Sonoma’s Mint & Liberty Diner to Close 13 Weeks After Opening

Stepping into big shoes can be deadly in a small town.

Oh, Mint and Liberty Diner, we barely knew you. Open just 13 weeks, the Sonoma newcomer is shuttering on Feb. 10.

So what exactly happened? Stepping into big shoes can be deadly in a small town.

Longtime Sunflower Caffe owners James Hahn and Mila Chaname, along with Aaron Mills and Melissa Cameron, took over the iconic Breakaway Cafe in 2016 after longtime owner Bob Rice retired. They kept with the Cafe’s general formula, though grumbling about menu changes and corkage began almost immediately.

Wanting a fresh concept, the team reopened the cafe after a brief renovation in Nov. 2018. Mint & Liberty, a bright, cheery diner with an ambitious menu from former SF Chef Michael Stein, also got grumbles early on about the name, the mint green color, the new menu, and the service.

Yelpers were especially rough on Mint & Liberty.

“We had a good first month, but we got a lot of pushback from the community,” said Thomas Painter, GM for Mint & Liberty.

Which is unfortunate, because, in my First Look, I found the menu — which admittedly was immense — pretty charming. I loved the Jewish dishes that Stein brought from his time at Shorty’s in SF. The enchiladas were exquisite.

Painter explained the menu, saying, “We purposely made it big and broad and diner-esque with local food done well.”  Most of us figured the menu would settle after a few months, leaving the most popular dishes behind.

Thirteen weeks hardly seems like enough time to do that.

In a press release, Hahn acknowledged criticism and their desire to make changes, saying, “Upon opening, we received some excellent response and many fans of what we were doing, as well as some heartfelt criticism. We listened to the feedback and tried to make changes as quickly as possible to appease our guests. Some ideas were quick and easy to make, other ideas would take longer and require greater expense,” he added in a press release.

That, along with a rough winter season sounded the death knell.

But in the end, sometimes change is difficult in Wine Country.

“Change is difficult and people that are comfortable with something for a long time that needs change…it’s difficult,” said Painter. “We were continually treated like outsiders,” he added, saying that the ownership and staff were primarily locals. Chef Stein recently relocated to Sonoma with his family.

The good news: Chef Michael Stein and several longtime staff will be absorbed into Sunflower staff, according to GM Thomas Painter. “We love him and his food,” said Hahn.

The medium news: The future of Honey & The Moon Bakery is temporarily uncertain as owners look for a new commissary kitchen. The bakery had been operating from Mint & Liberty. Also, gift cards from Mint & Liberty will be honored at the Sunflower Caffe.

The bad news: The restaurant is on the market for just under $600,000. Hopefully, someone else will have better luck.


26 thoughts on “Sonoma’s Mint & Liberty Diner to Close 13 Weeks After Opening

  1. The town needs more locals places, not more touristy places. They could have left it alone and been successful. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  2. They have the best chicken live pate´ ever and now it will be gone and I will be sad and unappeased.
    Yes, I know it’s terrible for you but woman does not live by kale and cucumber alone.

  3. The people who complained are the minority – they deserve everything they don’t get and the rest of the town suffers.
    Bet the owners wish they had opened that restaurant anywhere except that hole of a town.
    Little towns die, and this is how it is done. Bad locals = dead town.

  4. That is so sad. Only made it once, but was so pleased. Super interesting menu with something for everyone. Great matzo ball soup. And really nice selection of liquor. Sure, the mint green was over the top and an odd color for eating in, but I liked that they were having fun with the decor. They must have spent a fortune tho on all the logo dishwear.

  5. 13 weeks is not long enough to prove or dis-prove a restaurant concept, especially in a relatively small town. This is not downtown SF, there are not tourbuses parked outside every day either way. People have to find, try, talk about and return to a restaurant. So fans of the previous restaurant moaned; that’s to be expected: just as those who liked the new restaurant will moan now. It’s not like they did any publicity or anything to let folks who didn’t happen to drive by know that they were attempting something new. This idea that if a restaurant is not wildly successful in the first 2 months it must therefore be scrapped is crazy.

  6. Yes!!!!! That’s what they deserve. The service was weak, the food sucked, and the prices were outrageous for crappy food. I visited this place 3 times and they always got my order wrong. They never compensated me for their crappy service. The host and hostess always had an attitude about my not having a reservation when the bloody place was always two thirds empty. So glad it is closing. Maybe they will learn a lesson about appreciating the local customers that kept the previous restaurant, breakaway, busy during the off season. The new owners got rid off the former staff that kept that place going and knew every customer by name. They changed the menu for crappy and expensive food. I was a breakaway customer for 10 years and was disappointed when Bob sold it to these people, they ruined a good hangout place for local loyal breakaway customers.

    1. So you find that having a vacant building is preferable to these folks persisting and finding some sort of balance; you seem quite pleased. I guess you never tried the home-made apple pie at Mint and Liberty. I thought they were interesting, if needing a year or so (not just 13 weeks!) to find their stride.

      1. Maybe now they will learn to treat customers with respect and be humble. They will be back hopefully with a better menu. Apple pie wasn’t that great. I have had better like the one Marcia used to bake for Breakaway.

        1. Be back? No, I don’t think so. I think the point of the story was, they are gone and they ain’t never comin’ back.

  7. Wow, I drove by there once but didn’t have a chance to eat there.
    So, “Chef Michael Stein and several longtime staff will be absorbed into Sunflower staff” but Sunflower is or is not re-opening or what? I’m confused.

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