#HereinHealdsburg .., Singletree Cafe co-owners Nanci Van Praag and Dolores Rodriguez have been dishing up good, honest comfort food to locals and tourists alike since 2000.
The diner serves breakfast and lunch six days a week and is well-known for its take on American classics such as eggs benedict and the French dip, as well as for its signature all-meat chili, which brings in loyal customers from across the North Bay. It’s also got the best breakfast deal in town: Between 7-9 a.m. on weekdays, you can order the “Early Bird Special”: two eggs, home fries, and toast for $4.95
“Simple is good,” says Nanci. “The simpler the food, the better it is.”
She should know: Trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, Nanci has been a chef in high-end restaurants such as the ground-breaking Square One in San Francisco, as well as bakery chef for TGIF Friday’s in Honolulu, and even worked as a chef instructor at Sonoma State University, which served 2,000 meals a day.
They owned and operated the Breeze Inn, a BBQ joint in Guerneville, for about five years, but the great floods of 1995 shut down their business. “We had water over the roof,” she remembers.
But they started again: In 2000, they purchased Singletree Cafe, which has been in Healdsburg since 1962. “I just wanted to run a little diner for locals, a mom and pop diner.”
The cafe is one of the few eateries that’s been in Healdsburg since JFK was president. Speaking of presidents -- comedian Pat Paulsen announced one of this tongue-in-cheek runs for the presidency in 1968 at the eatery, known then as Lonnie’s Patio Drive-in.
The fare at Singletree may be simple, but Nanci takes great care in its preparation: She roasts and smokes all the meat they serve in a big brick smoker behind the restaurant and the cooks charbroil -- not just fry -- their burgers. Singletree delivers food for orders of $100 or more, and you can also take home Singletree’s BBQ Texas-style sauce to spice up your own backyard BBQ.
Dolores, who worked at the late, great Ingram’s Chili Bowl in Santa Rosa before it shut down in 2000, worked with Nanci to recreate Ingram’s famous spicy chili recipe. Now, Singletree serves much the same chili-bowl menu that Ingram’s once did, from the hearty chili spaghetti to the El Dorado (open-faced chili burger).
Nanci worked as Singletree’s main chef until 2015, when she underwent heart surgery. She still makes all the soups and chili, and she trains all the cooks on the line. She and Dolores employ eight employees at the cafe, and serve 6-10 specials a day in addition to the regular breakfast and lunch menu.
“You can get a hamburger at seven o’clock in the morning, if you want to,” she says, “ and you can have breakfast anytime.”
#HereinHealdsburg … Detroit native Charles Bell brings the best to the @thewurstrestaurant, a popular sausage and burger joint located just off the downtown plaza. Fan favorites include the Detroit Polish (“From my old neighborhood”), bratwurst from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and the Smash Burger, chosen as “Favorite Burger in Healdsburg” by Sonoma magazine. It’s got grass-fed beef, sharp cheddar, grilled onions, butter pickles, and of course, secret sauce.
The casual restaurant (with doggie-friendly outdoor patio) also has a strong line-up of local draft beers, wines by the glass, and hand-scooped milkshakes, root beer floats, and ice cream sundaes.
Owning and operating a restaurant may seem like a strange fit for someone who used to make a good living as a top sales agent at a big life-insurance agency in San Francisco. But Charles is a man of many talents.
In his 20s, he gigged as a bass-guitar player for a number of hard-rock bands, and played with musicians who’ve played with Ted Nugent and the band MC5. After that, he learned how to cook at the California Culinary Academy, then honed his event-organization and household-management skills at the Ivor Spencer International School for British Butlers in London.
Eclectic, but perhaps not surprising career choices. “Life’s brought some odd turns along the way,” he says. “I’ve had to adapt, but coming from Detroit, you get used to it.”
Charles then worked as an employee of the high-end catering firm Searcy Tansley. When the Irish Republican Army killed six people with a car bomb outside Harrods department store in December 1983, all Irish catering employees were dismissed from working royal events. That’s when he began working at events at St. James Palace and Kensington Palace, where Prince Charles and Princess Diana were living.
“I went from prep cook to being on the catering crew because I wasn’t Irish,” he says.
“The next day, I was catering a dinner for the Queen Mother," referring to the mother of Queen Elizabeth II.
Charles remembers listening to world-renowned cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich warm up nearby as he peeled and chopped vegetables. Upon hearing his American accent, Prince Charles asked him how a Yank came to work for a British catering company. “He was very nice,” Charles says, “They all were. Princess Diana was 22 and pregnant with Prince Harry at the time.”
He first came to Healdsburg in 1981, traveling north from San Francisco by motorcycle, gliding on Sonoma’s two-lane backgrounds. He bought a house in Healdsburg in 2001, where he lived with his wife and daughter. Life was good until 2007, when he was diagnosed with stage 3B throat cancer even though he’d never smoked a cigarette in his life. But he beat the disease, taking two years to recover. The Hebrew tattoos on his arm speak of his good fortune and his daughter, Nashama: "Blessed Soul."
In 2011, he opened the Wurst. It has been a labor of love: Charles designed and helped to build the restaurant from scratch. Everything, including the neon sign, is recycled: The tables are 100-year old Douglas Fir and the bar tops are from Southern Illinois University, where basketball legend Walt Frazier played ball. Charles also salvaged the leather bar stools from a diner in Beverly Hills. The overhead lights came from Cousteaux French Bakery and the art on the walls includes work on recycled plywood from local artist Sargam Griffin.
“I wanted to build an affordable place for families to come and eat,” he says. ““Every town needs a hamburger and hot dog stand and I’m grateful that Healdsburg provided that opportunity to me. Thank you!”
Visit: 22 Matheson Street, Healdsburg, CA Open: Open from 11 a.m. every day Website: http://wurstrestaurant.com/
Healdsburg Running Company
#HereinHealdsburg … Skip and Holly Brand, co-owners of the @Healdsburgrunningcompany, operate not just the town’s first and only store for running shoes, apparel, and gear, but a roster of local runs, races, running camps and tours to create a welcoming community of runners and walkers.
The store offers more than 200 community runs a year: Every Tuesday is “Ladies Night,” while Thursday is “Family Night” and Saturday mornings are long trail runs in places such as Lake Sonoma and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. These free runs are open to walkers and runners of all paces, and the runs range from 4 to 12+ miles.
HRC also partners or sponsors races such as the Healdsburg Turkey Trot and tomorrow’s Love Run (there’s still time to register: http://bit.ly/2EtwwqD). And in 2017, they started offering a three-day camp for runners -- the Healdsburg Running Camp -- where you can run through local vineyards and eat locally grown food cooked by celebrated chefs.
Creating a sense of community is key in HRC’s success, he says. “Now, running is more about the community, charity and friends than just the race or event.”
Skip and Holly moved to Healdsburg in 2003 in part because the town reminded him of Red Bud, Illinois, the small town where he grew up. Now, they employ 22 workers, all local to the area.
On paper, Skip doesn’t seem to be the type of guy to own a running store. He’s got a Ph.d in technology policy and he spent 20 years as a media executive at companies such as Yahoo! He also jump-started more than 5 successful tech start-ups, one of which -- SimpleDevices -- was acquired by Apple.
His roots in high tech run deep: As a doctoral student at Arizona State University, he raised more than $10 million in grant funding and connected all of the state’s high schools, community colleges, and Native American tribes to the Internet. Skip also created the first Super Bowl website, in 1996, which featured live-video snippets of the game.
But running his is first love. He ran track and cross-country in high school and never stopped: So far, he’s completed 50 marathons, 25 ultra-marathons (races longer than 26.2 miles) and 13 Ironman triathlons. In 2014, Skip leveraged his passion for distance running to open HRC (tagline: “America’s Wineiest Running Store”) in December 2014. His title: Principal Optimization Specialist.
“In my family, when you turn 50, you change your career,” he says.
His brother, an executive who ran the international offices of several big companies,loves windsurfing, so when he turned 50, he opened a windsurfing lodge in the Dominican Republic. And their father, who owned a number of gas stations, opened a pizzeria just because he loved pizza.
Healdsburg is a mecca for wine and food now, he says, but in the coming years, it may also become one of the fittest cities in America. As a member of the recreation commission of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, he’d like to make that a reality. He pointed out that Healdsburg has a surfeit of local foot races, cycling events, hiking, and more, and Sonoma County is now the fifth-healthiest county in California.
“Passion is priceless!” says Skip. “HRC’s passion for Healdsburg and Sonoma County knows no bounds. Come out and play with us!”
#HereinHealdsburg … three generations of the Cordtz family work at Sonoma Cider, a spacious, light-filled restaurant/taproom and cidery on West Mill. Founder and CEO David Cordtz brings decades of winemaking experience to Sonoma Cider, and works alongside his son, Robert (cider making and operations), his daughters, Lizzy (accounting), and Amy (labeling/packaging), as well as his grandson, Elliott, a taproom host.
“I think we’re a great team,” says David. “We work together really well.”
The Cordtz family has lived in Healdsburg since 1973, and Amy, Lizzy, and Robert were educated in Healdsburg public schools. David’s parents Bill and Alice have also lived in the Healdsburg area since 1973, so there are four generations of Cordtzes in Healdsburg.
He and Robert share cider-making duties and the partnership is so successful that they garnered “2015 Cider Producer of the Year” at the New York International Beer Competition. They are also prolific: Sonoma Cider has 18-20 of its own ciders on tap at any time, which vary in flavor, intensity, and finish. Those such as “The Jax” (tastes like Apple Jacks breakfast cereal) and “Passionate Bob Parallelogram Pantaloons” (a play on SpongeBob Squarepants) -- are made by Robert, while ciders such as the crisp “Dry Zider” and award-winning “The Pitchfork” (core-Pear apple cider) are made by David.
Their cider is made with all-natural, gluten-free ingredients, with organic apples grown in Sonoma County and Washington state’s Yakima Valley.
“Organic fruit has way more flavor than conventional fruit,” David says. “We can pick and choose the varietals that are going to create a good balance in our hard ciders, just like I did when I was making wine.”
In fact, Sonoma Cider now also makes wine. They just released their brand “Ahoy,” which features varietals of red, white, and rose and is available in handy 4-packs cans. The Cordtzes also produce an apple brandy that combines five varieties of organic apples fermented at Sonoma Cider’s cidery and double-distilled at Alley 6 Craft Distillery in Healdsburg. Once aged in 15-gallon American oak barrels, the brandy has notes of cinnamon baked apples, honey, and vanilla. All of their cider, brandy, and wine are available at the restaurant as well as in select retail stores on the west coast.
Sonoma Cider has a full food menu to complement the cider and other beverages, as well as foosball and other games and a stage for music and comedy. Almost every night each week, the restaurant has something fun going on, from open-mic night (Monday) Karaoke (Tuesday) trivia night (Wednesday) and live music every Friday at 7 p.m.
“It’s a fun, family environment that’s unique to Healdsburg,” Robert says.
#HereinHealdsburg … Shelley Gilbert just opened a new boutique that’s different from other shops in town. Twisstfeatures clothing for style-conscious, active women– clothing that can transition from yoga or spin class to “Casual Friday” at the office to a weekend brunch date with family and friends.
The new shop is part of a new life for Shelley and her partner, Joe. A New England native, she lived in New Hampshire and ran her own real-estate business, Shelley & Co. for more than 30 years.
But although she loved New Hampshire and had many close friends nearby, it was time for a change. She knew the real-estate business inside and out, and she no longer felt challenged. And like most small-business owners, she worked “24/7.”
“I used to joke with my friends and family that I’m going to move out to California and open a yoga store,” Shelley says.
She visited Healdsburg for the first time 15 years ago, on a week-long bike ride through Napa and Sonoma. Shelley was smitten by the wine country’s beauty, food and wine, and its friendly people.
“I fell in love with Healdsburg,” she says. “I remember I was having a glass of wine at Stryker Winery, looking out at the beautiful view, and I said, ‘I’m going to buy a house here someday and live here.’”
Now as the new owner of an athleisure apparel boutique, she’s learning something new not just every day, but every hour, from figuring out Quickbooks to creating a clothing display.
“I’m using my brain,” she says. “I get to tap into some creativity.”
Twisst features about 25 brands, from well-known brands such as Glyder and Beyond Yoga, as well as the fashion-forward Lukka Lux and Vermont brands such as FatHat and Skida, which makes ski-inspired headwear and winter accessories. When customers try on clothes, they can also see if they work in real life: Twisst is outfitted with kettlebells, yoga mats, even hula hoops.
“I’m about quality, functionality, and fashion,” Shelley says.
Visit: 212 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg CA Open: 7 days a week, Monday-Thursday and Saturday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. - 7 p.m., Sunday, 12-5 p.m.
#HereinHealdsburg … Charly Leys and her business partner, Glenn Young, are giving Hammerfriar art gallery and framing services a bolt of new energy. Charly took over ownership of the business in August and together, she and Glenn provide more than 30 years of experience in museum-quality framing and art preservation.
“What I love about framing, is that it is a rare intersection of aesthetic design, craft, physics, and the science of preservation.” says Charly, a Sonoma County native.
She first learned her craft by apprenticing with Glenn, who is recognized in the art-preservation world for his technical expertise and design skills, as well as his study of innovative techniques. He has collaborated with curators at Stanford University’s Cantor Art Center and the San Jose Museum of Art, among other institutions, and co-founded the well-respected Artscapes frame shop in Campbell.
The variety of art and objects they frame at Hammerfriar ranges from works by legendary artists such as Picasso, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Ansel Adams, as well as family items such as a Civil War-era flute, a delicate 19th-century hand-drawn map of San Francisco, and more than a dozen oil paintings from a private collection that were damaged in the recent North Bay fires.
Hammerfriar will hold a series of art exhibits throughout the year, as well as pop-up shops and other public events. These exhibits, Charly says, will feature art that’s edgy as well as accessible. The current art exhibit is a multimedia art exhibition by 428 Collective, a collection of eleven Sonoma County female artists; it will run through January 31, 2018.
Owning and operating a business Healdsburg, with its focus on quality -- from food and wine to art -- and its proximity to art-conservation experts in the Bay Area, was a natural choice for Charly. She points to the abundance of artists and art galleries here and throughout Sonoma County.
“Healdsburg is where we felt the most simpatico with the values and practices of our business. We are truly delighted to be here, and look forward to providing museum-quality framing and access to the best, internationally-sourced materials to the local community.”
Visit: 132 Mill Street, Suite 101, Healdsburg, CA Open: Tuesday - Friday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., and by appointment Website: http://hammerfriar.com/
#HereinHealdsburg … Café Lucia is the realization of a lifelong dream for Lucia Fincher, co-owner of one of the few Portuguese restaurants in Sonoma County.
She and her brother, Manuel, opened the elegant but down-to-earth restaurant in 2012. The business is a family affair: In addition to Lucia managing Café Lucia day to day, her teenage daughters work at the restaurant as part of the service team.
Café Lucia is also an active community supporter – the restaurant has partnered with the Healdsburg Education Foundation for a “Fado Nights” fundraiser, and from now through December 31, if you buy a Café Lucia gift certificate, Lucia will donate 10 percent of the cost to the Redwood Empire Food Bank.
“I wanted to open Café Lucia in Healdsburg because that’s where my heart is,” she says. “I’ve lived here for 23 years. My husband grew up here and we raised our two daughters in Healdsburg.”
Food has always been a passion, and the restaurant business is in her blood. She was the kind of kid who would – and did – ask for “The Joy of Cooking” as a birthday present. Growing up in Sonoma, all three of her brothers worked in restaurants, and she got her first job in the industry at 14 ½, working first as a waitress, then as a cook for Colleen’s Doughnut Shop & Cafe.
Lucia’s parents emigrated from Portugal, and they grew or made almost everything they ate. Her dairyman father brought home fresh milk and her mother made fresh cheese and baked bread. The family grew all of the vegetables they ate and gathered fresh eggs daily from the chickens they kept.
They also always had organic meat courtesy of her father, whose wages included a whole cow and pig every year.
“We were farm to table before it was trendy,” she says.
Food was also a gateway between Portugal and America: Even as Lucia and her brothers ate traditional Portuguese fare, they introduced their parents to “American” food, such as broccoli, burgers, and even breakfast cereal.
You’ll find Café Lucia by walking through a short passageway on Healdsburg Avenue (behind the La Crema tasting room). The restaurant has an inviting open-air patio and a cozy indoor space. The menu features Portuguese cuisine with an American twist.
Recommended dishes include caldo verde (a traditional Portuguese soup of beef consommé with potato, collard greens, and family-recipe linguiça sausage) and alcatra, a Portuguese pot roast of slow braised beef short ribs and farmers market vegetables.
“Food is the universal language,” says Lucia.
Visit: 235 Healdsburg Avenue, Suite 105, Healdsburg CA Open: Wednesday - Sunday, lunch and dinner. Also Sunday brunch, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Mill Street Antiques
#HereinHealdsburg … 25 antique/collectible dealers offer mid-century modern furniture, early-20th century décor and more at Mill Street Antiques.
Store owners Anne Williamson and Liz Frigerio are experienced antiques re-sellers; Anne began re-selling 12 years ago, and Liz joined Anne at Mill Street Antiques as co-owner in 2009.
Both, not surprisingly, love “treasure hunting” in flea markets and estate sales to find those special items that their customers would love – whether that’s a Depression-era gas-station sign, a handmade guitar, or a 19th-century fine-bone china tea set.
“What they want and we don’t have, we will try to find,” says Liz. “We have a ‘wish list’ that dealers peruse and will call customers if they have the item they’re looking for.”
Visit: 44 Mill Street. Healdsburg, CA Hours: 11 a.m. - 5 p.m., every day
Mateo's Cocina Latina
#HereInHealdsburg … restauranteur Mateo Granados’ mission is to cook and serve food that’s not just delicious, but local, ethically sourced, organic, and non-GMO. “I want to make the best food for Mother Earth and for people,” he says.
Born and raised in the Yucatan (and trained as a ballet dancer and soccer player), Mateo came to California in 1988, working first at the late, great Masa’s restaurant in San Francisco before going into the wine business (Williams Selyem Winery).
He returned to the kitchen, serving first as executive chef at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen before opening his eponymous restaurant in 2011. Mateo’s Cocina Latina features local food infused with Yucatan and French influences.
He grows most of his produce in his half-acre garden --shishito peppers, beets, and three different kinds of kale are just a sample -- and what he doesn’t he buys from Sonoma County farmers. His meat and seafood also come from local farms and fishermen.
To Mateo, using the freshest, seasonal produce and meat is key to good food. “I’m an artist of food and the dining experience.”
Visit: 214 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg CA Of Note: Locals Night ($28 prixe-fixe menu on Wednesdays and Thursdays), Mateo's Tasting Menu (five courses), Weekend Brunch, Tequila Bar
Healdsburg Tastemaker: Mateo's Cocina Latina
#HereInHealdsburg … Richard and Liz Peacock have owned Spoke Folk Cyclery since 2007, promoting cycling as a healthy and a fun way to get from Point A to B, explore the back roads of Sonoma County and get some fresh air and exercise.
“Our mission is to get anybody on a bike,” says Richard.
A former mechanical engineer, he prides himself on running a local business that meets the needs of all cyclists – whether they’re recreational cyclists, commuters, or aspiring pro racers.
Spoke Folk also gives back to the community, supporting Reach for Home, a local nonprofit whose aim is to end homelessness in the area, and Team Swift, a local youth-cycling organization.
Visit: 201 Center Street, Healdsburg, CA 95448 Learn more: www.spokefolk.com.