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You say "Goodbye" and I say "Hello"*
Some old Sebastopol restaurants are going away but new ones are coming.
Two Sebastopol restaurants that opened over 30 years ago closed recently — the East West Cafe and Mary’s Pizza Shack. Each had a letter taped to the front door explaining over several paragraphs that they had closed and expressed gratitude for their loyal customers.
Burger King in the Redwood Shopping Center also closed recently. On its front door was a printout with the terse message:
“WE ARE CLOSED, THANK YOU FOR YOUR BUSINESS.”
Inside chairs were turned over on top of tables and the soda machines were still lit, looking like it had been closed since the evening shift ended. Outside all the lighted Burger King signage had been removed. A fast-food owner seems to leave town in a hurry.
Not to worry if you like burgers. Sonoma Burger opened on Pleasant Hill Road and Bodega Hwy in the space that was formerly Giovanni’s Deli. Sonoma Burger, which got its start at the Gravenstein Grill during the pandemic, offers “the Mindful Burger,” as if to assuage the conscience of meat-eaters in West County.
Coming to take the place of the East West Cafe is Lunch Box, which has been operating as a pop-up throughout Sonoma County. Heather Irwin wrote about LunchBox in BiteClub and interviewed owner Derek Harn. Lunch Box had originally planned to open up at the Livery but has now has its own storefront on Main Street. Lunch Box will offer “craft burgers” and sandwiches.
Restaurants age out. Sometimes the owner gets tired and sometimes the customers just get tired of what they offer. In the 1990’s, East West Cafe seemed to capture the alternative, informal vibe of Sebastopol with a mostly vegetarian menu. Yet, long before the pandemic hit, East West Cafe seemed in need of a makeover. While it was a nice, quiet spot to enjoy Mediterranean food, something was missing.
Mary’s was a mainstay for easy family gatherings, especially after Little League or softball games. On a Friday night, you might see neighbors or others you knew from different parts of the community. For a long while, it was the pizza and pasta place that had a little something for everyone. Now there are many options for pizza, including Mombo’s, Buddies, Hippizazz and Acre Pizza. The new Psychic Pie near Avid Coffee, south of town, is a bit different, offering pizza with a sourdough crust served “al taglio” or by the slice. It could not be more different than Mary’s, featuring specialty pizza that some people will love. It has only a small space for eat-in.
Tastes change. Sebastopol is now getting more burger joints, coffee shops and pizza places, so called fast-casual dining. The common element is restaurants with a small footprint and fewer staff that focus on takeout, a lesson they all learned during Covid.
K&L Bistro on Main Street
The high-end K&L Bistro closed a couple months ago after 21 years. K&L had been the best restaurant in Sebastopol for many years. Fine dining restaurants have struggled in Sebastopol since the 1990’s, but K&L achieved early acclaim and a steady clientele. In recent years, K&L seemed to have difficulty maintaining the buzz from its Michelin rating but it was still a pretty reliable restaurant. It was challenged to make it through the pandemic. Perhaps the thrill was gone. So K&L Bistro owners, Karen and Lucas Martin, sold the restaurant to Farm to Coast Collective, the group behind the Livery, which is expected to open in the space next door on Main Street.
According to Heather Irwin in a May BiteClub story, the Goldfinch restaurant will take the place of K&L and offer “plant-based dishes with meats and seafoods as sides.”
Will Piala Open?
There is no sign on the door that explains when Piala Georgian Cuisine will be open. There are many jars of preserved lemons and olives in the window. The web page for the restaurant identifies Piala as a Food and Natural Wine Bar, “inspired by our travels to the country of Georgia, the birthplace of winemaking over 8,000 years ago.”
It turns out that Lowell Sheldon is behind Piala. Sheldon was the innovative local restauranteur behind Lowell’s, Handline and Fern Bar. In the fall of 2021, he was the subject of “me-too” stories and convicted in the court of public opinion and then banished from his Sebastopol restaurants. Now, it appears he wants to come back on the scene with new partners.
Those who worked with him in the past have written a letter of protest, citing Sheldon’s history of inappropriate behavior in restaurants. Just last week, the head of the Sebastopol Planning Department refused to grant a liquor license to Sheldon, according to a story by Martin Espinosa in the Press Democrat, referencing the letter and determining that Piala is not a restaurant but a wine bar. Piala appears in limbo, along with Sheldon.
Ten Years at 7233 Healdsburg Ave
Piala’s location at 7233 Healdsburg Ave. has been unlucky for a number of restaurants. I used a new feature of Google’s Street View that allows you to go back and look at a particular location over time. The images only go back as far as when Google Street Maps began but it helped me get the names of the restaurants that were previously at this location over the last ten years.
May 2012 - Peking Chef
April 2013 - Noodle Mania
June 2015 - Bamboo Chinese Classics
April 2016 - unoccupied
January 2017 - The Sukhothai BBQ Plus
April 2019 - The Sukhothai BBQ Plus
Some restaurants come and go without much fanfare.
The Nectary Moves Cross Town
Sunday May 29th was the last day for the The Nectary to occupy its nook in the Barlow, according to an online announcement. They are closing the location but the store is moving across town to 7300 Healdsburg Ave. The new location is across the street from the shopping center with Piala. They expect to re-open in June. The Nectary’s store in the town of Healdsburg remains open.
We’re seeing a generational shift in the local food scene. The old move on after a “lot of joy, hard work, and many wonderful and loving memories,” quoting the East West Cafe letter. The new move in with new energy and ideas, not knowing entirely what the future holds but dreaming of success. How many of them will be still going in five, ten, twenty or thirty years?
*From the song “Hello, Goodbye” by the Beatles.