The North Bay’s top 10 food stories of 2015

It’s been an interesting year for food news in the North Bay, with a good balance between exciting restaurant openings and disappointing closures, a new food business school launched and longtime food businesses sold.

The community of Sonoma celebrated the 100th birthday of Williams-Sonoma founder Chuck Williams in October with a giant pancake breakfast, only to bid a bittersweet farewell to the culinary pioneer in early December.

Here’s a look back at a few of the headlines that made us hungry for more:

- Ten years after shocking the world by buying Scharffen Berger Chocolate, the chocolate giant Hershey Co. purchased Krave, a gourmet jerky company based in Sonoma, in late January. That was a sweet deal for Jon Sebastiani, who started making the natural style of jerky in exotic flavors just four years earlier as a healthy, high-protein alternative to what had become a gas station junk food. Sebastiani came up with the concept for Krave while training to run the New York City Marathon and attributed much of his company’s success to strategic partnerships with athletes, including former 49er tight end Vernon Davis.

- Last February, the Culinary Institute of America launched the Food Business School at its campus in St. Helena. Led by Healdsburg entrepreneur Will Rosenzweig, the center for executive and graduate education has been touted as the first in the nation dedicated to entrepreneurship and innovation. This spring, the FBS will offer its first classes in San Francisco and New York City and plans to expand to a second Napa Valley campus at the former Copia in downtown Napa. The CIA purchased the Copia complex this fall, seven years after the ambitious project closed its doors.

- Chris Kostow, chef at the three Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood at St. Helena, was nominated in March for a James Beard Foundation award for the photography in his cookbook, “A New Napa Cuisine.” In April, the tasty tome won Cookbook of the Year from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

- Dustin Valette, who had worked as the executive chef for Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg for six years, moved a couple of blocks away to open his own restaurant, Valette, in early March. Valette was the only North Bay restaurant recognized by diners on OpenTable’s 2015 list of 100 Best Restaurants for Foodies in America, released in September.

- Williams-Sonoma in Sonoma has been heating up the headlines this year. In June, the Sonoma city planning commission granted permission for the kitchenware store to hold special events. Then in August, the Sonoma City Council denied permission to hold the events. Opened in 2013 at the original Broadway location where Chuck Williams founded the company in 1956, the upscale kitchen shop bid farewell to its namesake founder in early December, when the meticulous merchandiser died of natural causes at age 100.

- In mid-September, Perry Hoffman joined the Healdsburg Shed as its new culinary director and in mid-November, he launched the cafe’s new dinner menu. Hoffman is the grandson of founders Don and Sally Schmitt of The French Laundry in Yountville and The Apple Farm in Philo, so he’s always had one foot in the seasonal kitchen and one foot in the dirt. He also brings some street cred: at 25, he became the youngest American chef to win a Michelin star while working at Etoile at Domaine Chandon in Yountville (now closed.)

- Nino Rabbaa, the French entrepreneur behind a growing Sonoma County restaurant empire, revealed in early November that he was nixing plans to open a brewery in Rohnert Park (in the former Latitude space) and a creperie in downtown Santa Rosa (in the former Rendezvous Bistro, which was his first Sonoma County restaurant.) In addition, he announced plans to sell his two operating restaurants in Santa Rosa: Flipside Bar & Burger on Third Street, which has since been snapped up by Sonu Chandi of Stout Brothers Pub & Restaurant; and Flipside Burgers and Wings on Calistoga Road, which closed its doors in early December.

- Business partners Kevin Cronin and John Franchetti opened the wildly popular Rosso Pizzeria + Wine Bar in Santa Rosa in 2007, then added Rosso Pizzera + Mozzarella Bar in Petaluma in 2012 and Rosso Eventi + Rosticceria in 2014. In November 2015, the partners announced they were parting ways, with Cronin keeping the two pizzerias and Franchetti and his wife, Gesine, rebranding the Rosso Eventi + Rosticerria as Franchetti’s Wood Fire Kitchen, Catering and Events. The good news for Sonoma County is that all three restaurants will continue to serve delicious, Cal-Ital pizzas, salads and other farm-to-fork fare that have set a new standard in casual dining.

- The Applewood Inn Restaurant in Guerneville, which earned a Michelin star in 2011 and 2012, took the local food world by surprise in late November when it announced it was going to close its doors. It was no secret that the Applewood chef, Jamil Peden, had been elevating the restaurant’s dishes since he took over the kitchen in April, in the hopes of winning back that Michelin star. The restaurant’s owner, Carlos Pippa, said he plans to renovate and reopen the restaurant as a Mediterranean taverna this spring. Meanwhile, the inn and the spa remain open.

- Redwood Hill Farm and Creamery, a pioneering Sebastopol goat dairy that was founded in 1978 by Jennifer Bice, announced a deal in early December to sell the company to Emmi, Switzerland’s largest milk producer. The 61-year-old Bice, who grew the dairy from a 4-H project into a national brand, will continue to oversee operations until she retires. Emmi purchased another well-known North Coast company, Humboldt County’s Cypress Grove Chevre, in 2010.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

Diane Peterson

Features, The Press Democrat

I’m interested in the home kitchen, from sheet-pan suppers to the latest food trends. Food encompasses the world, its many cultures, languages and history. It is both essential and sensual. I also have my fingers on the pulse of classical music in Sonoma County, from student mariachi bands to jazz crossover and symphonic sounds. It’s all a rich gumbo, redolent of the many cultures that make up our country and the world.

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