The chef behind Drunk Monkeys food truck has things cooking in the former Saturn Cafe spot in downtown Santa Cruz, while a growing Starbucks labor movement is looking to get foothold in California on Ocean Street.
This past week really blew my hair back, so to speak. It was a big week for food news, starting on Monday with the sudden announcement that Soif Restaurant in downtown Santa Cruz will close this Saturday after 20 years in downtown Santa Cruz.
On Tuesday, Lookout’s first food newsletter, Lily Belli on Food, was sent out to our 18,000-plus subscribers. I’m proud of the news I was able to pull together in this inaugural issue with the help and support of our Lookout team, and I look forward to sending it to you every week. Read it here if you missed it, and be sure to subscribe to our newsletters if you haven’t already.
In other news, a local Starbucks has become the first company location in California to file for unionization, and I stopped into downtown’s newest restaurant, Cruz Kitchen & Taps, for dinner. Read on to learn more.
A Starbucks on Ocean Street in Santa Cruz filed for union elections last week, joining a growing movement of Starbucks baristas calling for unionization. It is the first Starbucks of around 2,500 in California to do so.
“With the help of our local DSA Santa Cruz and other union organizers in the area, I’m proud to say that today, we’re the first California store to file our election with the NLRB,” Joseph Thompson, the lead organizer for the effort, said in a video posted to Twitter, noting help from the local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America in engaging with the National Labor Relations Board. “I’ve been a supervisor now at Starbucks for about two years, and this is the worst store I have ever seen. The working conditions are super poor, partners are underpaid, understaffed and overworked. It is terrible, and that is why we need a union to represent our voice and our interests.”
In a letter to Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson, Starbucks Workers United states, “We all are united by our passion for our job and our desire to continue transforming it into a beacon of light for our community, and we hold that forming a union is the first significant step in continuing to improve the Starbucks experience.” The letter is signed by 13 partners, or employees.
A wave of Starbucks workers calling for unionization has spread across the nation since Starbucks employees in Buffalo, New York, were able to form their own union in December. It’s likely to be a difficult battle, as Starbucks has been known to use aggressive tactics to prevent employees from unionizing.
For its part, the company denies it’s been caught off guard by the union push. “This shows a lack of understanding of how our leadership engages with our partners,” Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges told CNBC, saying the company holds regular meetings and listening sessions with workers.
Patrice Boyle, owner of Soif in downtown Santa Cruz, announced that the restaurant will close after 20 years, and will serve its last meal Saturday. The wine bar will remain open for now, and a mysterious new tenant will be taking over the restaurant space. Read more here.
After seven years, Santa Cruz Food Lounge founder Andrea Mollenauer is passing on management of the kitchen and event space to brothers Joel and Brayden Estby, owners of 11th Hour Coffee. Read more about the transition here.
Cruz Kitchen & Taps officially opened this week, and I was able to check it out last weekend during its soft opening. The new downtown restaurant is the brainchild of chef Dameon Deworken of the Drunk Monkeys food truck and business partner Mia Thorn.
As I entered the restaurant inside the old Saturn Café on the corner of Laurel Street and Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz, I couldn’t help but think fondly of many late-night veggie burgers and vegan milkshakes from my student days. Deworken and Thorn have clearly put a lot of energy into sprucing up the iconic building and modernizing the interior, with fresh coats of paint, new booths and a beautiful new bar renovated by Paul Neall of Concrete Craftsman. Each table displays the work of a different Santa Cruz artist, including Marie Gabrielle, Tina Fuller Somers, Janet Allinger and Yeshe Jackson. More local art is displayed proudly on the walls.
The menu offers appetizers, salads and entrees with Pacific island flavors. My friend and I both enjoyed the smoked whitefish appetizer ($12), prepared poke style with cucumber, radish, green onion and wonton chips. I adored the chicken wings ($12), funky from fish sauce and leaning more sweet than hot. As an entree, we fought over — I mean, shared — the fork-tender braised short ribs with miso-honey mustard ($26). Next time I’ll try the blackened basa with red pepper-yuzu sauce ($18).
Deworken and Thorn are still waiting for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to sign off on their liquor license, so for now the bar is closed; guests are welcome to BYOB at no charge. Stop in for dinner Wednesday through Sunday starting at 4 p.m. More information at cruzkitchenandtaps.com.
Thank you to everyone who wrote in with suggestions for their favorite local products. When I decided to write a story featuring some of the best Santa Cruz County-made products on grocery store shelves, I had no idea there were so many!
As I filled up my shopping cart time and time again, there were moments when I wondered if I was in over my head. But I can’t stop, because I am committed to you, dear readers (and also my editor), and I’m having too much fun. My list of local products that you have to try is out next week.
Chef Jessica Yarr’s pop-up, Chicken Foot, will serve brunch at the Westside Santa Cruz farmers market this Saturday. Stop by for her delicious Eastern European home cooking with a Santa Cruz spin, including fried knish, vegan pierogi, walnut toast with kumquats and Russian cheese, brioche donuts, homemade granola and more. Peep the menu on Instagram at @_chickenfoot_, and come early. Don’t miss it!
Tickets are available now for the Aptos Wine Wander, hosted by Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains, in Aptos Village on Saturday, Feb. 26. At this outdoor event, attendees can taste from 16 Santa Cruz Mountain wineries, including Big Basin Vineyards, Burrell School Vineyards and Ser Winery, to name just a few. Cantine Wine Pub, Warmth Company and more than half a dozen other local businesses will also be on hand. Space is very limited, so reserve your spot now at winesofthesantacruzmountains.com.