Doon with the Ship: A Restauration Adventure

It broke my heart to close the restaurant. Actually, my heart was broken many times over in the course of the life of Restaurant Le Cigare Volant, m>né Cellar Door. We had built the most extraordinary tasting room at the winery facility on Ingallsstrasse—did you see the great airship, fashioned after Jules Verne?—after selling the old, original winery facility and tasting room up in Bonny Doon.

Our former tasting room

Our former tasting room

I had really thought that a complete decampment from our mountain aerie there would be a clever move. We hadn’t really used the winery building as a proper production facility in years. The old place, and it’s primarily the tasting room I’m talking about, once a biker bar called The Lost Weekend Saloon, was filled with magical charm, and history—our history. But it had its share of structural issues, to be sure: foundation pretty sketchy, septic even sketchier.1 It had been a real pain in the neck to operate the winery building as a production facility—we needed to schlep the wastewater offsite for disposal, and after the Piercèd Estate Vineyard was sold, that was proving to be somewhat of a logistic nightmare.2

So, I sold the old place not long after I had sold off the large brands, Big House and Cardinal Zin. My thinking was that we could now get our customers closer to the wine—where we actually made the stuff.3 The Westside of Santa Cruz where the winery is located is in a slightly funky part of town—industrial chic, I’ve been told. But there had already been some glimmerings of gentrification. Housing prices had gone way up, and these modest abodes had become populated by long-boarders (aka arriviste Old Guys) who worked in start-up companies in Silicon Valley. We saw the welcome arrival of a first-rate bakery, (Kelly’s), and soon thereafter, a great butcher (El Salchichero), and then the sudden proliferation of other little micro-wineries, distilleries, brew pubs and tasting rooms in the area. Was our funky little neighborhood en route to becoming a true gourmet ghetto?

El Salchichero

El Salchichero

The tasting room was/is astonishingly beautiful. Did I mention that? We located it in what had been the former bottling room when we were once a mega-ginormous winery. Not requiring any longer such a large area for the bottling line, this seemed the perfect space for a tasting room and a more immersive tasting experience.4 We brought in a clever design team from Holland and they worked with a local architect, Mark Primack, and our builders and craftspeople; there was the delicious dreamy, magical feeling of a true, authentic collaboration. Note well, the design for the space began with a dream. I had dreamt that the tasting room would be constructed of a series of monk’s cells, much like a chambered nautilus; this, of course, was the Fibonacci Series, phi, or the Golden Ratio, the salient proportionality that governs so many natural processes, from spiral nebulae to the bracts of a plant stem. I loved the idea of customers being able to sit in private chambers or “pods,” and experience the wine in a more intimate setting, ideally paired with some light comestibles. While it had been lovely to observe a crowd of people bellying up to the bar at the old tasting room, I wanted to tell our new story in a quieter more thoughtful voice, ideally one-on-one.

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio

I had recently sold off the Big House and Cardinal Zin brands, and now it was crucial that I do what I could to show that there had been a real change chez Doon; I wanted to tell the world how serious I was, or was soon about to be, about terroir. Could there be anything that signified the structured complexity of a vin de terroir or the majesty of Nature herself, better than the Golden Ratio, arguably, God’s Greatest Hit?

We couldn’t put in quite as many pods as I would have liked, but we did try to incorporate the Fibonacci motif into the spiral tasting bars, as well as in the beautiful sculptural flow-form water feature that we had created. Michael Leeds, mad genius metal sculptor, fashioned a Victorian era spaceship for us virtually entirely out of scrap material he had in his studio.

Spaceship

Spaceship

The cost of the construction ran way over budget; floors and countertops were poured and re-poured so they would be just so. We gave the very skilled craftsmen latitude to build the wonderful “pods,” recycled from antique wooden tanks, and they created beautifully interpretive, organic, sculptural forms.5

The food service aspect started modestly. Sean Baker, a local chef,—yet to be propelled into super-stardom, opened for us.6 We offered some small plates, proffering an “upscale” tasting experience to our visitors, such as one might find in Napa Valley. Alas, Santa Cruz ain’t Napa, as we learned well, and it was hard to really attract the prosperous customers who would support this sort of enhanced tasting experience. So, what did we do? We doubled doon.7

I am fortunate to be friends with the very famous, brilliant chef, David Kinch, of Manresa fame. He lives in Santa Cruz, surfs, and is actually a pretty regular guy, given his outsized fame. He was gracious enough to help me reconfigure the restaurant when we expanded the kitchen, and further fitted out the restaurant. Most significantly, he brought me a young and brilliant chef, Charlie Parker, who had previously worked for him. Charlie was an extremely charismatic figure—a bit volatile in the kitchen, it must be said—but there was real star power and there were a lot of people in Santa Cruz who were really excited about what we were doing.

Chef David Kinch

Chef David Kinch

Alas, we didn’t really have much in the way of a management team at that point. The restaurant really was neither big enough nor was really doing the volume (at reasonably profitable margins) to afford a manager. Properly, this might have been the responsibility of the owner, at least at the scale at which we were operating. Needless to say, this was not really my thing, given the fact that I had no experience at all in the restaurant business, nor possessed a single skill that was appropriate for the position.8 (This is also not considering the fact that I already had one full-time job.) The food was truly magnificent—vibrant and inventive, and the food costs were staggeringly out of control. And, there was another very real problem.

Maybe this is the dangerously quixotic aspect of my personality, but there had always been one feature I wanted to see in the restaurant of my dreams, and that was true communal dining. In my imagination guests would sit together and platters of food would be passed and shared. I had seen this once before at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, a beloved restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, and was just in awe of the extraordinary quality of fellowship and amity it seemed to engender.9 Customers would line up outside the restaurant and were seated more or less in the order in which they showed up.10 You observed all social strata—black and white, rich and pour, sharing food and conversation. It seemed obvious to me then as it does now, that our society is terribly fractured and there is very little occasion for people living in a community to actually converse with one another.11

Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room

Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room

I told David that this was the kind of restaurant I wanted. He thought I was completely crazy, and told me, if memory serves, something like, “That’s fine, but it’s your funeral.” I do remember him telling me, “When I go to a restaurant, the last thing I want to do is talk to strangers. I want to be just left (the heck) alone. People go to restaurants to spend time with the people they want to be with, not with strangers…” And, “Y’know, Randall, we have a fair share of some pretty funky people in Santa Cruz. Do you really want to sit down with some of these characters, or worse, have them touch the food you’re about to eat?” He dilated further, “Aren’t you going to have some people just go hog wild and eat a disproportionate share of the food on the platters?” These were all very good points that David brought up, but I truly believed that if we were to have this kind of community dining experience, it would not, in fact, devolve into the Lord of the Flies scenario he imagined. The gentle guiding hand of peer pressure and societal expectation exerted by adult human beings (there were still a few in Santa Cruz) would insure that the customers would be relatively civilized and temperate in their behavior. This was a tenet of my belief system.

So, the food costs were out of control—we’d get around to fixing that at some point—but the restaurant was pretty busy, and there was definitely some buzz in the town. I got a call from a stringer who was doing a story for the New York Times. This seemed pretty fortuitous. I was unfortunately out of town when she visited the restaurant, but I chatted to her on the phone, and she seemed pleasant enough. Granted, I should have known better, but really had no glimmering whatsoever that her angle for the story would be the supposed feud between Charlie, David and myself. Charlie was pretty chagrined to see a somewhat intemperate quote of his in print.
7_quote
It was not very long thereafter, Charlie left the restaurant to seek real stardom. I knew that it would be unrealistic to imagine him staying indefinitely, but we were now on to the next phase.
(Read the New York Times article)

Jarod, Charlie’s sous, became the next chef, and he certainly had his share of followers. Gone were some of the emotional outbursts in the kitchen under the slightly volatile Chef Parker. I really enjoyed Jarod’s cooking, but the restaurant was still foundering, and if anything, we were continuing to lose traction on the idea of communal dining. At my insistence, we had originally installed a number of large tables, and really encouraged our customers to share a common meal at these tables with other guests. But, how were we to present this idea to people as something positive? Guests who came to the restaurant generally just did not want to eat with strangers. So, we had the rather dysfunctional outcome of big tables with two groups of people sitting on either end, with an imaginary cone of silence separating them. Things were not really moving in the right direction.

Guests generally did not want to eat with strangers.

Guests generally did not want
to eat with strangers


The winery itself was also under a lot of financial strain. We had not done a very good job in recruiting new club members to replace those who were lost through natural attrition. I hired a new general manager for the winery, someone who had a strong restaurant and tasting room background. He and I did not really see eye to eye on a number of philosophical issues, but I figured, hey, he’s the maven, at least in this domain. I was a bit surprised when on one of my sales trips he reported to me that he had hired a new chef.12 “You’re going to love this guy,” he promised. “He’ll bring the quality of the food to a whole new level. We’ll get some very serious customers and we’ll sign them up for the wine club.” This appeared to be a reasonable plan; we already had a reasonably loyal local following, but it seemed that anyone who was amenable to club membership, we had already signed up. What we really needed was some fresh blood.13

We gave the restaurant a new name, Le Cigare Volant, and it appeared that we were off to a new start. The new chef, Ryan, was an extremely nice man, indeed, and came with an impeccable pedigree from a Bay Area two-star Michelin restaurant. But the question was: Was the Westside of Santa Cruz really ready for fine dining? As a chef Ryan was not lacking in ego (this seems to go with the territory), but he was no prima doona, and that was a welcome relief. This might actually work out, I imagined. The general manager was, like Kinch, no great fan of community dining and complained bitterly that the “community table” was just a losing proposition. At his insistence, the big tables were replaced with smaller tables. On another one of my sales trips I returned home to learn that the Wednesday night “Community Table,” the last relic of my quixotic vision, had been summarily discontinued.

The Community Table. Photo by Ted Holladay

The Community Table
Photo by Ted Holladay

We did some very cool things at the restaurant at various times. I loved our very brief fling with bringing in guest chefs and introducing their food to our customers. Ari Weinzweig, nice Jewish boy from Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, presented a porcine love-fest that was so popular that it ran two days. I myself had the idea of presenting a special wine list, featuring vins de terroir, organized according to soil type. This attracted quite a bit of national attention, and piqued the attention of our guests, at least for a little while. But in the end, there were just too many obstacles to success: the location of the restaurant—at the back end of the building (very, very feng shui-challenged); the challenge of what was perceived as an exotic (at least for Santa Cruz) menu. Or, maybe it was just the ordeal of navigating Highway One at rush hour that discouraged the prosperous customers from South County from visiting. Whatever the issues ultimately were, it was just a Sisyphean labor to fix them all.

Sisyphus. Photo from wikipedia.org

Sisyphus

I enjoyed Ryan very much and felt he had real talent, as I said, but he and I had a very different vision of what the restaurant should be.14 He had trained as a pastry chef and had a keen interest in molecular gastronomy. Now, I’ve been to Alinea in Chicago and enjoyed it immensely—was greatly entertained by the playfulness and theatricality of the dishes, but it was not a place that I wanted to dine at on a regular basis; it satisfied the intellect very well, but was not something that satisfied the soul, at least as a constant diet. The winery itself was now—as long as I could continue to propel it in a coherent direction—about putting aside winemaking legerdemain—no flash and no flash-détènte15—and pursuing a sort of simplicity or purity in our product. The proposition was, at least aspirationally, about terroir, the eloquence of unadorned nature. I wanted any chef I had at the restaurant to love the ingredients more than the technique, however brilliant it might be. Step away from the nitrogen canisters.

Chef with nitrogen canister. Photo from julianaloh.com

Chef with nitrogen canister


Watching a restaurant die a slow death is a bit like watching a living creature die. You feel as if you are in a dream, watching a story unfold, the outcome of which you are powerless to change. You hope irrationally that things will turn around, that you can, in the case of the restaurant at least, with some brilliant marketing insight, or by the great fortune of a big review unexpectedly bestowed, somehow breathe a vital infusion of spirit into a moribund creature.16 In the last few months of the restaurant’s life, I was spending a lot of time focused on the core wine business (we had some challenges there as well), and in a certain sense, the restaurant was the least of my worries. I can’t really say that the decision to close the restaurant was a relief; it was more like the realization that I had but a finite amount of life-force to spend, and that I would really need to apply it to the parts of the business that were absolutely mission-critical. The village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape had sixty years ago worried about flying saucers and “flying cigars” crash landing in their vineyards. This flying cigar was just looking for a proper home.
Molecular gastronomy. Photo from alinearestaurant.com

Molecular gastronomy

  1. We had famously run afoul of County regs and touchy neighbors when we had once done a series of al fresco acoustic events; that was more than a little traumatic. There was also the instance of an employee failing to properly set a diversion valve that resulted in about 60 gallons of red(!!) grape juice going down the creek; that led to the Dept. of Fish and Game coming out and issuing me a citation. While not wishing to minimize the incident (I am quite warm and fuzzy on the subject of protecting the environment), there was a certain Alice’s Restaurant-like aspect to this whole episode. “Whatcha’ in for, kid?” “Grape juice.” []
  2. Our great Estate Vineyard in Bonny Doon was afflicted with Pierce’s Disease in the early 1990s, infected by a less voracious insect vector (blue-green sharpshooter) than the monster, glassy-winged sharpshooter that had been more recently discovered. It seems that I greatly overreacted in selling off this wonderful estate, but the specter of re-infection with Pierce’s was just far too frightening to me at the time. In retrospect, this was an extremely shortsighted move, to put it mildly. []
  3. Obviously, my first choice would be to locate the winery directly proximal to a magnificent Estate vineyard and show our customers the things we did that really differentiated the wine we would be making. Winemaking is itself relatively banal, at least compared to grape-growing, and where’s the real thrill, après tout, if you can’t descend into a cold, dark and musty cave? Nevertheless, it is a great opportunity to taste the wines in barrel, a thrill for many, as well as observe some of the unique aspects of our élevage, most particularly the Great Wall of Bonbonnes. []
  4. In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t such a perfect spot, at least from a feng shui perspective. The area fronted on the rear parking lot and railroad tracks. Apart from the slightly less than inspiring vista, the space was seemingly a bit difficult to find, even for locals. There’s no question that the slightly problematic location did not help matters. []
  5. I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved the pods, and what an enormous feeling of serenity one felt when one was ensconced there. We talked about it but never got around to equipping them with privacy curtains. I’m not a smoker of any sort, but I honestly could almost become persuaded to take up the water-pipe, had we the wherewithal to equip the pods with hookahs (and privacy curtains). []
  6. He is currently chef at the highly acclaimed Gather restaurant in Berkeley, and has received very serious critical éclat. []
  7. It seems likely that I have inherited from my mother a certain sort of stubbornness or single-mindedness when it comes to pushing forward my agenda. (She is nothing if not relentless.) This can be both a strength and of course, tragic flaw, as will soon become clear. []
  8. I am preternaturally shy and awkward when it comes to making conversation with strangers (even often with close friends), have very little capability to direct employees in the appropriate direction, and tend to become dizzy and confused when I look at spread sheets. []
  9. The food at Mrs. Wilkes' was of course a lot more rustic than what I aspired to present. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, don’t serve any alcohol (it’s the Baptist South, remember). But they are an institution in Savannah and the place is always packed. My conclusion is that the only real way that you can get people to eat with one another voluntarily is not to offer them any real choice in the matter. The value proposition of the restaurant must be so compelling that the customers consent to do something that they would not under ordinary circumstances agree to do (but thank you later). []
  10. One obvious problem we had at Cellar Door was that we didn’t have an enormous population lined up outside our restaurant, awaiting service. []
  11. Apart from the demise of social clubs, church and community service organizations, we are all now terribly wired in to electronic media. The phenomenon of two people sitting at table, not conversing with one another, but instead, texting into the ether, is well documented. []
  12. I really hoped that I could try the food of any new chef that we brought in before we hired him, if only to see if we had palates and aesthetic visions that were more or less in synch with one another. []
  13. There is a most interesting paradox at work in the evolution of our business. Bonny Doon Vineyard wines have incontrovertibly improved greatly over the last six years since the sale of Big House. And yet, unexpectedly, we seem to have lost some of the stickiness of the loyalty of our truest blue Doonies. Yes, our prices have gone up a bit—they’re still ridiculously fair, and this has led to some attrition—but there may well be another dynamic or two at work. Many of our early customers loved the goofy, cartoonish labels, the irreverence, the theater and the schtick. Our wines are in some sense less entertaining than they were. They are now more serious. It’s a bit like one party in a relationship changing in a way that the other party can’t follow. Whether I have been successful in educating our customers or we are now attracting more sophisticated customers, the reality is that truly sophisticated customers understand very well that it’s a great big wine world out there. While they may well love what we do, they are equally, intrigued by, say, a crazy Rotgipfler or exotic Cornalin from the Valais. In short, they are a lot like me—not exactly fickle, but essentially just curious about everything that they great world of wine might offer. []
  14. It is utterly pointless and destructive to ask a chef to change his style, his aesthetic. One is far better served in finding a chef whose aesthetic and vision is more or less congruent with one’s own, (and who also has the administrative capacity to manage food costs). []
  15. Flash-détènte is a special high-tech machine that extracts a deeper color from grapes, and is quite the rage in some parts. For me, it turns the wine into a goopy mess []
  16. I cannot discount the possibility that my insistence on the community table format might well have set the restaurant back in terms of gaining acceptance in the community. There is still a (somewhat irrational) part of me that clings to the notion that perhaps I should have insisted more stridently that the format be exclusively communal or family-style dining. Withal, I still believe that this idea is an extremely powerful one, and one that has enormous potential to be a benign presence for a community. The restauration bug is a little bit like malaria; you never quite get it out of your system. I do hope that someday if circumstances permit, I can revisit this idea again, maybe even at Popelouchum, our garden paradise in San Juan Bautista. []

35 Responses to “Doon with the Ship: A Restauration Adventure”

  1. MRatito says:

    I had a number of fine meals in the restaurant. One of the most memorable meals of my life was at the community table. Were I a local, I would have been a regular fixture on Wednesdays. As an Angeleno and parent of a Slug, my visits have been limited to a few visits a year. I sure did enjoy it while it lasted.

    • Randall Grahm says:

      Thank you so much. The Wednesday night Community Table dinners, even as small groups, were incredibly meaningful to me. I’m still convinced that if circumstances were a little different, this format could work.

  2. We were so sad to get the news that the restaurant would be closing, and even more depressed when we got the call telling us our final reservation would not be honored as food was running out.

    It is disappointing that Santa Cruz (& surrounding) could not, or would not, support this type of fine dining. At the same time, I consider how lucky we were to have experienced Cellar Door/Cigare Volant in each of its manifestations. To my wife and I, the restaurant only improved with each tweak of the formula. We thank you for your patience in allowing it to go on as long as it did, and for your mad genius in creating it in the first place.

    As for the tasting room… When you left the mountain, we were briefly angry and couldn’t imagine how it could be better in town. Obviously, we were won over. Now, we have some trepidation about the coming move to Davenport, but will follow, knowing that we’ll be getting doon with it soon enough.

    • Randall Grahm says:

      Thanks so much. I’m not sure that every iteration represents an evolution, but we are trying to learn from our mistakes. The Davenport incarnation will be wonderful, to be sure. Still really hoping that we will soon be able to plant vineyards in Bonny Doon, which would of course be the icing on the cake.

  3. Alas, I was never able to make the pilgrimage to Le Cigar Volant…
    Knowing numerous folks in the F&B trade, I understand how hard it is to keep eateries afloat, and how long it takes for them to become anchored establishments. While community table does have logistical challenges, I must agree that some of the most trans-formative meals of which I have partaken, have been around a long table, with people who I did not necessarily know, but for a moment in time, become a sort of family…a kinship bound by food and wine.
    Maybe too much to expect from everyday table service, but a format that almost any restaurant could periodically share with their community.

    • Randall Grahm says:

      Thanks so much, Todd. We hope to see you out here sooner or later. We will certainly continue to participate in the occasional farm-to-table dinner, and hope to continue to provide produce from our own farm in San Juan.

  4. Cindy M says:

    So grateful to have been a part of this journey while at BDV. It was always a wild ride, sometimes scary, and in precious moments, beautiful.

  5. Misty R says:

    So glad that I will always have the memory of the restaurant that I do.

    A few years back, I had met a guy (doesn’t every story start like that?…) He was from the UK and came over to the states to visit me so I planned out this trip up the coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Santa Cruz has always been a favorite little spot of mine so it was on the map. We drove up the PCH and explored all day, checked into the Dream Inn to spend the night, woke up and ate Saturn Cafe and explored Santa Cruz. Late that afternoon we found ourselves at the Bonny Doon restaurant. We sat in a large booth by the bar and ate cheese and I drank wine (he isnt much of a drinker). It was the first time that we had a serious conversation- ya know, that whole tell me about your parents, tell me about how you grew up, tell me about “you”. 4 years later- some of my favorite wine is still the 06 Syrah and the 07 Cinsault and I am still finding out every day more about “him.” That memory will always be a cornerstone in our relationship and I am sad to see the place that it happened is gone. But hey…the wine lives on ;)

    • Randall Grahm says:

      Thanks so much for your comment. Maybe this happens to other wineries, but I am struck at how often Bonny Doon wines find themselves in the center of a romance. There is something in the wine.

  6. Katherine says:

    What was striking to me as a regular customer was the abrupt change of energy after Chef Jarod left. He was charismatic, talented, passionate, valued the quality and sustainability of the ingredients he used, and he seems to have a team behind him that was on the same page as him. The food was always excellent, but what kept my husband and I coming back consistently were the people who were the liaisons of the wine and the food, the employees who stood behind the vision of community dining, and who had a dedicated passion for the pairing of simple yet sophisticated food and exciting wine. I would often leave my dinner and pairing choice up to our waitress, and with authentic knowledge and passion she created an unforgettable dining experience. Having worked in the restaurant industry in my youth, I never felt a sort of energy I felt at the Cellar Door, and this atmosphere was created by, facilitated by the employees, the liaisons. A few weeks after Jarod was gone, it seems all familiar faces were gone from the service staff. There are plenty of places to have a good meal, but what made the Cellar Door extraordinary and our go to venue was the passion in the talented people who made our experiences special. It seems from your blog that the decision to start afresh was your general manager’s, and what a shame to leave such a decision up to someone else. The place was never the same afterwards, and the old Cellar Door is missed.

    • Randall Grahm says:

      Thanks so much for your comment. I agree with you that the feeling of a restaurant is often about so much more than the technical proficiency of the food. For me there was something like a gradual erosion of the inspiring spirit of the restaurant. I know precisely how you feel.

  7. Karen says:

    I too will miss the restaurant and the Santa Cruz tasting room. My favorite meal must have been under Chef Jarod. We did all small plates and I still dream of the fried chicken with waffles and the smoked fingerling potatoes – the rest was wonderful also. I wasn’t so sure about the later “foam” phase under the last chef. And we would use our wine pickup visit as an excuse to visit my husband’s sister who lives down the street…. But we’ll be happy to come over to Davenport from Menlo Park if you’ll still let us do a pickup there (I hear there may not be space…). And I’ve loved the tasting room staff and their enthusiasm & the feeling of intimacy they created. Sad about the move, but wishing you the best of luck!

    • Randall Grahm says:

      Thank you for your very kind wishes. Trying my best to embrace all of the changes. #bestofallpossibleworlds

  8. Annie Parker says:

    A number of Davenportians (myself including) trekked often to the B.Doon winery and then to Cellar Door and Le Cigare Volant. I want to welcome you “home” to Davenport, which I’m sure will be every bit as quirky as your other locations, but hopefully will prove a happy site for the fantastic flying cigar.

    • Randall Grahm says:

      Thanks so much, Annie, dear, for your sincerely warm welcome. We will try to be impeccable neighbors. #theregoestheneighborhood

  9. I’ve been a fan of yours since the 1980s and your crazy wine club newsletters. I’ll try anything you think is good.

  10. Carl Helrich says:

    In my mind, your most telling comment is “My conclusion is that the only real way that you can get people to eat with one another voluntarily is not to offer them any real choice in the matter.”.

    Having done dinners at our humble wineries a la community seating-style, I totally agree. Not one American wants to eat with a stranger, but put two couples at a table for four with good food and wine and friendships will be born.

    • Randall Grahm says:

      It is one of life’s mysteries that we harbor deep fears about the things that we on some level most deeply crave. But, completely d’accord.

  11. Carol Tregenza says:

    Sorry to see this ending in Santa Cruz, but do keep pushing for your communal table project–many work well in SF, and A Cote in Oakland has been doing it for years, successfully. We weren’t often enough at the Cellar Door, but have been with you in SC for many Day of the Doon festivals at the warehouse site(always the best..)the last dinner was to celebrate a friend’s 60th and we drove down from SF for the dinner. The foam and far-too-serious attitude of the servers put us all off, and we wondered how it could appeal in such a laid back location. The following week the chef change was announced and I guess it was all set in motion by then. Randall, we have enjoyed your wines, your wit and your perseverance for quite awhile now,and know that the next venture will be another road trip we will gladly take to see where you’ve landed. We loved the San Juan communal Doon dinner (and am fascinated still by the biochar concept) so just keep on keeping on. You are a local gem for all of us, thank you!

    • Randall Grahm says:

      You are too kind. I do in my bones feel that the communal dining is a great and powerful concept, but you do need a number of things to make it work: a) a product, that’s to say the food that is absolutely oustanding, b) a critical mass of population to support it, c) the financial wherewithal and patience to build it, as it will not happen overnight. #staydooned

  12. Mike Hochleutner says:

    It’s very sad news. I’ve come to cherish that quasi-industrial micro-center on the westside of town, with the BDV tasting room serving as its spiritual and philosophical hub. I hate to think of it continuing without such a creative presence, though I hope the other wineries and shops can pick up some slack that will now exist. Your creative outlets never fail to inspire and challenge (IMO), even if they don’t always hit the mark financially. I hope that the next project does both. As for the Cellar Door, it’ll live on in adult fables and urban legends, growing in stature until it’s the subject of a Hollywood blockbuster trilogy.

    • Randall Grahm says:

      One can only hope. Hope to catch it on DVD one day. Thanks so much for your comment.

  13. marcia mcdougal says:

    You certainly have my sympathy on energies put out towards restaurant success, and the sadness of closing a restaurant–for any reason. You are well loved and will be a wonderful addition to the friendliness of Davenport. As a bonus you will have the joy of our magical ocean view.

    • Randall Grahm says:

      Thanks so much, Marcia, for your very gracious welcome. I am sure the new venue will be extraordinary.

  14. Scott McReynolds says:

    Hello Randall, Despite the closing of your restaurant you leave a legacy of success. I’m one of the organizers of the Santa Cruz Wine Tasters Meetup.com group and the first thing I do when someone signs up and is completely new to Santa Cruz wines is tell them about Surf City Vintners. I support my local food and wine artisans and living in Silicon Valley there’s few things I enjoy more than heading over the hill to pick up one of my wine club orders, have lunch at Kelly’s, do some wine tasting, then shop at El Salchicero before heading back home.

    We’ve helped support the Surf City Wine University series that has started recently and the attendance has continued to grow. The future is quite bright for SCV but the closing of LCV leaves a void and I hope it is filled by another innovative restaurateur.

    You may be just a little ahead of your time. As you say, Santa Cruz is not Napa, but the potential to be a premier wine, dine, tourism destination is there. The trend towards local and sustainable is on the rise and Santa Cruz is blessed in this area with not only the natural resources but the people as well. Hopefully the new leadership ant SCMWA will help create the awareness and leadership to help make this happen. I know I will continue to support the trend and push others in that direction also.
    people towards all the great wineries we have

  15. Ryan Cress says:

    Dear Randall,
    Thank you for all that you do within the wine game. I had to move from Santa Cruz just as Ingallsstrasse was coming into it’s own, and didn’t get the chance to see your facility/restaurant until a year later when visiting. I made my reservations from New Hampshire, and was quite pleased that my friends from Santa Cruz (A couple in their 70′s and and a couple in their 30′s) were interested in joining my wife and I for the Community Dinner. We were also fortunate enough to eat with you, your wife, and your daughter whom you write so much about. We had a fabulous fish and some delicious artichokes, met some really nice people, and all had a wonderful time. I believe a business contact was made with one friend and another fellow eater. I shared in your vision to eat with strangers, and found it quite fun and entertaining. But I get it…I left SC to find work in wine, and ended up on the East Coast working for a winery here. It only lasted two years as what I wanted it to be, and what it was were too far apart. I couldn’t sell my soul to sugared up wines and falsely advertised “fresh fruit wines.” So I had to leave the business, but I long for it daily. I hope to get involved in other ways down the road. As I hope your community dinner idea will come back to you in a different form perhaps down the road. All the best, and keep on making those wines. Tasting the Santa Cruz terroir in the wines way over here makes my palette quite happy and reminiscent.

    • Randall Grahm says:

      Ryan, thanks so much for your note – very moving. I really do hope that you will find a gig that is more or less congruent with your values and aspirations. There is nothing more soul suppressing than to work in a job one does not believe in. (#doonnooenvil). I’m not sure quite how or when I will be able to give the community table another shot, but it’s high on the list of aspirations, and I don’t reckon that will go away. Wishing you the best of luck.

  16. Peter Garin says:

    Randall,

    I’ve enjoyed the restaurant. (I even at one point gave you a written critique of that).

    The soul of a restaurant is so much more than a P & L statement and income per sq. ft.. I’d love to work with you on the tasting room or restaurant, (in what ever future tense it becomes), because I do feel the need for someone to create a parlor, or perhaps, a warm sense of place where a personal alchemy can blossom.

    I think wine is a catalyst, or perhaps a potion that causes reflections of a sort. Perhaps it’s a lens that brings focus to a vision. The comradrery that wine, and food, bring together, is infused in our core being. Not only does it provoke our senses, it’s been critical since primitive times, it’s how tribes were created and people to have better insight to one another. It’s the set and setting that creates an experience. Bill Wright saw that when he created the restaurant at Domain Chandon years ago, and it’s been intregral part of the “winery experience” ever since. The trick of course is having the right “team” to pulling it off.

    When it comes to restaurants I believe there’s a distillation process at work and in each, there is an evolution of sorts. I believe it’s not the death of a restaurant so much it’s a Phoenix, awaiting it’s rise form the ashes.

    As your taste has evolved, as your imagination is inspired, you gained a tremendous amount of experience. Don’t think of this as an aborted attempt, but think of it as part of a developmental process to make something better.

    It can be fun doing BBQ’s for 600, but intimate diners or cocktail parties with pairings of charcuterie, are so much more easy to manage. Learning that, comes with experience, time, and alliances with people who care more about the outcome, than ego.

    What is it they say? “The King is dead! Long live the King!”

    Peter Garin

    • Randall Grahm says:

      Peter, thanks so much for your comment, and looking forward to continuing the conversation. There is no question that a restaurant affiliated with a winery can help tell the winery’s story, as you have mentioned, but as I have mentioned in the post, there really are some serious structural impediments to a successful restaurant in Santa Cruz that also remains consistent to a certain aesthetic vision. Having said that, I do believe that a great restaurant can potentially exist almost anywhere. (I think fondly of visits to the Imperial Dynasty in Hanford, CA.)

  17. Lawrence says:

    The restaurant may be closed but …
    “long live the wine!”

  18. Adam says:

    Randall

    If you make it to Seattle anytime soon, I highly recommend you try the Corson Building in the Georgetwn neighborhood (a funky formerly industrial area). Its chef, Matt Dillon, is a James Beard winner and all diners sit at two communal tables (usually requiring a reservation at least a week in advance) on the 3-4 nights a week when the restaurant is open. My other half and I plan on getting married there next summer.

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