A smorgasbord of foods, pastries, wines, beer and even port — much of it produced locally — is about to be devoured Saturday in Petaluma.
The eighth annual Taste of Petaluma, a fundraiser for Cinnabar Theater, throws open the doors to five dozen downtown restaurants and food purveyors and offers a chance to tour the city's galleries and shops while savoring fare often grown in and around Petaluma.
The popular event underscores a theme the city, businesses and tourism experts are working to promote: Petaluma is food friendly.
"We have so many fantastic options so close," said Patrick Tafoya, chef at Speakeasy restaurant on Putnam Plaza off Petaluma Boulevard North, which will be participating in the tasting. "Obviously there's wine, but beer, too, and really, we have so much within a few minutes of us."
A new city economic development strategy has focused on food manufacturing as a way to weave Petaluma's storied history as a dairy and egg hub into its present-day industries of wine, beer, dairy and other niche foods.
"We have the best coffee, beer, cheese, port, eggs and friendly folk all in walking distance of each other," said Tim Tatum, an owner of Luma restaurant in the Foundry Wharf area along the Petaluma River. "Luma captures this bounty and serves it."
Luma's menus include local products from a few yards away in the riverfront warehouse district: Cowgirl Creamery, Three Twins Ice Cream, Petaluma Coffee+Tea, Sonoma Valley Portworks and HenHouse Brewing.
Capitalizing on that bounty, city Economic Development Manager Ingrid Alverde has been working on a program to assist existing food manufacturers, attract new businesses and jobs, and draw visitors to Petaluma to spend their sought-after tourist dollars in the city.
"We've gotten a lot of interest from the food production industry because we've been working proactively to attract them and because they're finding us," she said. "One of the first things we did was to reach out to our locals and find out what we could do to help."
City leaders discovered the new sewage treatment plant wasn't able to handle as much high-strength wastewater as the local breweries and creameries were producing. Those businesses must truck their waste out of the area at no small expense.
Because of that, the city is looking at alternatives including on-site pretreatment of wastewater, new rate structures for high-use industries, and enabling the plant to accept higher-strength waste.
"One of the things I'm seeing like crazy is people coming to visit Lagunitas (Brewing Co.) and Cowgirl Creamery for their tours," Alverde said. "There is tremendous opportunity to leverage that. People want to see where the product is made; that's attractive to tourists."
Petaluma is becoming known as a destination in food-tourism circles, said Marie McCusker of the Petaluma Downtown Association.
A recent night out at a Berkeley restaurant revealed about half a dozen Petaluma food products on the menu, including Liberty ducks and Straus Family Creamery dairy products.
Several more can be found at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco, which often encourages foodies to head north, McCusker said.
"People are often seeking more farm-to-table type of experiences," she said. "And we have some unique ones here, like at Della Fattoria, where you can actually go and experience dinner on the farm."