California Dreamin’, Drinking, and Dining
Lifestyle developments that celebrate an area’s foods, artisans, and craft beverages attract tourists, foodie travelers, and locals.
At Zazu Kitchen + Farm, one of the restaurant tenants in The Barlow—a foodie-focused neighborhood respite in Sebastopol, California, which opened in 2013—owners Duskie Estes and John Stewart source most of the products on the menu from their own farm, MacBryde Farm in nearby Forestville. It is home to chickens, goats, rabbits, ducks, and pigs, plus rare and heirloom vegetables, herb and fruit varietals like shiso, Muscat grapes, and hosul Asian pears. One brunch-menu item, King + Queen of Pork Bacon-in-the-Batter Waffle, is culled from bacon harvested at the farm, cured at the restaurant, and then served with bacon toffee and espresso gelato.
On the heels of the rising popularity of food halls across the U.S., lifestyle centers like The Barlow that celebrate farm-to-table mantras with local freshness are in demand as a destination dining spot for locals as well as travelers.
“Western Sonoma County is community after community of artisan makers,” says Giles Beeker, The Barlow’s general manager, adding that the goal is to draw visitors to the region and engage them in the correct way: through food. “You’re seeing a resurgence of these public markets and food stalls. The Barlow really creates an evolution beyond that (because the makers are on property). Visitors can sample products as they’re being made. It collects and aggregates all of the different artisanal producers in this community.”
Formerly a processing and canning plant for Sebastopol’s apple industry, today The Barlow has evolved into a major destination for travelers and locals alike. At first glance, the 17 buildings across 2.5 acres resemble a movie set, with cute retail spaces hugging the sidewalk over several blocks, carving out space for brew pubs, winery tasting rooms, restaurants, clothing boutiques, an ice-cream parlor, and a few cafes. Explore them a bit and guests come to see that each is tied into a local farm-to-table chef or an artisan theme with a craftsman twist.
For example, at Sub Zero Ice Cream, ordering a scoop means choosing a slew of locally sourced ingredients, including the dairy, and then witnessing the creation through a flash-freezing process. There’s also an interactive, green bent throughout the development. “The plantings throughout The Barlow are all edible,” Beeker explains. “In the spring, the place is awash with strawberries. They’re organic and [everyone] just eats them.”
Given that The Barlow is in Sonoma County, which is flush with hundreds of wineries, it comes as no surprise that five wineries have tasting rooms in the development: Kosta Browne Winery, MacPhail Family Wines, Marimar Estate Vineyards & Winery, Wind Gap Winery,and La Follette Wines. For time-strapped travelers to Sonoma County, as we were, this is a huge boon as it avoids driving long distances between tasting rooms. Within two hours, visitors can partake of samples at the tasting rooms of five wineries as well as peruse the gift shops and wine bottles for sale.
Woodfour Brewing Company is the first brewery at The Barlow, although another will join the development soon, says Beeker, along with a cheesemaker. Having varied businesses has spurred many partnerships in creating products. Organic Sumatra coffee from Taylor Maid Farms—which has a café and roastery at The Barlow, and has been in Sonoma County since 1993—was used to craft a Woodfour Brewing Company brew, for instance.
Through social media posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, the sibling businesses share each other’s news about menu changes, new products, and more. The Barlow acts as an umbrella to market the businesses as a whole, pulling out unique qualities in each that are tied to the season. “We’ve become a community,” says Beeker.
This has attracted everyone “from ‘green’ people in the San Francisco Bay Area on day trips or weekend trips to national and international visitors,” says Beeker. “So many people want to get an experience of Northern California wine country and farm-to-table [dining]. It can be time-consuming to do if you have a limited [schedule].” The project has also inspired a field trip for a hotel-management company that brought its food-and-beverage directors to tour The Barlow. “Those folks went away with a real appreciation to how they might apply it,” Beeker adds.
Taking its own note from the world of hotel-management, an 85-room boutique hotel is set to open at The Barlow in the fall of 2017. Plans call for a rooftop bar, spa, pool, and gym. Once this is complete, the project will come full circle, encouraging travelers to spend even more time at The Barlow during their Sonoma County trips, and maximizing the eating and drinking opportunities right outside the hotel.
Eat, Drink, and Make Muscles
It’s that same energy that inspired Kirsten Kemp Becker and her husband Darrell Becker, of Becker Studios, to create The Mill in Santa Barbara, California, which debuted last year. Inside the shell of a former feed mill that dates back to 1904 and, most recently, had housed a tile company, is the couple’s design firm along with a restaurant, winery tasting room, craft brewery, and a fitness center. There’s an intentional attempt by the vendors to focus on their artistry, homing in on manufacturing, production, and tasting. A courtyard shaded by trees invites guests to linger.
“The inspiration for Darrell and I was a little bit selfish—‘Where could we go and get some exercise and a glass of wine?’” says Kemp Becker. Coming from a background in interior design and construction, they were equipped to dream up the nuts and bolts of a cool, hip neighborhood that would attract wine drinkers and walkers alike.
They look to fill out the nearly 20,000 square feet of space; there are currently eight tenants, Kirsten says, “We really look for people who share the same passion for grassroots and local (activism).” Darrell agrees: “We knew from the beginning we wanted to create a lifestyle that represents what we love: travel, food, and local.”
To bring in the food angle, they asked Justin West, the chef/owner of Julienne in Santa Barbara, and Adam Poverman, former bar manager at Touché in Portland, Oregon, to open a restaurant at The Mill—hence the BBQ-centric Wildwood Kitchen, which serves five kinds of smoked meat (pulled pork, brisket, pork ribs, smoked chicken, and jalapeño-cheese sausage). Also on the menu are locally sourced dishes such as the mussels steamed in ale and served with preserved lemon, smoked tomato sauce, grilled ciabatta, and aioli. The drink menu sports local selections as well, withthree craft beers from California.
“What Kirsten and Darrell have built is super nice,” says West, “and the anticipation up until this point has been huge.” He expects traffic at The Mill to nearly triple once Third Window Brewery opens. Occupying 5,000 square feet, it will be managed by founder Kristopher Parker, the grandson of the late actor and vintner Fess Parker, who founded Fess Parker Winery 30 miles north of Santa Barbara in Los Olivos. “They’re a good family with a good following,” West says.
What excites West most about being a part of The Mill is that he can reinvent the definition of barbecue. To prepare for opening Wildwood Kitchen, he traveled to Texas and sampled quite a few barbecue places as part of his research and to help flesh out his own culinary concept. While he loved the meat, he wasn’t always crazy about the sub-par quality of side dishes—such as baked beans or coleslaw—that accompanied the meat. So he set out to improve those aspects at his restaurant, making Wildwood Kitchen “better than your typical barbecue place,” says West. One example is grilled carrots with pepita pesto and another is elevated coleslaw prepared with honey and poppyseed. “It really just puts the meat up on a pedestal,” says West, “to have a side that’s just as delicious as the meat, and not an afterthought.”
Twice a week, West shops at the Santa Barbara Farmers Market, where he sources all of the menu’s salads, vegetables, and other ingredients. He estimates he spends about $500 a week at the markets. That West has access to fresh, local produce year-round helps him create a menu that’s a step above what most people think a barbecue restaurant ought to be. It’s also in perfect pitch with Santa Barbara’s restaurant scene, where the chefs have long focused on fresh, in-season offerings that are grown or harvested locally, whether it’s meat or seafood, dairy, fruits, vegetables, or herbs.
To further spur business along, Wildwood Kitchen dreamt up a small to-go menu for customers at Potek Winery who want to nosh with their wine. “The courtyard at The Mill is gorgeous,” he says. Designed to be a sampling of what’s at the restaurant, the to-go menu is also part of Wildwood Kitchen’s catering business. “We’ve been trying to get our feet as wet as we can, as the demand allows,” West says.
“Santa Barbara is a place people come to from other places,” explains Darrell. “We wanted to make sure the culture of the food resonated through the building we were creating. But it needs to be a locals’ place, too.” What’s helped Wildwood Kitchen attract diners is that the eatery is within a lifestyle center, helping to fill out an evening without having to re-park the car. It also makes waiting for a table less frustrating.
“If there’s a waiting list at the restaurant, they go over to Potek Winery and get a bottle of wine,” Kirsten says, adding that each tenant has its “own identity and they are not competing for the same customer.” She hosts weekly meetings for all of the vendors so that everyone can be informed of each other’s news, whether it’s a new menu item or a new-release beer.
Through marketing as a group, the reach is expanded, and each vendor has its own social-media handle, which has led to a lot of cross-promotion to tap into more potential business. “We each have very specific followings on social media,” says Darrell. “It’s just a great collaborative, synergistic arrangement.”