Sonoma’s Artisan Food Purveyors Add Value to Local Restaurants

Beet Salad | Credit: Jackson Family Wines

Beet Salad | Credit: Jackson Family Wines

Dining in or out tonight? According to 2015 U.S. Commerce Department statistics, consumers now spend more money eating out than they do on groceries.

In Sonoma, this increase in consumer spending pays dividends, not just to restaurants, but to the local artisan purveyors they utilize.

Much like an artist employs a broad palette and varied brushstrokes when painting, Sonoma restaurateurs draw upon bespoke cheesemongers, butchers, bakers, olive oil producers, and organic produce and honey purveyors to amplify seasonal menus and specialty events. A few regional giants, like Jackson Family Wines, even employ their own staff artisans. 

Whether in-house or for hire, fine food suppliers add a personal touch and level of panache to restaurants and wineries that surprise and delight guests; such heightened experiences helps convert transitory customers into loyal patrons.

The Sonoma food and wine industry also shares common values and sensibilities that naturally support such vendor/venue partnerships. These shared values include a focus upon family, community, authenticity, and sustainability. Separately or together, these shared sensibilities contribute to Sonoma’s unique sense of place. 

Finally, another unusual component of the Sonoma scene involves the use of food hubs like F.E.E.D. Sonoma and Sonoma Organics. These organizations aggregate goods from small farmers for restaurants that lack either the luxury or logistics to shop at local farmers markets, but desire the same quality and consistency.

Restaurant x Artisan Partnerships

Here, Foodable shares the secrets to some of Sonoma’s most successful restaurant and artisan purveyor partnerships:

Moustache Baked Goods | Noble Folk Ice Cream & Pie Parlor | Healdsburg, CA

“We think the food industry in America has an addiction to overly processed foods,” explains Christian Sullberg and Ozzy Jimenez, owners of Moustache Baked Goods and Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Parlor. “When we opened Moustache in 2011 we really wanted to be a farm-to-cake bake shop, bringing baking back to basics.”

Far from complicated, most Moustache Baked Goods recipes use flour, sugar, butter, eggs, baking powder, and flake sea salt, rather than cake mixes, artificial flavorings and preservatives. Simple in composition, perhaps, but not in execution. 

Moustache Baked Goods and Noble Folks Ice Cream and Pie Parlor make everything fresh from scratch, and in small batches. Inspired by the longer growing seasons and quality of local producers and farmers, they create seasonal menus that celebrate the region. Local favorites include a peach and browned butter cupcake, with peaches from Dry Creek Peach and Produce, and a strawberry rhubarb heritage pie, with seascape strawberries and rhubarb from vineyard/farm Preston Farms. They also use locally grown spearmint for their non-dyed garden mint chip ice cream. Spoiler: Look for a forthcoming unveiling of a colder-weather waffle involving cardamom, cocoa and house-made ice cream.

Sullberg and Jimenez, both millennials, attribute their phenomenal success to a strong work ethic, something that runs counter to most people’s opinion of their generation. Each stop by the shops daily to check on quality control, develop new recipes, train staff, fine-tune coffee service, and post to Instagram and Facebook feeds, not to mention run errands, pick up produce, perform local deliveries and other odd jobs.

But it’s not just hard work that contributes to their prosperity. “We love our community, and we are constantly coming up with new recipes and are always reinventing our shops...it keeps it interesting.”  

Dry Creek Peach & Produce | Healdsburg, CA

Eateries like Noble Folks Ice Cream and Pie Parlor and Moustache Baked Goods in Healdsburg incorporate Dry Creek Peach and Produce, Sonoma County’s last dedicated peach farming operation, in many ice cream and scratch baked concoctions because of the unbelievable flavor of the fruit.

A boutique operation, Dry Creek Peach and Produce grows over 30 types of yellow and white peaches, plus nectarines, plums, pluots, figs, persimmons and Meyer lemons. Owners Brian and Gayle Okumura Sullivan and son Patrick, in conjunction with the Sagayo family, handpick each harvest with tender, lovingly care, sans automation or machines. 

Unlike other fruits such as pears or bananas, peaches do not ripen off of the tree. 

Dry Creek Peach allows the fruit to ripen on the trees, providing the necessary hang-time to develop and enhance flavors and sugars. Customers taste the difference.

In fact, when asked by the New York Times what she would have at her Last Supper, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse replied, "I would have a Last Chance peach ... in late August or September.”

El Dorado Kitchen | Sonoma, CA

At Sonoma’s famous El Dorado Kitchen, Chef Armando Garcia prides himself on working with local vendors for produce, meats and fish for his menus.

“I like them because they are local, willing to work with us to meet our needs, and we can get the freshest of ingredients from them,” says Chef Armando.

Some of his favorites include The Patch Farm, a 145-year-old, six-acre farm a few blocks from downtown Sonoma Square, for heirloom tomatoes, squash and onions. He also sources tomatoes and squash from Lunita Farm, a cornerstone in community garden design.

For specialty meats, Chef Armando touts local lamb farmer Don Watson Lamb. Based in Napa, Watson provides El Dorado Kitchen with Spring lamb for seasonal menu items like lamb sausage, lamb burgers, lamb meatballs, with primal cuts showcased on tasting menus.

Chef Armando chooses Liberty Ducks for freshly slaughtered duck breasts and duck legs. Jim Reichardt, a fourth-generation Sonoma duck farmer, raises his organically-fed O’Liberty ducks in an expansive, stress-free environment without the use of antibiotics or hormones, resulting in bigger, fleshier, more flavorful ducks.

Chimney Rock Cheese | Credit: Cowgirl Creamery

Chimney Rock Cheese | Credit: Cowgirl Creamery

Stark Reality Restaurants | Various

Mark and Terri Stark own award-winning restaurant empire Stark Reality Restaurants, which includes Bravas Tapas Bar and Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar in Healdsburg, as well as Stark’s Steak & Seafood, Willi’s Wine Bar, Monti’s, and forthcoming Bird and the Bottle, all in Santa Rosa.

One common denominator shared by all Stark venues centers upon the use of small producers. Many of these artisans go on to expand operations, thanks to support by Stark and other restaurant and retail establishments. Despite their expansion, these vendors retain their artisan quality and care. While Stark favorites like Laura Chenel Goat Cheese and Cowgirl Creamery cheeses now showcase in large retail outlets like Safeway, they still continue to garner international awards for quality. 

Other Stark vendor relationships pivot upon personal connections, such as specialty honey maker Gipson's Golden, created by the father of a Stark employee, and now available thru Whole Foods. Or Alley 6 Whiskey featured at Stark’s Steak and Seafood, a labor of love started by former Stark bartender Jason Jorgenson. 

At the end of the day, the Starks share one goal. “Our aim is not simply to please our guests, but to make them so happy that the last thing they say to themselves as they are leaving is, ‘I cannot wait to come back!’”