MENDOCINO Co., 2/17/23 – This has been a week of ups and downs for Mendocino County food and beverage enthusiasts. The week kicked off with local wines winning big at the nation’s largest wine competition and the Slack Tide Cafe in Fort Bragg launching a live music series. As the week unfolded, two restaurants closed, a local restaurant owner passed away, and the Gualala Community Center burned down, including the Pay N Take which provides access to gently used homegoods, including kitchen tools and equipment, and meals for locals. There is no time like the present to get out and support local restaurants and wineries, tip serving staff big, and consider donating your time or money to local food-focused nonprofits. They all need our support more than ever. Read on for the latest food and drink news.
Three restaurants closed in Mendocino County this month
For a restaurant scene that is as small and tight-knit as Mendocino County’s, the closure of one restaurant is devastating. This month, we lost three restaurants in two weeks.
First, Roland’s Bistro in Willits. I planned to make a reservation at Roland’s prior to seeing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at the Willits Community Theater. The sweet bistro, which opened in 2013 and specialized in locally sourced steaks and decadent desserts, would be a perfect pre-game spot for the theater! Alas, that’s how I discovered the bad news: owners Ray and Sue Roland announced on their Facebook page “after heart-wrenching consideration we have decided to close the restaurant permanently.” An exact reason was not provided for the closure in the post, however, the Rolands joked with me in a message that it was “the price of eggs that brought us to our knees. Just kidding!”
A few days later, a second announcement. Lynn Derrick, chef-owner of Queenie’s Roadhouse in Elk, declared on the restaurant’s Facebook page that she was retiring and closing the restaurant after 22 years of service. She described the closure as “a heartbreaking decision,” and that operating Queenie’s “was a most wonderful ride.” A favorite for generations of coast residents and travelers touring Highway 1, Queenie’s organic brunches and burgers served with a side of ocean views will be greatly missed.
February 16 brought another social media closure announcement, this time, from Hangar 39 Steakhouse in Ukiah. The beautifully appointed Hangar 39 opened in 2021 by Cultivo Inc., which owns and operates a namesake restaurant in downtown Ukiah. Ownership cites “the rising employee and food costs that are plaguing businesses around the country” as the reason for closing. Despite this week’s announcement, the restaurant space was listed for lease in December 2022. One would think this building is cursed: Hanger 39 is the third restaurant to close in this space.
I’m feeling emotional and distraught about the state of all the complexities of restaurant life, including the costs to operate, the long hours, a reliance on tourists yet a dependence on locals, and the lasting impact of the pandemic stay-at-home orders that challenged businesses. And now, local workers are left without jobs and three more buildings are empty. I’ll be examining this in an upcoming article about the closure of these restaurants and the state of the restaurant scene in Mendocino County. Stay tuned.
Good news! Geiger’s Market in Hopland opens this Spring!
The buzz in Hopland has amplified in recent weeks as construction activity has increased at the old Hopland Superette building on State Route 101. Geiger’s Markets of Laytonville purchased the building in 2021 with the intention to return it to a full-service grocery store.
Geiger’s was founded in Laytonville in 1945. Today, it’s known as Geiger’s Long Valley Market, serving as a much-needed grocery store for locals and a pit stop for travelers along Highway 101. In 2005, Michael and Shanna Braught (née Geiger) grew the market into what it is today: half grocery and half Ace Hardware. I’ve often found myself at Geiger’s picking up a six-pack of local craft beer, grabbing a last-minute camping necessity, or purchasing a few grass-fed steaks for grilling from the butcher department.
According to Mike Maciel, chief executive officer of Geiger’s Markets, while the Hopland building is smaller than the Laytonville store, it will be a full-service grocery store with fresh meat and fish, expanded grocery, produce, dairy, and beverage departments — including lots of tasty local wine — and a full deli with café seating. Suffice to say, the news of Geiger’s acquiring the superette was welcome in Hopland, which has been devoid of a grocery store for eight years.
“Work [on the building] has been very busy lately,” says Maciel. “The recent storms made us replace the roof! Buildout of the interior continues daily.” Like many construction projects, supply chain issues are a major cause of delays, for example, the front door finally arrived on Wednesday, the day Maciel and I spoke, after a long wait.
“We cannot wait to reintroduce the Hopland community to its very own full-service independent grocery store — they’ve waited a long time,” Maciel says. “We plan to open the new Geiger’s Market in Hopland this Spring.”
Co-owner of Slam Dunk Pizza, Chuck Thornhill, dies at 74
Chuck Thornhill died peacefully at his home in Redwood Valley on February 13, 2023. Born in France in 1948, Thornhill was raised in Ukiah. Thornhill served in the Vietnam War and in Europe. He returned to Mendocino County with his wife, Susan, and four daughters in the 1970s. He served as vice president of Aeria Corporation for 30 years. After retirement, he became a partner at Slam Dunk Pizza. He co-owned the restaurant alongside his daughter Stephanie and son-in–law Matthew Dunken, both of whom continue to operate the pizzeria with locations in Ukiah and Willits. Read the obituary here.
Barra of Mendocino introduces new wine labels
The wine squad at Barra is excited about their new wine labels. “We’re thrilled!” declared an email announcing the new design. The new label comprises an oak and grape leaf intertwined on a black background. The leaves are embossed and foiled, creating an elegant look for Barra’s newly released reserve cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and chardonnay. The design is a tribute to a historic oak tree found at Barra’s Redwood Valley Vineyards property. 7051 N. State St., Redwood Valley, (707) 485-0322, barraofmendocino.com.
Tickets still available for Chinese New Year Dinner in Mendocino, February 18
The historic Temple of Kwan Tai is teaming up with Flow Restaurant and Duncan Peak Vineyards for a delicious celebration of the Year of the Rabbit. The three-course meal includes a starter of sweet and sour soup; vegetarian spring rolls and Thai prawn fish cake appetizers; main courses of sweet and hot vegetable noodles, bok choy & shiitake blossom, and BBQ pork belly bao buns, and carrot salad. A no-host bar is also available. Tickets are $75. Call (707) 964-8271 or email [email protected] for more information.
Tickets on sale for 3rd annual Battle of the Bloody Marys in Little River, March 12
Bloody Mary fans will not want to miss the Battle of the Bloody Marys at the Little River Inn. The event pits amateur and professional mixologists against each other with the hopes of their cocktail winning Best Bloody Mary in Mendocino County. Attendees taste their way through each cocktail and vote for their favorite. Proceeds from the event benefit MendoParks. Tickets are $75. 21 and over. Learn more and buy tickets here.
Small — but equally important — news bites
The Fog Eater Cafe in Mendocino is back open after a winter break. The Westport Hotel’s Old Abalone Pub reopens for dinner on February 23.
D’Aurelio’s in Fort Bragg is closed February 19-26 for a winter break. Colombi’s Market in Fort Bragg closes on February 20 for building repairs. Owners anticipate reopening by mid-March, if not sooner. The laundromat will remain open. The Ledford House also closes on February 20 for its annual break. It will reopen on March 15.
Have food or drink news you’d like me to consider for inclusion in my weekly news round-ups? Email me at [email protected].
Note: Sarah Stierch covers food, beverage, culture and breaking news for The Mendocino Voice. Contact Stierch at [email protected]. The Voice maintains editorial control.