Sonoma Restaurants a Calm in the Firestorm

Throughout the county, restaurateurs, chefs, farmers and others are lending a helping hand the best way they can -- with food

Volunteers at Backyard Restaurant in Forestville. Facebook

In the midst of chaos, grief, fear and exhaustion, many local restaurateurs, farmers, caterers and chefs are offering up the most valuable thing they can this week — warm meals.

From Mendocino to Petaluma, the rallying cry has gone out, with restaurants offering a respite from the storm, free meals, takeout food and food donations. They’re staying open as late as possible, opening early, organizing into teams on social media and getting out the word as best they can, that their kitchens are open and everyone is welcome. Some restaurants, like Backyard in Forestville and Valette in Healdsburg have become centers for chefs and cooks to gather and prepare food — some serving up hundreds of to-go meals for first responders and evacuees each day.

My fork is lifted to these hardworking folks, many of whom have lost homes themselves and are worried about family members, but are still scrambling to do whatever they can to bring a smile and a full belly to those who keep the North Bay strong.

Here are some of their stories, as well as the latest information on where to go if you need a hot meal and how to help. This list has been compiled based on information directly from the restaurants, though their supplies and hours may change. One note: Some shelters are unable to accept food that is not pre-packaged due to health code issues, so as much as evacuees might appreciate your warm chocolate chip cookies, you’ll need to check in advance, or donate some money instead.

In response to interview requests, most of the chefs we checked in with on social media said they were too busy cooking to talk — as it should be.

“Put your phone down and find a work assignment,” said Wishbone restaurant owner Miriam Donaldson, who has been helping to organize chefs and dishwashers on her Facebook page, sending them where they are most needed.

She’s also helping to drum up relief cooks to back up those who’ve been behind stoves for days on end, and need to head home (or to shelters) for some well-deserved rest.

Santa Rosa Restaurants

The massive kitchen of Kendall-Jackson in Fulton burst to life on Monday morning as chefs began preparing meals for first responders and shelters. “We had to do something,” said executive chef Justin Wangler by text. “We couldn’t just stand by and watch.”

Though Mark and Terri Stark lost their historic restaurant, Willi’s Wine Bar, on Sunday night to the Tubbs fire, the couple have opened their other restaurants to first responders and evacuees, which are Bird and The Bottle and Monti’s in Santa Rosa; and Willi’s Seafood and Bravas in Healdsburg.

On Monday morning, as folks were waking up to unbelievable destruction, and most were still in shock from the overnight fires, Dutch Bros. coffee trucks were seen in several spots, including the parking lot of the Santa Rosa Police Department with an outpouring of coffee and support.

Chef Damien Gault has been making incredible breakfasts at Sprenger’s Tap Room for months, but since Monday has been slinging hash for the cause. And no one at the Santa Rosa tap room will pass judgment on a customer who needs a beer a few hours before beer-thirty, he says.

Forestville Restaurants

Chefs, cooks and anyone else who can lend a hand are gathering at Daniel Kedan and Marianna Gardenhire’s Backyard Restaurant, who are preparing hundreds and hundreds of meals for the displaced and first responders. Tapping into their network of producers, farmers and friends at CropMobster (a farmer network that helps to distribute extra produce), it’s one of the biggest operations so far.

Prepared meals for fire victims at Valette restaurant. (Facebook)
Prepared meals at Valette restaurant. Facebook.

Healdsburg Restaurants

Dustin Valette has been preparing hundreds of meals each day, ready for takeout. Though his restaurant is one of the most luxe in the county, simple meals are sometimes the best. Dustin’s father is a first responder, helping to drop fire retardant on the local fires.

Sebastopol Restaurants

Working with many local farms and Sebastopol markets, Ceres Community Project (which provides meals for critically ill patients) has rallied its staff to provide hundreds of nutritious meals for West County shelters and evacuees. Zazu Kitchen + Farm reported: “Had 12 dogs in the restaurant for breakfast,” said owner John Stewart. who opened the Barlow-based restaurant for free breakfasts on Monday. His family brought their own three dogs and daughters into work after being evacuated from their own home on Monday.

Sonoma Valley Restaurants

Many chefs and restaurants are offering up space, food and ongoing meals for one of the hardest-hit areas — at least as long as they can before being evacuated. Tri Tip Trolley mobile kitchen has been serving meals for first responders.

Petaluma Restaurants

Since Petaluma has been spared much of the fire destruction, chefs and restaurants have been especially active in helping other hard-hit communities. McNear’s Pub was an early refuge for many who needed a hot meal and a place to bring distressed children, showing movies on Monday night. It continues to be a gathering spot for families evacuated or homeless from the fires.