Back in 2001, Michael Greuel had dropped out of Cañada College and was working three part-time jobs to pay the rent. Concerned that Michael was adrift and knowing that he “liked to tinker around in the kitchen,” a family friend who worked at JobTrain (then OICW) suggested he try JobTrain’s Culinary Arts program in Menlo Park.
“It gave me direction,” said Michael. “It was a great experience, and it opened a lot of doors for me.”
Michael credits the JobTrain program with exposing him to different culinary techniques and cuisines. A year later, he parlayed that training into a position as cook with Viognier, the restaurant at Draeger’s in San Mateo. Under Executive Chef Scott Giambastiani, Michael turned his focus to fine dining and the art of French cooking. Over the next seven years, he worked his way up at Viognier – from cook to sous chef to executive chef. “We used to do 150 covers (patrons served) a night, we would do 13-course tasting menus. It was a very challenging job,” he said.
While immersed in the white table cloth world of Viognier, Michael connected with his fellow sous chef, Matt Levin, over their shared passion for more down-to-earth fare. “We would talk about our love for street food, and that’s where we wanted to head.”
According to Michael, Matt was particularly nostalgic for pastrami. “He loved pastrami growing up. I never really had pastrami. I was raised in Redwood City. We had no pastrami around here, so I had no idea what that was.”
In March 2007, Owner Matt Levin and Executive Chef Michael Greuel opened The Refuge in San Carlos, a self-described “upscale, artisan beer pub” serving “the best iconic dishes America has ever conceived.” On the menu: hand-carved pastrami, juicy hamburgers, ribeye cheesesteaks, hearty salads and soups, complemented by the most Belgian beers on tap in the Bay Area. “It’s the place when I was a cook, I wanted to go,” Michael says, reflecting back to his sous chef days at Viognier.
With one successful restaurant launched, “the vision keeps on growing,” Michael says, underscored by the May 2013 opening of The Refuge’s second location in Menlo Park. Michael spends about three-quarters of his time at 1143 Crane Street, just a few miles across town from his JobTrain roots. However, he’s not the only one to have made the trek from one point to the other. Working next to him in The Refuge in Menlo Park’s kitchen are several JobTrain hires.
“That’s how I try to give back,” Michael said. “I was given a second chance at OICW (JobTrain). It’s what you do with the chance and the opportunity.” Looking back on what got him this far, Michael says he recognizes similar traits in his staff. “I was successful from my time at OICW to now because I just put my head down and worked. They seem to be cut from the same cloth.”
Photos by Irene Searles