music in the park san jose

.Ritual at Manresa Sets a Global Table in Los Gatos

Uruguayan brothers’ series of popup dinners bring international chefs to David Kinch’s former culinary mecca

music in the park san jose

When superstar chef David Kinch decided to shutter Manresa at the end of 2022, it seemed an era of Los Gatos culinary fame had come to a close. Through several seasons the building sat, with its “For Lease” sign, looking like a child that had lost a best friend. Real estate agents were at first forthcoming—but not so much as the rumors began to fly.

Then, word slowly got out that the name “Manresa” was going to live on in culinary parlance, at least for a while, and that Kinch was not really out of the picture: the place would become the setting for a series of pop-ups called Ritual at Manresa.

More theatrical and edgy than before, there will be a different celebrity chef each month coming to town. It’s part of a new co-venture with the Caviglia brothers, tech guys both and one a former South American pro rugby player. They hope to take the concept to LA and Europe after refining it here.

The two Uruguayan entrepreneurs had fixed on a concept that would combine the world of fine dining with a technology business they’d hatched back in 2016. 

Tech Bros

Juan and Luis Caviglia were destined to be software engineers one way or another. But it was thanks to their sister’s career as an international chef that they came to blend their talents with her connections. Collaborating closely with some of Latin America’s most celebrated restaurants and chefs, they created the Meitre platform to help restaurants provide customized marketing to maximize reservations.

Meitre, which initially launched in Argentina, Brazil and Peru, does not replace reservation systems, but instead works with them. Meitre claims to increase restaurant profits as much as 30 percent, by optimizing table allocation, prioritizing high-margin bookings at peak hours and eliminating no-shows.

“The first to recognize the value of our software was the legendary Argentine chef Francis Mallmann, with whom we formed a wonderful friendship,” the brothers told us. “Interestingly, chef Mallmann was also the inaugural chef to join Ritual in 2021, when we commenced our series of intimate dinners with world-renowned chefs in undisclosed locations around the Bay Area.” Among the early adopters of Meitre were establishments such as Central (from chef Virgilio Martínez), Maido (Mitsuharu Tsumura), DOM (Alex Atala), Pujol (Enrique Olvera) and Quintonil (Jorge Vallejo).

The brothers came to Silicon Valley in 2018 to participate in YCombinator, the incubator behind Dropbox, Airbnb, Stripe and other Silicon Valley unicorns. They scored when Andreessen Horowitz invested $1.6 million in Meitre. One of the fund’s investor/advisors is the former CEO of OpenTable. They currently have about 100 restaurant clients.

A New Ritual

During the pandemic, though, the brothers were forced to hit pause. “Our go-to-market strategy encountered a setback with the global pandemic, which unexpectedly became the catalyst for creating Ritual,” they said. “In the first three months of 2020, we began assessing the various scenarios resulting from the global response to Covid-19.

“While some chefs contemplated closure, others sought to devise take-out processes, and a few adventurous souls even considered delivery services. We spent months navigating the opportunities presented by the new reality, and, after nearly a year of planning amidst uncertainty, we launched Ritual in May 2021 with our inaugural series of secret dinners.”

These clandestine dinners were held in different locations on the Peninsula, including private homes, art galleries, churches—even open fields. Each Ritual pop-up segment consisted of six dinners monthly, with two large communal tables where guests could connect with like-minded diners, giving them a chance to enjoy an unparalleled culinary experience when the world seemed unable to offer anything else.

When the brothers, who had dined at Manresa in the past, realized the restaurant space was available, they couldn’t help but think it might be a good fit. Shortly after they began working on transitioning their pop-up concept to the location, they approached Kinch, who was contemplating how the Manresa brand could continue beyond his tenure.

SIGNS OF CHANGE The Los Gatos restaurant’s window is now tagged with its spray-painted brand: Ritual @ Manresa.

Kinch says he’s happy to partner with the Caviglias. He’ll be a “culinary ambassador,” meaning he’ll be sharing his wealth of knowledge—and contacts—with the brothers. Clearly, he’s having fun and enjoying the opportunity to maintain connections with his colleagues in the food world.

“It’s a fabulous concept,” Kinch says. “Los Gatos is really embracing it. Juan and Luis are really smart, and they know what they are doing. They had a pop-up business on the Peninsula that really caught on and were looking for the right venue to make it more permanent. People are absolutely loving it. The first tranche of dinners sold out almost instantly, and that was with no proof of concept.”

Brazilian Blowout

This month, the celebrity chef in attendance was Brazil’s Alex Atala. The rule-breaking engagement has seen edible ants imported from the Amazon and the venue’s fancy signage tagged with a spray-painted new brand: Ritual @ Manresa. The refined dining room was shot with gunite to create a cave-like experience. The entry has been graffitied inside as well, and a sparkling beverage is served in a room that’s shiny with foil from floor to ceiling. (Soul Patch kombucha, a Los Gatos Farmer’s Market favorite, is served an alternative to alcoholic bubbly.)

Like Kinch, Atala celebrates local ingredients. He’s been a champion of sourcing Brazil’s biodiverse bounty to go beyond the conventional and produce a culinary experience that’s far from ordinary. Like any breakthrough chef, he curates an experience that transports, educates and leaves an indelible memory. It will be interesting to see his interpretation of Santa Cruz Mountains and coastal terroir.

SIGNS OF CHANGE The Los Gatos restaurant’s window is now tagged with its spray-painted brand: Ritual @ Manresa.

Atala’s residency gave locals the chance to sample his innovative Brazilian artistry without the annoyance of having to figure out whether an American needs a visa to fly to São Paulo.

The leftie government this month flip-flopped between no visa requirements, then requiring one (along with three months of bank account statements or your last four pay stubs to prove income), then changing its mind again and delaying the visa requirement until April 2025.

Inside the Kitchen

As to who provides service for these pop-up dinners, the Caviglias explained that each restaurant flies in their kitchen staff, who integrate with the in-house team.

Chefs typically bring a few members of their front-of-house team, such as a maître d’, sommelier or general manager. The nature of each residency varies, as some restaurants shut down their entire operation at their home base to participate in Ritual, while others send a team to Los Gatos, while keeping their home base open. And yes, Juan and Luis attend each of the dinners.

Some chefs import special ingredients for their dishes. Some rely on local ingredients, Dinners generally include nine to 12 mini courses. Vegetarian options are available but must be requested 72 hours in advance.

The dining price is in the “well, if you have to ask” category—if you can secure a reservation. Nonetheless, if you see brightly painted Tesla trucks in the bank parking lot at night, it’s a sign that the dining industry has survived pandemic shutdowns, fires and economic challenges to bring leisure spending back.

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Dan Pulcrano contributed to this article.


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