Congratulations to John Schafer, Director of Operations at SingleThread and the 2023 MICHELIN Guide California Service Award Winner! The Healdsburg staple is known for their innovative farm-to-table approach—you can check out more of that here—but they also lead the way in terms of guest hospitality. Each touchpoint of the dining experience is thoughtfully poured over, but one aspect that ups the ante on a typical night out, is the service. Below, we share how the Three Star and Green Star Director of Operations keeps his cool on any given night, who his role model is, and what's ahead.
What is a typical night at the restaurant?
At SingleThread, we seat up to 25 tables and two tables every 15 minutes to ensure that all our guests can enjoy their evening at a comfortable pace. As our hospitality and reservations team gathers as much detail and information as possible during the booking process, we often have thoughtful details around our guests’ occasions and any other special details that make a visit as personalized as possible. Preparing for guest arrivals day of, our front door team memorizes our guests’ names and special celebrations, warmly greeting them upon arrival by offering a hot or cold farm-inspired beverage, depending on the weather. Guests are escorted to their tables by the captain that will be taking care of them throughout the evening. Weather permitting, we welcome guests to begin or end their experience in our rooftop garden. Over the course of three hours, guests enjoy a 10-course seasonal menu currently consisting of 30 composed dishes; often accompanied by a reserve wine pairing with each dish (we also offer a non-alcoholic pairing). Upon departure, they receive a keepsake menu with a take away gift from our Farm.
What goes into preparing each night?
Preparing for service starts a week out with our Maitre D’ Kelly and our reservations manager, Jacob, discussing who is joining us, and putting into action any special touches or preparation. Our amazing culinary and service team leaders take all of these preferences, dietary restrictions, and any other information about the reservation into consideration as they plan creative touches for these guests prior to arrival. All of our culinary and service staff come together at 1:30 PM each day at line up to discuss each day's menu, wine, or service changes, who we have the pleasure of welcoming, and any areas of focus for that evening. Just before service, our talented floral team set the striking Hassun centerpieces that greet each guest when they arrive. As mentioned, our front door team that greets our guests takes a great deal of pride and care into ensuring that they have memorized every detail about each arriving guest to ensure a truly personal experience.
What's your favorite part of the guest experience?
I love the way that our guests are transported to nature, the season and our farm during their meal through the creativity and storytelling of our service, culinary and wine teams. We are so lucky to have access to regenerative and biodiverse farmland, ocean, mountains, and forests, thanks to our location in Sonoma County. The collaboration and partnerships between farm, floral, culinary, and service allow our guests to experience these landscapes from the comfort of the dining room. We don’t just serve dishes - we tell the story of the origin of the ingredients, and the dish is brought to life by these rich stories and local inspiration.
What does "really good service" mean to you?
We regularly talk about how a great novel or film has the ability to cause one to lose oneself, and we are so lucky to welcome so many to step out of the day-to-day to commune over a meal. Though we are not achieving three hours of Kafka-esque transcendence with each guest, we are so lucky to have the opportunity to observe and respond to our guests by doing little things to make our hospitality more personal and thus their evening that much more memorable. We live for the moments where we help guests feel truly seen and inspired, and they leave with a smile on their face.
How are you able to keep the team calm?
Katina and Chef Kyle do a great job of creating a sense of calm in the restaurant with their empathy, warmth and kaizen mentality. Kaizen, or good change, is a concept that drives everything we do as a company and is centered on giving all team members the ability to have the autonomy to make positive changes to better serve our guests and each other. Empowerment is crucial for our culture, and our teams know that they are trusted to do everything in their power to make an experience the very best it can be.
What is the biggest misconception about your role?
I am fortunate to have the support of so many people here at SingleThread, and a misconception is that we just come in and do our jobs, and mentorship is not often talked about - how we are responsible for growing the next generation of leaders as much as we are ensuring service excellence. Leadership starts within. Seeing so many people find a love for hospitality and to support them to grow in this industry is the best part of my job. Having a love for food and wine is important in our industry, but at the end of the day, those that I have seen truly succeed have a love of taking care of those around them. I count myself lucky to have been surrounded by so many caring individuals over the years.
How does your Colorado ranch upbringing influence how you do your role?
My parents instilled in me a love for food, beverage and community from a young age. Our house was always full of people, and even when times were tough, they always showed an overabundance of hospitality. My mother was always bringing home a new foster dog or a family of four foster goats, and taking care of animals had a profound impact on my sense of self and care for others. Being of service is a part of who I am.
Do you have any role models in the industry?
When I moved into my first management role in Chicago, I was mentored by Gary Obligacion. He continues to make the world of food and beverage a place that better serves both guests and colleagues.
Chef Dave Beran and I became fast friends over long bike rides during our many years together in Chicago. His creativity, commitment to collaboration, and ability to ask “why not” continue to inspire me today.
I had the pleasure of working alongside Chef Suzette Gresham during a “SF Chefs for Ukraine” fundraiser that took place at Nari in San Francisco. So many talented chefs made time to be a part of it, but seeing her survey the room, step into the expo role, and be the leader that we all needed that evening is a memory I will not soon forget. Her commitment to fostering a sense of curiosity in those she interacts with and supporting their development is truly inspiring.