pal Jeff Tochterman to open a bar and cocktail lounge called the Cinders.

“It’s a play on the Embers name,” said Tochterman, a Sacramento attorney and executive at the Entero residential real estate company. “We liked the (original) name but it had a bad association with a lot of people.”

They hope to have the new place open by mid-July, offering a mix of local beers from 12 taps and craft cocktails at affordable prices. The design motif: an eclectic “camping and hunting feel,” Tochterman said, with mounted animal heads, wildlife photos and vintage beer signs.

Tochterman, who is 48 and the son of retired Superior Court Judge Ronald Tochterman, said he’s been trying for years to convince Schnetz to open a business here. Without success.

But Schnetz, also 48, was intrigued once he saw the former Embers site, on Auburn Boulevard between Greenback Lane and Madison Avenue, not far from American River College.

“I think he kind of liked the challenge of going into a neighborhood that doesn’t have that much going on,” Tochterman said.

That describes Schnetz’s M.O. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a political science degree, he opted to get into the restaurant business, starting at the entry level at San Francisco’s Square One and working his way up.

After six years of working for others, he and business partner Dona Savitsky opened an upscale Mexican eatery and bar in the then-bleak Temescal area of Oakland, at 50th Street and Telegraph Avenue.

“It was not exactly a recognizable neighborhood. We were the only game in town,” Schnetz said. But the success of Doña Tomás helped draw other businesses to what’s now become a trendy retailing and residential neighborhood.

They next launched a taqueria called Tacubaya in west Berkeley, then, over several years, opened three adjacent spots – Flora restaurant, Fauna bar and Xolo taqueria – in another retail dead spot at 19th Street and Telegraph Avenue in downtown Oakland, across from the Fox Theater. That neighborhood now is hopping.

“There’s been this huge Oakland revival and we’ve been instrumental in helping create that,” Schnetz said.

He’s hoping for the same sort of impact on Auburn Boulevard, and he’s confident he can draw patrons to a cool dive bar far off the path normally trod by urban hipsters.

“That’s part of the fun,” he said. “Putting it somewhere (unexpected) and watching everybody come.”

The world’s a stage

The Runyon Saltzman Einhorn communications firm has always been a big patron of the local arts scene. Now it’s backing a fledgling performing arts company … in Detroit.

The pro bono arrangement has its roots in a business trip company president Chris Holben took to Seattle in February. While in the air, Holben picked up Southwest Airline’s inflight magazine and read the cover story about a 32-year-old Detroit woman named Sam White who had formed a Shakespeare company that takes plays directly to the city’s poorer neighborhoods.

“I was so impressed by her story,” said Holben, a Michigan native who was familiar with the troubles facing Detroit and enchanted by the notion of the Bard helping improve the city’s self-image.

He contacted White, who grew up in the crime-ridden 7 Mile Road area, and offered PR and social marketing services. He fully expected to be told such services were unnecessary. After all, she was on the cover of a national magazine.

“Within an hour, I got a response from her,” he said. White’s response: “Nobody is helping.”

Now RSE is the agency of record for Shakespeare in Detroit – and it’s making an impact. The theater company’s July performances of Macbeth had been canceled due to a financial shortfall.

Now, thanks in part to RSE’s efforts, the shows are back on.

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