The Sun Q and A
You and your wife Jen opened Harvest Moon in 2006. What did that take? We took a big chance, even re-financed our home to do it. We had met at the Culinary Institute of America; I graduated in ’95. I worked in San Francisco and New Mexico with great chefs like NY Times food columnist David Tanis, was private chef to the U.S. ambassador in Cyprus, and had spent almost five years at Chez Panisse, including three in the restaurant. One of the main reasons we moved here was because we knew all the food suppliers to Chez Panisse from Sonoma County.
You and Jen are co-owners, working together. How’s that? For us, it works. I like it because I don’t have to go through, “How was your day today?” We don’t have to talk shop, so we don’t lose our time at home.I like being my own boss. And having a dinner-only place, I don’t have to get to work early. But we have a child, so I get up early anyway.
What has changed since 2006? For us, we could seat 38 people inside when we opened. We developed the patio, then tented it and now we can seat 125. And around the restaurant, huge changes. Almost every other place on the Plaza is now a tasting room. Is that an ecologically sustainable business model? And there’s the Plaza parking situation. The City needs a cohesive plan for parking. I’m an outsider, only 14 years here, and I live in Kenwood so I can’t vote in the city. The city needs to balance the pro-business and anti-tourism factions, and consider the agricultural aspect. When new projects are proposed usually they underestimate the parking. They don’t account for employee parking or for all the peripheral parking restaurants bring – meat, fish and produce deliveries, appliance repair, UPS. I make meatloaf, not city plans. But someone needs to be making an infrastructure plan. If it’s not convenient for people who come here as tourists, they won’t come back.
How about Farmers Market? Tuesday used to be our third best night, after Saturday and Sunday. Then they added the food trucks, and it wiped out our dinners. The city didn’t get any input from the Plaza business owners before that decision. I was on an ad hoc committee, but after the fact. Our solution at Harvest Moon was to close Tuesdays. But I think the Market is overall a good thing, maybe the healthiest thing around. A big morale boost for the City, and an affirmation that this is an agricultural destination. But the City needs to balance the rights of people renting on the Plaza, all paying big bucks to be there.
How about your rent? We just re-negotiated our lease. The landlord wanted almost a 50 percent increase, but we ended up with about 30 percent. You won’t see that cost increase on the menu. We have a lot of high costs. Our labor is high because much of our staff is long-term. Jen and I personally absorb a lot of costs. I never question the suppliers – so I get the best. I’d rather absorb the cost and be proud of what I make.
What are some highlights at Harvest Moon? We’ve had some really good people working both front and back of the house. In winter, our clientele is mostly local, and even in the summer, I usually recognize about 50 percent of the faces. I’ve met a lot of good people who live here, genuinely interesting people.
What is your greatest challenge in running the restaurant? Finding really good cooks and other staff. Airbnb destroyed the housing market in Sonoma. The prime restaurant demographic is people 19-32 years old, and they can’t afford to live here. And the commute burns them out.
Where do you go to eat out around here? That’s a provocative question. El Molino Central, a lot. The taco trucks, especially La Bamba. I get sandwiches at Broadway Market.
Are you glad you’re doing what you do? I knew I wanted to do something creative. I thought about being an architect. In high school and college I worked in restaurants in Austin, and I fell in love with the lifestyle. You sacrifice a lot, working nights and weekends. You better be sure you love the industry. Everyday I give 100%. I don’t compromise. I’m always getting better. I do my job. I try to make people happy. I do what I do regardless of reviews. Not everyone likes Picasso’s Blue Period, or a Frank Gehry building.
–Interview by Anna Pier