Mom lays down the law to John, he starts cooking from a box
As a young, ever-hungry teen, John was admonished by his wonderful mom one day, "Okay, John, I'll make you three meals a day, but the other five you are going to have to fix yourself." And so began John's culinary journey, from Mrs. Paul's Fish Sticks (with tartar sauce you could make yourself from a little packet enclosed in the box!), to bacon-cheddar-grilled onion-avocado burgers, from La Choy Frozen Spring Rolls to three-cheese and tomato grilled cheese sandwiches. Fortunately, he got some better input from his mother's great cooking, and soon, he followed his stomach from frozen foods and junk foods to college dinner parties and adult catering. He has spent his life eating everything he can, often then trying to cook a version of it himself soon after. Not one especially for material things, he has always been one for dinner. His bank statements are littered with restaurant and grocery store charges, not much else.
The Teaching Days - John and Pablo meet and dream
He kept this passion in the closet for many years, spending 14 adult years as a high school English teacher, a Dean of Students, and the last six as the Upper School Principal at Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma. There, he met his now life-long friend, Paul Butler, known to all at Charles Wright as Pablo, since he was the Spanish teacher and Head of the Foreign Language Department. They struck up a fast friendship, and when John decided to strike out for the food world in 1996, a year later Paul wondered how he got left behind at the school! He casually suggested that if John ever wanted to actually open a restaurant, he might be interested in taking part. With great foresight, Pablo realized that a restaurant would give two long-time social activist with a yen to create community and to give back to our community an opportunity to do just that, in spades. Bringing people together around food, including those in need, would become a key part of our mission.
From dream to reality
John spent the next three and a half years learning the restaurant trade (Coastal Kitchen and Five Spot, where he went from a start as day waiter/bartender, through all the front of house positions, and eventually to general manager) while taking cooking classes, catering, and cooking for his friends, especially the cast and crew of the stage version of The Cider House Rules as they workshopped and staged an epic production of the book that started in Seattle, eventually went on to LA and finally to the New York stage. Paul spent the next three and half years primarily devoting his time to his real estate business in Tacoma and Gig Harbor. On the side, he ate John's food, enjoyed the crazy social events created around that food, and remained a steadfast believer that all this was going somewhere.
With the onset of the millennium, Pablo and John decided it was time to stop dreaming and start doing. When the Madrona location of the shuttered Cool Hand Lukes came available, they jumped. A fast and furious two-month remodel produced a restaurant.
A more protracted process produced a name for that restaurant. Inspired by the many meals created for the cast and crew of Cider House Rules, and by the sense of warmth and welcome connected to the orphanage in the book/play, they settled on St. Clouds – the place where orphans come to find a sense of home and family. They also enjoyed the subtle salute to Seattle’s weather, where our clouds are our saints.Thus was born this urban neighborhood restaurant, a place with comforting foods and contemporary seasonal cooking, a welcoming spot for all to enjoy great food, the best in service, and fine music. Welcome.