Tomanni Bistro in Reedley: More Than a New Place to Eat

Jul 17, 2021 | 2021 Articles, Food Fun, Jim Mulligan, Reedley News

by Jim Mulligan

One of the many great things about immigrants is that when they come to the United States, they bring with them a little of their home culture; if we are lucky, they share it with us. Of course, with that comes language and food, two of my favorites, not necessarily in that order. On a recent visit to one of Reedley’s newest eateries, I learned that both language and food are an integral part of their quick success. I learned a Finnish word – sisu – which like many deeply-rooted cultural words in another language, does not have one, straightforward English counterpart. The Finnish concept of sisu roughly means strength of will, determination, perseverance, all in the face of likely failure. It seems just the concept that one might need to understand and employ when deciding to open a restaurant in a very competitive market and during a pandemic.

Tomanni Bistros’s rendition of the classic French Salad Nicoise.

With Erik Schuk at the helm, every member of his family and a few friends on deck, and a healthy dose of sisu, Tomanni Bistro opened its doors on G Street, ready to offer a gastronomical selection slightly different than you can get elsewhere in Reedley. While the menu is not huge, it offers flavors and treats from a variety of continents and cultures, adding culinary diversity to a town that already boasts some of the best food options around. Whether you want to try Jerk Chicken from Jamaica, sirloin steak with Argentinian chimichurri, house smoked Scandinavian lox, or a well-appointed French salad Niçoise, you can get it and more. Schuk pulls from his Scandinavian roots and his years of culinary experience around the world to add just the right amount of pizazz to the menu.

At first thought, Tomanni may conjure up ideas of an Italian menu. It’s actually a fun conglomeration of Schuk’s three kids’ names, Tomas, Tobias, and Annika. Tomas takes an integral daily role in food prep and customer service. Annika lends her youthful social media expertise to marketing and outreach. Tobias, currently working his way through law school, provides needed advice about legal business issues. Schuk’s wife Virginia, when not working full-time as a teacher for Kings Canyon Unified, jumps in anywhere she is needed to keep things moving. While this new restaurant venture is definitely a family-team effort, there is no doubt that Schuk and his life experiences drive the philosophy and practical aspects of the operation.

Chef Schuk making crepes in the display window of the bistro; he uses an authentic French crepe pan.

When I asked about the eclectic menu at Tomanni, Schuk said, “It represents the journey of my life.” Erik Schuk was born in Helsinki, Finland, and was raised by a single mother after his parents divorced when he and his twin sister were seven years old. By his own admission, his childhood and youth were not idyllic, “It was more like survival mode most of my early life, moving often, many times not knowing where we would live next.” At the age of sixteen, Schuk ventured out on his own, trying to go to school and make a life for himself. “I learned quickly that taking out the trash, washing the car, doing household chores could earn me room and board at my friends’ homes.” At eighteen it was time for a year of compulsory military service. Schuk had done some work in restaurants prior to his military service, but when he finished that and had to really provide for himself, he got a job as a bridge construction worker. It was during this time of working outdoors in the Finnish winters, moving large concrete blocks and other bridge pieces in the bitter cold, that he asked himself where else he could work in less harsh conditions. “It was like a light bulb went off and I realized that I could work in a restaurant, where I enjoyed the work, and be warm and more comfortable.” He began working in a historic establishment making pork roast sandwiches, Bemböle Kaffestuga (a coffee house/cafe in Bemböle, Finland).

Chef Schuk showing off some of his delicious crepes.

It was his job at Bemböle Kaffestuga that launched Schuk’s cooking career. His hard work, and likely his sisu, earned him a sponsorship – what we might call an apprenticeship – with a company that eventually helped him earn a culinary diploma. From there, Schuk sought and accepted opportunities to work as a chef in various European countries and on cruise ships. He practiced his culinary talent sailing around Scandinavia, and then in Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden, before making a trip to the U.S. to visit his sister whom he hadn’t seen in ten years. In 1994, he arrived in Sacramento with little knowledge of English. He saw the opportunity that the U.S. offered, and he wanted to try to make it as a chef. He joked, “At that time I had a PhD…I was poor, hungry, and determined.” He helped open a restaurant and began working hard again in his newly adopted country.

Schuk has now been in Reedley for twenty-five-plus years. What’s the connection and how did he find his way to our quaint little town you may wonder? As luck would have it, Schuk’s twin sister and the sister of his future wife were best friends. The soon-to-be Mrs. Schuk met Erik on a trip to visit her sister in Sacramento. It was really love at first sight it seems. As Virginia Schuk recalls, “When I got back to Reedley after visiting my sister, I had to tell my parents that I had left without a boyfriend and returned engaged to be married.” While there may have been questions then, no one questions now the love and commitment that the Schuks have for each other.

It’s more than family: Jacob Friesen handles the register and takes orders while Leo Abaloz plates up the orders.

Since adopting Reedley as his new hometown, Schuk has continued to work in the food industry, honing his skills, hoping to one day own his own restaurant. He was the food service director at Reedley College in the early 2000s, he worked at the Sherwood Inn, and he worked his way up to Executive Director of Food Services at Carmel Village Retirement Home in Clovis from 2013-2020. Then COVID-19 rocked the world, and for the Schuk family it hit very close to home. Erik himself contracted the virus and spent more than a month in the hospital. We all know now that while his battle with COVID ended in victory for Schuk, it also rocked him to his core. He knew there was no reason to wait for his dream any longer, he knew he had the sisu, and he felt that he could be a part of the pandemic recovery process for the whole community. Thus, a restaurant was born.

Young Tomas Schuk handles much of the food prep behind the counter during the busy lunch rush.

Like most good things in Reedley, Tomanni Bistro embodies the ideals of hard work, determination, camaraderie, and community spirit. As icing on the cake – or in this case, whipped cream on the crepe – Tomanni is a great place to get great food with a slightly different flare at a reasonable price. And if we can put a cherry on top of that, it’s wonderful to know that the Schuk family is injecting copious amounts of good old fashioned Finnish sisu into the post-pandemic rejuvenation process of our town.

Be sure to check out more Reedley articles in our Reedley category.

Jim Mulligan is a 6th generation Californian, born and raised in Selma. He has been employed in Reedley on and off for the last twenty years. He married his college sweetheart, a Reedley-ite, Kristi. They now reside in Reedley with their five children. Jim loves to create Bonsai and travel as much as possible, both near and far. He is a member of the KCUSD Board of Trustees and is employed by Reedley College as the Tutorial Coordinator.


  1. Tears welled up while reading about my twin-brother and our/his family, working hard to run this fantastic bistro.
    This article is very well written, thank you for that.
    It provides a realistic peek into why Tomanni Bistro is the eatery
    anyone would enjoy to visit.

  2. That’s a nice article but the address wasn’t included. I live in Selma.

    • It is downtown Reedley so if you drove down G Street you would find it. Sorry about that though. I googled it and this is what it said was the address-1119 G St, Reedley, CA 93654

      Glad you liked the article.


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