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7 days of dining out on menu during Sonoma County Restaurant Week

Alicia Hedenfield, left, Lisa Evich and Denise Coleman share a laugh and some wine before having dinner at Bistro 29 on Wednesday during Restaurant Week in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Alvin Jornada / PD
Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 7:08 a.m.

Texans Bob and Beverly Walker said they'd never been to Bistro 29 on Fifth Street in Santa Rosa before and they'd be back.

"Definitely," said Beverly Walker.

"Delicious," said her husband.

That sort of reaction is why Bistro 29 owner-chef Brian Anderson signed up for the fourth year in a row for Sonoma County's Restaurant Week, which started Monday and goes through Sunday.

"It's super; this whole week we're almost sold out already," Anderson said.

It's also exactly the response that the organizers of Restaurant Week want.

"It's a way to stimulate people to go out and have dinner and also to bring in visitors from out of the area," said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, which launched the event in 2010.

Stone might have hugged the Walkers, who had already eaten at the Girl and the Fig in Sonoma and the Glen Ellen Inn to take advantage of the event -- and who said they may well return to the county just to enjoy it again.

"Honestly," said Beverly Walker. "It was a great value and we thoroughly enjoyed it."

Originally intended to lift an industry battered by the recession, the promotion has become a staple for restaurateurs slogging through what are typically slow winter months preceding tax day.

"It's a boost for the restaurant industry, especially at this time of the year," said Tami Sullberg, general manager of Charlie's at the Windsor Golf Club.

Restaurants from Occidental to Cloverdale and Petaluma are taking part this year, offering menus priced at $19, $29 or $39.

Michael Hirschberg, who consults with 25 Sonoma County restaurants, said it's become a week his clients count on.

"I'd say it's a 25 percent bump or something like that," he said. "We know the receipts are going to go up a whole lot and everybody's going to be able to pay their bills."

The overall financial impact of the event on the county is notable, too -- and growing, Stone said.

According to the Economic Development Board's annual survey of participating restaurants and diners, the 2010 event brought in $900,000 to the local economy, including restaurant revenues, taxes and the value of local ingredients and supplies.

That rose to $1.12 million in 2011 and $1.54 million last year. In Sonoma County, the number of participating restaurants has climbed from about 90 the first year to 124 this year.

"I think growing awareness is number one, but also we've got a bunch of new restaurants and they want to be a part of it," Stone said. "It's also proof to my mind that the economy is recovering."

One of those new restaurants is Spinster Sisters on A Street in Santa Rosa.

"We're not really sure what to expect," chef David McDowell, said Tuesday afternoon, as he prepared for the restaurant's first night open during Restaurant Week.

On Wednesday, he said Tuesday night had proved just "all right," but that "I expect that especially Friday, Saturday and Sunday it'll get much busier."

After four years, Bistro 29's Anderson said sticking with the event has proven worthwhile.

"There's New Year's Eve week, Valentine's week and this is probably the other busiest week of the year for us," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.

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