by Virginia McCullough 10/9/09

The quiet town of Sunol, California has a historic Main Street just two blocks long If one turns onto Main Street just past the old concrete bridge at the eastern end of town and proceeds through downtown to the western exit onto Niles Canyon Road, the driver passes several small businesses on the left hand side of the street. The last establishment is the Jazz Cafe known for its homey atmosphere and relaxed environment. On Sunday mornings the eatery features a reasonably priced buffet and omelet’s made to order.

Greeting all who enter with a cheery hello is a friendly fellow nicknamed “Chainsaw” and working diligently by his side is a lanky teenage Sunolian with a shy smile. Aristotle Vlacos considers “Chainsaw” David Ledbetter his mentor and a friend, a fair but firm man who has shared with Aristotle his much loved art of cooking. The teacher is also known as The Emperor of Sunol and has designated the student Assistant Emperor anointing him with a Swiss army knife just like the one the mentor has carried for years. On the occasional Sunday when the Emperor is absent, Aristotle prepares the customers made-to-order omelet’s and serves them with efficiency and a welcoming personality. Aristotle makes the customers happy and his mentor proud.

But if those eating the good food take the time to look at the pictures on the Jazz Café’s walls, they will observe another side of Aristotle. There you can see a stunning portrait of another well-loved Sunolian, Irv Tiessen. Irv Tiessen and his wife Diane contribute a great of time to this community and Irv is well known for his beautiful bird houses. Aristotle explained that the Tiessen portrait is a stencil that is cut out and then spray painted to accentuate the facial features. It is so realistic that one feels they could sit down and have a latte across the table from Irv and enjoy an interesting conversation about what kind of birds are occupying Irv’s hand made bird houses nestled in the canyons of Sunol.

Aristotle and his two younger siblings, Cade and Tessa, came to Sunol in 2001 from New Orleans, Louisiana. This reporter was told that the children chose the home the family purchased in Kilkare Manor. The family has contributed many hours of work to their community by working together to improve Sunol Park located just off of Main Street. The parents, Marianne and Alex, provide a stimulating atmosphere for their youngsters while simultaneously transporting each sibling to the school of their choice to support their individual tastes. Aristotle indicates that the family’s menu is mainly vegetarian but he emphasizes that the children can eat meat if they so desire. His father Alex produces music videos and works as a cinematographer. Mother Mary Anne works from home as a safety monitor for medical devices.

Aristotle obviously thrives in this home environment that encourages individuality and creativity. Just two weeks past his 15th birthday Aristotle opened his own one man show at the San Leandro Museum and Art Gallery. The artist hosted his reception at the museum on Friday, July 10, 2009. Over 60 pieces of his unique art hung in the Museum until August 30, 2009.

The aspiring cook and accomplished artist took a small vacation from Sunol to attend the California State Summer School for the Arts nicknamed InnerSpark. Now in its 24th year the four-week program accepts only one in three applicants state-wide after the school has auditioned the applicant, reviewed their portfolio and teachers have made recommendations based on the student’s motivation and discipline. The artist were also required to write an essay about the art work he was most passionate about describing what he considered his most technical piece and his most complicated piece of art. Now this young Sunolian has joined ten thousand highly talented alumni of this unique school.

The InnerSpark graduate recently returned to Sunol and is once again balancing a full student schedule as a junior in high school with his job at the Jazz Café as he looks forward to new adventures in the art world. This is a talented, thoughtful young man who is truly transcending self. He keeps one foot in the real world and one foot in the wonderful world of creativity and adventure. A limitless future lies ahead of Aristotle Vlacos.

Virginia McCullough  © 10/9/09

First published in TheSunolian