Pearson & Co, a la Chef Josef

Changes already evident at a Keller-run cafe

After 40 years in the kitchen, Josef Keller just can’t take retirement seriously.

Keller closed Josef’s at the La Rose Hotel in April 2010 after decades of running Santa Rosa restaurants. Six months later, the 58-year-old was revamping the menus of the county’s largest meal-provider, Meals on Wheels. After a brief retirement, he’s back in the kitchens again.

Perhaps his biggest project to date: Taking over Pearson & Company’s four locations. The popular Sonoma County cafe and catering biz formerly owned by Mike and Kendra McCoy operates cafe outposts of their central Fourth St. kitchen on Mendocino Ave., and at Kaiser Permanente and a private business catering service. The Fourth St. location has also expanded into the former McCoy’s kitchen shop.

It’s a mighty task for Keller and his business-partner and wife, Jill Keller-Peters. But standing in the bustling commercial kitchen, it’s apparent that Keller is in his element. Beginning at 4am, the kitchen hums to life to fill the deli cases with salads, entrees, desserts and soups. Bringing in his own recipes for dishes like Curried Chicken, Crab Macaroni and Cheese, wild mushroom and tomato soups, Grilled Asparagus with aioli and other seasonal favorites (Swiss Chili, his own signature mashup is also popular) has been top priorities. But Pearson’s favorites like meatloaf, deli sandwiches and Chinese chicken salad also remain on the menu. Desserts have been expanded to include his signature chocolate mousse, white chocolate tapioca pudding, raspberry creme Anglaise and a chocolate caramel Macadamia bar.

Keller’s still in the moving-in stage, but already his touch his evident. The couple are working to stock a specialty food section with Sonoma-made condiments, oils and other goodies. He’ll continue with the catering biz, though says the focus will be on the cafes.

It’s a delicious renewal for the take-out cafes. At a recent sandwich competition featuring 20 local chefs, Keller’s pulled pork sandwich and roasted vegetables were judged award-winning.

And the ever-present Pearson & Co. goose logo? Consider her retired.

Pearson and Co: 2759 Fourth St., Santa Rosa and 2500 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa.