Bistro Punahele Tonnelier

Photo by Aly Brown. The Tonnelier family recently received a loan to renovate an historic building in downtown Oakley and create a French-Hawaiian restaurant.

While not many would think to pair Hawaiian and French cuisine, for Sydney and Stephane Tonnelier, the combination represents who they are, which is why they plan to open a restaurant showcasing these flavors in downtown Oakley. 

French native Stephane and his wife, Sydney, from Hawaii, stood before the Oakley City Council at its Oct. 24 meeting to ask for a loan that would change their lives – $75,000 to renovate an historic building along Main Street and open a farm-to-table restaurant with French and Hawaiian dishes. After the council deliberated the details and reviewed the Bistro Punahele Tonnelier menu, it ultimately granted the loan – the first of its kind from the Downtown Revitalization Program funds. 

“This is the first time since I’ve been on the council that a significant amount of those funds (from the program) have been requested to be used – ever,” said Councilmember Claire Alaura, before making a motion to approve the loan. “Everything they’re asking us to fund falls under what we agreed we could provide for the revitalization of downtown Oakley.”

As a chef for nearly 20 years, Stephane spent half of that time cooking in France and the other half in the states, which honed his understanding of the Californian taste for French dishes. He will also incorporate cuisines from Sydney’s Hawaiian homeland, but the atmosphere of the restaurant will be one that encapsulates Oakley’s countryside charm and family-oriented climate, while remaining true to the building’s architectural integrity. 

The little brick building, at 3530 Main St., has seen many owners in its 105 years. With the downtown revitalization, the structure was literally cut in half to make room for the widened street, and a new section was added to the rear. Once the restaurant is complete, patrons will notice the building’s original back windows on the wall that separates the kitchen and the dining area. And future employees will notice cellar stairs in the middle of the kitchen leading to the basement. But the Tonneliers have less invasive plans for the overall redesign. 

They will keep and refinish the original hardwood flooring and have already scraped away at some interior plaster to reveal hints of red brick walls, giving it back some of its old-world character. They plan to incorporate wood for countertops and create a reclaimed wood wall in one section.

“We want the restaurant to really capture the rustic, homegrown charm of Oakley. We may even put a hitching post outside,” Stephane said, further noting the train in the background will only add to the Wild Wild West atmosphere. 

But mostly, Stephane, who trained with leading chefs in both France and America, places everything on his food.

“I want to bring higher-quality food to this area,” he said. “We know Oakley is more like us – working families. In working with local farmers, we plan to bring fresh, gourmet food to the community at an affordable price.”

With a background in public relations, Sydney plans to tackle the marketing end of the business. And for now, they are taking it one hammer swing at a time before the planned January opening. 

“We love Oakley, we love eating and we’re really excited to bring our dream of a family-oriented bistro here,” Sydney said.

The council agreed, authorizing the loan with a 5-0 vote.

“(This will be) a unique restaurant to not only Oakley, but the surrounding areas too,” said Alaura. “I don’t know anywhere you can find something like this, and I’m proud to say it’s going to start here in Oakley.”

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