Eric Ziedrich’s 30-year dream finally came true on Monday. After years of searching for a rail car, his caboose was delivered to a spot near Healdsburg’s railroad depot, where it will be used for a coffee shop named Roma Café and Biergarten.
Ziedrich, who turns 60 this week, owns the Healdsburg Lumber Co. across the street from the site, as well as the Old Roma Station property to the east.
Ziedrich started his search in 1985, the year he purchased a parcel at the corner of Front and Hudson streets. He developed it into the Old Roma Station, now home to 11 wineries and described as “where the river meets the tracks.” But alongside it is a pie-shaped sliver of property just waiting for a rail car café.
The property now is used for storage and as a loading area for trucks serving Healdsburg Lumber, but once the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit trains begin traveling to Healdsburg, a coffee shop at that location would be well situated to serve commuters waiting for trains or arriving on the rail line.
When Ziedrich heard that the Healdsburg depot is scheduled to receive a new façade, parking lot and landscaping,, his rail car dream stirred anew.
After his search was publicized last year in The Press Democrat, Ziedrich said, “folks starting talking” and a number of railroad groups in Sonoma and Mendocino counties contacted him. Then Chris Baldo of Willits Redwood called to say he might be able to help.
Baldo, a railroad aficionado and collector, took Ziedrich on a tour of his pristine restored railcars parked at the back of an “old-fashioned” redwood mill.
“He sure had some big-boy toys,” said Ziedrich, who admits to liking big-boy toys himself. After the tour, Baldo led Ziedrich to the “outback where the carcasses were,” and there he found two similar cabooses, both originally Great Northern Railway.
On one, the caboose was in good shape but not the chassis. On the other, the chassis was good but not the caboose. Baldo and Ziedrich negotiated an exchange of chassis on the two cabooses, and Ziedrich became the proud owner of a dream come true. He did not disclose the price.
Getting it moved down Highway 101 to Healdsburg required state and city permits, but now that it has finally arrived, the development process will begin. Ziedrich envisions a place for commuters to pick up a coffee on the way to or from work, as well as a “biergarten” (beer garden) for locals, like those he and his wife, Janet, experienced on a recent trip to Germany.
The café will be created inside the caboose; the biergarten and restrooms will occupy two shipping containers that will complete the “industrial chic” aesthetic. A small, unpaved parking lot and a bioswale are in the plans. He has informally run preliminary drawings through the city planning office, and the final design will be created by Santa Rosa architect Ken LaFranchi, who has experience in industrial design.
Ziedrich said he also will look for someone to operate the location, although he hasn’t ruled out the “do-it-yourself” method.
On Oct. 2, the county broke ground on the parking lot at the depot where SMART trains eventually will stop. The Foss Creek Footpath also runs parallel to the property, a trail that likely will be completed when the Healdsburg Avenue roundabout is constructed in late 2016.