"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity," the saying goes. That combination of planning and chance is playing a role in the change-overs taking place at some of the city's best-known bars and restaurants, where long-time owners are retiring and younger Petalumans are stepping in with their own plans, eager to make their mark on this food-loving city.
Take the couple Miriam Donaldson and Josh Norwitt, who count themselves fortunate to have found the ideal place to launch their first independent venture together: A restaurant that will take over the current Three Cooks Caf?at the junction of Magnolia Avenue and Petaluma Boulevard North.
"We looked for almost two years to find the right location in Petaluma," said Donaldson. Their hard work, enthusiasm and good timing coincided with Three Cook's owner and chef Bobby Mangano's desire to retire after 27 years at the stove.
Similar stories are cropping up in Petaluma as one generation yields the baton to another. When Graziano's Ristorante closed after 30 years this summer, a younger group of restaurateurs formed to take over the space. Joe O'Donnell, former general manager of McNear's, and son of McNear's partner Kenny O'Donnell, is a full partner and will don the executive chef's toque, overseeing the steakhouse and raw seafood bar to be called Seared. The other partners are all life-long Petalumans: Kent Armbright, Jeff and Stacy Inglin and Carrie O'Donnell.
Seared has retained the servers and much of the kitchen staff to provide a smooth transition for the customers. The building's location in the historic downtown district was a significant factor in the decision to open the new restaurant.
By far the largest space to change hands is the 8,000-square-foot property that was Kodiak Jack's for 17 years, until the owners moved out in July of 2012. Enter John Jones and Kristin McMaster, business and life partners. The two had been scouting for a location to open a community-oriented restaurant and performance space in Sonoma. "We saw a vision the day we walked in here," said McMaster. They secured a 14-year lease in November of 2012, initially funding the new venture themselves, and are in the middle of a total remodel, with a tentative opening planned for September.
Original Marvin's Restaurant on Petaluma Boulevard South sat vacant from May of 2011 until sisters Kim and Tiffany Saxelby recently happened to meet the owner of the property and upon viewing the building, fell in love with its potential.
Longtime employees of a popular local restaurant, the sisters resolved to take their hospitality skills and use them to create a family-friendly caf?that would honor their late father and, as their slogan says, "Take you back to a simpler time."
Dubbed "Sax's Joint," the new caf?embodies a "down home" menu with house-made syrups, jams and pies, crafted by Julie Saxelby, the girls' mom.
A bootstrap endeavor, the sisters called upon friends and family for the remodel. Dozens of laborers and willing volunteers turned out to transform the neglected space into a hip, yet neighborly venue, complete with a jukebox, chicken-fried steak, and juicy pies crafted from local produce.
"We're trying to make a dream come true on a dime," laughs Kim Saxelby.
According to local historian, Katherine Rinehart, the structure they'll be using was built in 1937. "It started out as White Dairy and later became Lakeville Dairy and then Marvin's Restaurant in 1979." Rinehart is heartened by the continued use of the building, "I applaud the individuals who are taking on the challenge of opening businesses in Petaluma's downtown. It is a gift to the community that they are able to do this. Historic buildings are part of what makes Petaluma unique for both those who live here and those visit."