“No one can pronounce my last name on first try, but once they hear it, they never forget it,” says James Capangpangan (Cuh-pang-pang-in), General Manager at El Gaucho Tacoma. In case you can’t say it, James thankfully also answers to “PangPang.”
James was born in San Francisco, which helps explain why he’s such a huge 49ers fan. “Yes, even when we were on an eight year losing streak,” he explains. “I was so confident in my Niners that I had placed a bet with my staff the year the Seahawks played the Niners to go to the Super Bowl. The buildup was great – the crew was so hyped up about the bet that even our guests started to get in on it – I even had some guests ask me not to touch their plates because they didn’t want me to jinx the game,” he recalls. “Needless to say I lost that bet, and I had to show up to our annual company crew party (held on Super Bowl Sunday), wearing a tiara, a homemade pink Seahawks jersey (courtesy of teammate Katy Faber), and a tutu!”
James moved to Washington state when he was 15 years old, and his career in the hospitality industry started at the age of 18, when he was hired as a busser at Salty’s at Redondo. Interested in management opportunities, he joined Stanley and Seafort’s, part of the Restaurants Unlimited group, as a server, and was promoted to manager when he was just 23. Palamino in Bellevue acquired him to restructure their bar system and support the Grand Opening relaunch of the Seattle Palamino in 2010. He started with El Gaucho Seattle as a cocktailer, and the following year was promoted to General Manager of El Gaucho Tacoma at the ripe age of 28, which he admits is his best professional accomplishment to date.
“El Gaucho taking a chance on a (then) 28 year old to become the General Manager of Tacoma has been a dream come true,” James says. “El Gaucho gave me the opportunity that I had been working toward for the previous ten years. I have been blessed since joining the Tacoma location over three years ago,” James says.
His secret mantra is, “By helping better the lives of those you surround yourself with, your life, too, will also be better,” which he recalls his pastor, Roger Archer, said years ago.
James has another motto he lives by, which his dad told him every morning before dropping him off at school: “Study hard and play hard.” It’s plain to see James takes the “play hard” part seriously, since he is known at work to be a practical jokster with his team. He loves to play “scare cam” on his teammates, in which he whispers ‘scare cam’ into the camera then proceeds to scare the person, using a high-pitched yell, capturing it all on video. This inevitably leads to lots of laughter – another trait for which James is known. “My laugh is like a high-pitched, giggly cackle repeated over and over, depending on how funny the joke is,” he explains.
What might be little known, though, is that James likes to draw (mostly with charcoal), and that he’s a bit of a collector, specifically of watches, cologne and coins. “I’ve been a collector of watches since I was 14 when I received my first Citizen watch,” he explains. “I have dozens of bottles of cologne at home, and have a minimum of 2 bottles in my car.” His coin collection includes a role of pennies for almost every year since 1983, a roll of quarters for nearly all 50 states, as well as buffalo nickels and silver dollars. “If I like the coin, I save it!” he says.
Family is important to James. He and his wife Ashley will celebrate their 10 year anniversary this August. Ashley recently graduated with a masters, and is also a certified CPA. They have two daughters, Kirsten (11) and Emily (7). His family favorite pastime is dinner and a show, whether that be ballet, musical, or opera – they love it all! The family also enjoys food together, and recently experienced what they called a “Triple D” tour through Texas, driving over 1,000 miles and eating at Diners Drive-ins and Dives. “I only gained eight pounds from the trip,” he laughs.
A favorite family food tradition is what he calls “midnight snack” held on Christmas Eve. They feast on everything from chicken wings to Filipino food. “To be able to spend time with the people who mean the most to me is everything. It’s a dinner I look forward to every year,” he explains.
That sense of family also ties over to his team at El Gaucho Tacoma. “The family culture here is strong,” he says. “We do a lot of team building activities, one of which includes what we call ‘family brunches’ to celebrate each other and what’s happening in our lives. The latest brunch was to celebrate new life for our Gaucho babies Amelia, Estella, and Avelina. We also have an annual Thanksgiving potluck,” he says.
Meet James and his El Gaucho Tacoma family every night starting at 4pm. Happy Hour is offered in the bar all day Sunday-Thursday, and check out two smoked tableside drinks that El Gaucho Tacoma is showcasing.