Despite ownership changes at Hallie’s in Petaluma, the little diner remains beloved in the hearts and stomachs of locals and visitors alike. This is thanks in large part to the fact that the new owner has been a server at Hallie’s for well over a decade and so knows exactly what her customers have come to expect from this downtown diner.
Since day one, roughly 20 years ago, Hallie’s has been a hometown favorite. Clay and Ann Stark named the diner after their daughter Hallie, who as a young child used to sleep inside the glass display case at the front end of the counter. Jenn (Braga) Cromwell joined the crew roughly 16 years ago, after working for a decade at Petaluma’s famed Marvin’s. Two years after joining Hallie’s, Chris and Louie Tsamoudakis took over and were daily fixtures until the recent sale to Jenn and her parents, Nancy and Jim Braga.
Thanks to Mark Gerhard on Facebook, I learned that Hallie’s was on the brink of being sold to some investors out of L.A. who were affiliated with Panda Express. We will never know just how close we came to losing our beloved Hallie’s, but thankfully for Petaluma, some of the investors fell out and Jenn and her parents stepped in.
“This place is all about the people,” says Jenn. “We are so glad to be able to keep the same staff and serve the same customers as we have for so long. It’s as if I get to visit with family every day.”
Jenn and her parents have only made a couple small changes, but nothing that would disrupt the regulars. In deference to supporting other local businesses, Hallie’s now stocks only Clover Sonoma for all their dairy products, from milk to cheese to sour crème. They have also started offering English Muffins, whose absence from the menu all these years has grown into a bit of a running joke among patrons.
The Braga’s have a long history on the local food scene, both employed with food distribution companies as well as running their own catering company.
“My sister Erin and I used to spend a lot time in the kitchen peeling carrots,” says Jenn about helping her parents every weekend with catering jobs. “I look forward to having my kids help at the restaurant because I want them to learn the same great work ethic that my parents taught me.”
Nancy and Jim have partially emerged from retirement to help Jenn run the restaurant. Nancy helps with a lot of the behind the scenes organization while Jim is in the kitchen for a couple hours each day keeping up on inventory and creating the specials menu.
It is the rare occasion that I am actually eating a restaurant’s food while sitting at my computer writing their article, but that was the case with Hallie’s. Most of my food crew was unavailable on the weekend I visited Hallie’s to do research, however, that did not stop me from ordering a good portion of the menu. I visited a consecutive Saturday and Sunday afternoon, having only recently discovered that Hallie’s serves lunch. “On the weekends, just about everyone orders breakfast,” says Jenn, “but during the week, we get quite a few people who meet here for lunch.”