Sax’s Joint in Petaluma a modern classic diner
Sax’s Joint just celebrated their four-year anniversary but one visit and you would swear this Petaluma Boulevard South diner has been in operation for decades. The warm of service, reasonable prices, and delicious food all hearken back to what many might think of as a bygone era, but Sax’s Joint is keeping the idea of a neighborhood diner alive and well.
A modern iteration of the classic diner, the staff dress in 50s attire, but with a shot of biker mixed in. In fact, it is not unusual to see one of the owner’s pink Harley sitting out front.
Sax’s Joint is a partnership of sisters Tiffany and Kimberly Saxelby, with a lot of help from mom, Julie Saxelby, as well as just about every family member and friend. Julie’s family is from Louisiana, which means comfort cooking is in her blood. In fact, many of the recipes are hers, including all the jams, which can be purchased, as well as the incredible cinnamon rolls, coleslaw and potato salad.
Tiffany has always been in the restaurant industry, working restaurants in both the front and back of house, running her own taco truck, and specializing as a baker. Sister Kimberly has also been in and out of the restaurant industry throughout her life, finally settling with Tiffany as the bakers at Pepper’s, a home-style restaurant that used to sit in front of Safeway on the east side.
It was while working at Pepper’s that Tiffany and Kimberly’s father, came down with cancer. Born Conrad Saxelby, he picked up the nickname “Sax,” likely because his biker buddies did not want him being confused with his tea and crumpet sounding name. Having seen his daughters work so hard in order to make others’ dreams come true, one of his final wishes before passing away was for them to open up their own diner.
Without ever being prompted, the ladies of Sax’s Joint know how to participate in our community. They not only attend all the local events, but even hold benefits at their shop, including a recent fundraiser for the Petaluma Animal Shelter. Along with winning awards at events like the Chili Cookoff and the Mac n’ Cheese Challenge, their recent efforts to help feed firefighters and evacuees and raise funds for fire victims have been incredible.
“We wouldn’t be living out our dream without all these people,” says Kimberly. “These are our people.”
The festive vibe is a constant throughout the year, which along with excellent from-scratch cooking, makes Sax’s a local favorite, and helps explain the long line out front on the weekends.
A chalkboard on the wall reads “We don’t have WiFi. Talk to each other. Pretend it’s 1955.” Although subtle, this helps sum up the Saxelby’s and what they have helped create. They are fun and like to interact with their guests, most of whom are now regulars.
Sax’s menu can be a bit deceiving in that it is not only massive, but is reasonably priced. Some may jump to the conclusion that this means average diner fare, but that could not be farther from the truth. I had to ask Tiffany how she does it, when everything is made fresh, much of it from scratch. Apparently, it comes down to volume. “We aren’t trying to get rich off individuals,” says Tiffany. “We want everyone to have a great time and enjoy some great food, so we keep it reasonably priced. Enough people dine with us that we can afford to keep the prices low.”
Although the whole menu is great, there are definite favorites, like the Chicken Fried Steak, sourced directly from Petaluma Market and the French Toast made using cinnamon Challah bread from Full Circle Bakery in Penngrove. “All our suppliers are great,” continues Tiffany. “When we have an emergency, they’ve brought us even the smallest order of bread, no questions asked.”
I also know that when they ran out, just as I ordered the Chicken Fried Steak, before I knew it they had jetted over to Petaluma Market to restock.
A visit to Sax’s Joint is not complete without one of Mee Maw’s Homemade Cinnamon Rolls and an order of Grits and a side of thick cut bacon. Because there are so many items we love, we always order one of each for the table to share, just so we do not get backed into a corner where we have to start choosing what not to have.
Portions are so generous that we rarely go home empty handed, enjoying leftovers for at least the next day.
We usually look to Sax’s Facebook posts and specials board to help guide our dining decisions. Whether it is a chorizo hash, fried catfish with grits and bacon gravy, or a freshly made crab cake Benedict, we are always blown away by what comes out of Sax’s kitchen.
If you have not seen the crowds standing out front of Sax’s on weekend mornings, be warned, but do not be intimidated. They are packed for a reason. But they seat people quickly and the wait is always worth it.
As I left from a recent visit, I overheard a young family weighing the option of having to wait against how great the menu looked. They had just biked in from I Street and were hungry. I could not help but suggest they stick it out, not just because they would enjoy the food, but because their young child should experience how diners used to be, with friendly staff and home cooking.
If we keep exposing the next generation to all the great experiences available to them in Petaluma, hopefully they will help carry our values forward. Sax’s young servers certainly have taken up this torch and make me proud to live in Petaluma.
Anyone can make great food, but it is the ambiance that the Saxelby’s have created that is the true homage to their father. The owners, staff, and customers have not only made Sax’s dream a reality, but have helped create a favorite dining spot that adds to the definition of what it is to be a Petaluman. Papa Sax would be proud to see his girls feeding both the bodies and souls of so many happy Petalumans.