A growing Marin County company that makes organic and vegan foods is opening a production facility and cafe in Petaluma, the latest addition to Sonoma County's expanding food processing industry.
Its dining division, Lydia's Kitchen, will feature offerings not found at your typical eatery.
The cafe at 1435 N. McDowell Blvd. will be a place where people can get buckwheat crepes and a chair massage at lunch, or a veggie burger made from scratch before they see an educational movie or engage in evening discussions at the adjacent "Sunflower Center" community space.
Founder Lydia Kindheart isn't concerned that her operations may not fit a typical business model.
"I've been known to follow my own heart," she said.
Her current cafe and manufacturing facility in Fairfax employ about 75 people. She plans to add up to 20 more workers with the expansion to larger quarters in Petaluma. She hopes to be in the new facilities by the end of September.
Along with her cafe business, her operations include Lydia's Organics, which makes dehydrated raw foods like crackers, cereals and packaged bars; and Lydia's Lovin' Foods, which produces fresh and refrigerated raw entrees, dips and spreads. All the products are vegan, organic and gluten-free.
A native of France, Kindheart started a small raw foods deli/cafe in Fairfax 15 years ago. That eatery stayed open about 18 months, and then 10 years ago she started her dehydrated food business there. She opened her first Lydia's Kitchen cafe about a year ago.
Kindheart said she decided to lease more than 11,000 square feet of space in Petaluma because "I've really outgrown this place" in Marin County.
In recent years, Petaluma has drawn part or all of the operations of several Marin-based food companies, including Cowgirl Creamery, Straus Family Creamery, gourmet food maker Torn Ranch, and Three Twins Ice Cream.
Those companies have joined a growing food processing sector in Sonoma County that includes such widely known companies as vegetarian food producer Amy's Kitchen, dairy processor Clover Stornetta Farms, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Alvarado Street Bakery and La Tortilla Factory.
Kindheart plans to keep the Fairfax cafe open and use the adjacent space to produce a frozen dessert line. In Petaluma, along with the cafe, she will have two separate manufacturing sites, one for dehydrated products and one for fresh and refrigerated items.
She doesn't release sales figures. But Kindheart said her business is one of the few serving those who have allergies or who seek a particular type of health food.
Nearby businesses should provide plenty of customers for the cafe, she said. She envisions stressed-out office workers deciding to stop by for an organic snack and a 15-minute massage.
"It can change your whole day," she said.
—Robert Digitale, The Press Democrat