“A Jack of all trades is a master of none” might be the precise opposite way to describe Jen Pelka, founder and CEO of The Riddler, a highly successful Champagne bar based in San Francisco. The decorated establishment recently opened a second location in New York’s West Village, adding an extended menu complete with raw bar, cheeseburger, and desserts.
But Pelka’s success story begins long before — and extends far beyond — bicoastal bar ownership.
Pelka, originally from New York, cut her culinary teeth at Daniel Boulud’s Daniel, a NYC institution where she served as kitchen stagiaire, research assistant, and ultimately became U.S. competition director for the Bocuse d’Or under Boulud and Thomas Keller. Along with her high-end restaurant gigs, Pelka’s 15-plus years in the food and beverage industries cover digital media roles spanning influencer marketing, to content strategy, to managing editor of former digital publication Gilt Taste.
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In 2012, Pelka earned an IACP Award for Best Culinary or Brand Site, a James Beard Award nomination for Best Food Coverage in a Food-Focused Publication, and a spot on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 (Food and Wine). She’s also the founder and CEO of restaurant-focused public relations agency Magnum PR, counting such clients as Sweetgreen, Shake Shack, and Fort Point Beer.
In 2017, Pelka launched The Riddler, a completely female-funded celebration of Champagne in all its high-low glory (caviar service comes with Lay’s potato chips). “We want to be a neighborhood spot that people can come to a couple times a week… But we also want it to be a place that people can really come to celebrate,” Pelka told Eater in October 2019.
Here, Pelka sits down for a round of VinePair’s Lucky Sevens to share her Champagne dreams, favorite bars, and the one cocktail she’ll never drink again (incidentally, it was also her first).
1. What’s your desert-island drink?
Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs. It’s a classic Champagne that has beautiful and bright acidity balanced with a bit of richness. If I were on a desert island, it would be perfect for everything I would be eating there — fish, pizza, avocados.
2. What’s the first drink you bought when you turned 21?
A White Chocolate Martini at Schiller’s in the Lower East Side.
3. FMK three cocktails: Negroni, Margarita, Manhattan?
4. You’re on death row. What’s your final drink?
A magnum of Krug.
5. You can only drink at one bar for the rest of your life. What is it?
If it’s not The Riddler, the bar at Spruce in San Francisco. They have my favorite wine list, and I can eat that burger for years.
6. What’s the best and worst bottle on your shelf?
Best: A 1982 birth-year bottle of Ridge.
Worst: A pre-bottled Negroni from Campari. It seemed like a good idea at the time…
7. What cocktail will you never order again?
A White Chocolate Martini.