After much anticipation, the recently opened Chicken Pharm is a surprising breath of fresh air in a downtown Petaluma that seemingly had everything.
The fact that Chicken Pharm is owned by an outside group has ruffled a lot of feathers locally — Petalumans are naturally suspicious of absentee owners. However, San Diego-based The Patio Group seems to understand that a large part of what makes Petaluma so great is how its residents and businesses interact with each other. After dining there twice, I am convinced that they have as good a shot as anyone to finally make this space work.
The local concerns were on the minds of the Patio Group management when they purchased the property after Social Club’s epic failure. Hilary Rossi, Senior Vice President of Food and Beverage for The Patio Group, fell in love with Petaluma from her very first visit.
“Petaluma reminds me very much of where I grew up, other than the occasional palm tree,” said Rossi, a country girl from Pennsylvania. “But it is more than just how Petaluma looks. It is about how involved the community is, which is why Chicken Pharm has been a labor of love for me. I get excited every time I get to check in on the restaurant.”
Rossi was given free rein to get to know Petaluma in order to find out what the city and its residents are all about. The Patio Group was not going to make the mistake of trying to impose their will, unlike Social Club, the previous restaurant in the location, which didn’t seek local feedback. Petalumans, ever the opinionated bunch, prefer to retain the city’s uniqueness by balancing nostalgia with innovation.
Rossi, who visited every local restaurant she could, was committed to not only experiencing what the Petaluma dining scene is all about, but also wanted to find out what might be missing.
“We didn’t want to just be different,” she said. “We wanted to offer something that locals would like.”
During her downtown restaurant research, Rossi realized there were limited options for casual grab-and-go, while also offering sit-down accommodations. She also found that although many places offer poultry dishes, the former “Egg Capital of the World” lacked a chicken- focused restaurant.
Although chicken is the focal point, Chicken Pharm also reaches out to other local purveyors to round out their menu. One such item is the burger, which uses meat from Petaluman’s historic Fallon Hills Ranch and is topped with Original Blue from award-winning Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese. Other items include a mac n’ cheese made with Petaluma Creamery’s white cheddar, and baked beans, which uses beans from Napa’s Rancho Gordo Beans and bacon from Zazu Kitchen’s Black Pig Meat Company.
We tried all three, and although the mac n’ cheese was less than spectacular one day, it had the perfect cheddar tang on our next visit. The burger was great too, but I have not stopped craving the sweet smoky flavor of the baked beans since first trying it.
Rossi spent a lot of time shopping around Petaluma to collect all the knick-knacks and artifacts that contribute to Chicken Pharm’s décor. She also commissioned local photo reproductions through the Historical Society to decorate the walls. Petaluma’s Heritage Salvage helped with a lot of the interior, including frames that help keep the TVs from being overpowering.