From Restaurants to Vinyl Records

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Michael Thiemann holding a vinyl record
Michael Thiemann. Photo by Kevin Gomez.

For Michael Thiemann, the restaurant scene couldn’t have been more promising in February 2020. He was helming the kitchen at the much-touted Empress Tavern on K Street and had just opened Jim’s Good Food on 16th Street. Why not a third location in downtown Sacramento? By one account, restaurants were opening weekly in the region.

And then a virus engulfed the country.

When COVID-19 tore through the restaurant industry like a hand mixer in pudding, Thiemann, a veteran of restaurant work since he was a teen, took it as a sign. Empress and Jim’s both closed. “It was time to take a break from the food industry,” he said. He, along with his wife, Lisa, left restaurants behind to help found a record pressing plant. The switch was not that startling for a guy who played in a band in addition to churning out dinners for hundreds. “I had two career paths,” said Thiemann. “I’ve always been interested in music or food.”

The couple’s longtime East Bay friends and sometimes collaborators, Marie Davenport and Mike Lucas, were opening a record pressing plant in an old commercial building on G Street. So the Thiemanns joined them to launch Sonic Archives Consortium, one of a handful of record pressing plants in California. It took months to get the machinery and set it up, but once it opened, Thiemann said, the orders rolled in, thanks to rising demand and few plants.

Where the Thiemanns once toiled in the raucous din of a crowded restaurant, they now work in a cavernous industrial space, pressing vinyl after vinyl. Thiemann sees a similarity, though, in the 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 the tables of others, especially small places serving global cuisine in South Sacramento. But they always talk about another restaurant, particularly a small mom-and-pop diner. In the front of the pressing plant, there’s a small storefront of a bygone era with vintage linoleum. “It’s a shame not to use this space,” said Thiemann as he passed through the empty room. Another restaurant, perhaps?