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Duke’s Founders Make Surprise Announcement, Depart From Healdsburg Bar

The decision leaves the bar and a forthcoming restaurant in flux during the transition to new management.

On the cusp of the five-year anniversary of Duke’s Spirited Cocktails in Healdsburg, the four founders of the popular farm-to-glass bar have parted ways and departed from their business. The decision leaves the bar and a forthcoming restaurant in flux during the transition to new management.

Longtime friends Tara Heffernon, Laura Sanfilippo, Cappy Sorentino and Steven Maduro made the announcement last week with little explanation following the delayed opening of Burdock, their new small plates and cocktails restaurant in Healdsburg. The four met while working at nearby Spoonbar and decided to launch a craft cocktail bar of their own.

Founding investor David Ducommon (nicknamed “Duke” and the bar’s namesake) will continue to be involved in the business, according to Aaron Flores (formerly of Brass Rabbit), who was recently tapped as the new general manager of Duke’s. Bartenders Chris Baker (Jackson’s Bar and Oven, Perch and Plow) and Marilyn Rodriguez (Perch and Plow) are currently running the bar program and will help with the transition.

“(Ducommon) will stay on and wants to keep the bar alive. He tried to keep (the founding partners) on, but they were not in agreement,” Flores said. “COVID has done a number on people, and it just wore everyone down.”

Ducommon did not immediately respond to a request for an interview. Flores said he is actively looking for staff as talented as Heffernon and Sanfilippo to take over the bar program at Duke’s. According to Flores, the goal is to open Burdock in late May with chef Sean Kelley (formerly of Underwood Bar and Bistro) at the helm.

Though the four partners have been tight-lipped about their decision to part ways just as they were about to open a new restaurant, Sanfilippo said that, despite the abruptness of the announcement, the split was amicable.

“We’re all still the best of friends. We’re deciding to part ways and do our own thing. Tara (Heffernon) and I went through the most difficult year for restaurants and bars and we’re ready to relax, see family and start new chapters,” she said, adding that a new business was on the horizon at some point.

Sorentino said the split came down to a business decision between the partners and investor. “It’s a business relationship, and things happen and change. (It) was something we couldn’t resolve,” he said. Sorentino will continue to work for an offshoot business of Duke’s, a canned cocktail line called Cappy Shakes.

Duke’s became known as a bar that highlighted the flavors, spirits and produce of Sonoma County in playful and creative ways.

“For me, and all of us, we were just so proud of what we built, and we’re humbled by the support from the community,” Sanfilippo said. “(It was) something really special, and that’s 100% because of the team. We’re family. I’m excited to recreate that in a new spot someday.”

Editor’s Note: Travel, dining and wine tasting can be complicated right now. Use our inspirational ideas to plan ahead for your next outing, be it this week or next year. If you visit restaurants, wineries, and other businesses during the pandemic, remember to call ahead, make reservations, wear a mask and social distance.

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