Chris Stokeld was a worker manager. For 15 years he courted at the Old Vic in downtown Santa Rosa, an authentic English pub where he entertained patrons with dinner shows, local bands and fun British jokes.
From behind the bar the brilliant tax collector happily drew pints. But he was most proud of his meat pies and bangers, which he made with well-kept recipes he brought from North Yorkshire over 60 years ago.
“He was always open for something creative to happen there. He would book an evening of music or a tribute to someone. You could tell he was proud that something so creative was happening in his place, ”said Doug Jayne, whose last record store was two doors down from“ The Vic ”. When Stokeld heard Jayne and her band perform in their store, he walked around and invited them to play at the pub, one of the many local bands he encouraged by offering them a venue.
Stokeld, with a flair for the dramatic, was known for his “Gunga Din” nights, when he donned a pith helmet and pulled out Rudyard Kipling’s elegiac poem. Dressed in a flowery dress, wig and beanie, he would playfully become Ma Stokeld, his alter ego, named after his mother, who gave birth to 16 children, including young Christopher in 1937. He named his first local pie shop “Ma Stokeld’s” which he opened in a cobbled lane off the Sonoma Plaza in 1985.
Stokeld, the consummate showman, pastry chef, pub owner and designer – he held positions on major public works projects between opening pubs and baking pies – died on December 7 at his home in Santa Rosa, surrounded by her family. He was 84 years old.
“He got away with his moxie,” said son Christopher “Tony” Stokeld, Jr., of Santa Rosa. “He wasn’t afraid of anything. He just did it. He wasn’t worried that it would fail. It was amazing the stuff he pulled off.
Stokeld learned how to make his signature meat pies, complete with their rough puff pastry, while shopping for an uncle, butcher and pastry chef in his hometown of Middlesbrough, an industrial town on the northeast coast of the ‘England. Stokeld at age 15 was pouring steel in a foundry and then jumped out of planes as a territorial parachutist. But in 1958, he wanted adventure abroad and traveled first to Canada and then to the United States, following two siblings.
Stokeld joined the military as a route to a green card and traveled to San Francisco, where he met his first wife Marilyn Alice Reid, with whom he had two sons Tony and Nick. They divorced in 1970.
Stokeld trained as a designer and got a job working on the design phase for BART in the early 1960s. But making pies was his passion. After selling pies as an accompaniment to town pubs, he went all out and opened The Pickwick Pie and Banger Co. in Oakland in 1965.
“His mother was a great cook and when he came here he wanted to share his passion for his culture with people,” said his son Tony. “He would never deviate from the recipe.” Or disclose it. He claims credit for bringing the banger, a bread-filled breakfast sausage that exploded in its husk to America.
“When he registered it with the USDA, they didn’t know what it was,” Tony Stokeld said.
It aimed to convert the Yankees to good British food, one pie and one banger at a time.
In the 1970s, Stokeld returned to Europe to do drawing work on power stations and oil rigs. But he couldn’t shake his obsession with meat pies. He opened a pie in Brussels. And even when he worked at a nuclear power plant in Rockford, Ill. In the early 1980s, he was selling pies to guys at work. It was there that he met his second wife Maude Bakkum.
Remembering Sonoma County from his days selling pies at the Highland Games when they were held at the fairgrounds, he figured Sonoma would be a good place for his next pie shop, Ma Stokeld’s.
He cut out a colorful figure, leaning out the window of his two-table restaurant, bragging to passers-by that he baked “the best meat pies in the alley” and promising that once they tried. One, they would never go back to ‘Scottish Restaurant’ (McDonald’s) up the highway. He turned it into a pub, bringing in beer, darts and Scottish music.
By 1990 he had opened The Old Vic on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa, creating an authentic old English pub, with a wooden bar with stained glass, wood paneling and Victorian decor. Like a real British pub, it was the front lounge in town, not just a place to get hammered, Tony Stokeld said, but a place to meet friends after work.
He eventually expanded into a nearby building, built a stage, and formed The Old Vic Players which staged parodies such as “Hamlet: The Dane: A Rock Opera”