How Harley Got Her Goats

Words by Emily McNally

At Harley Farms Goat Dairy, which sits at the quiet edges of the coastal town of Pescadero, 17 miles south of Half Moon Bay, a mother goat hovers protectively over her two new arrivals. When I kneel down to greet them, a tiny, white kid approaches me, her tail wagging like a puppy as she starts to nibble my finger. The garden tumbles with flowers while rolling hills of tender green grass spread out around us in the filtered morning light.

Originally a cow dairy built in 1910, this idyllic property was left derelict until Dee Harley took it over in 1990. “The land was really overgrown, the buildings were broken down,” Dee recalls, “but something about it spoke to me.” With strong support from a tight-knit agricultural community, Dee grew her property from the original nine acres to more than double that and also created a thriving business.

Dee Harley of Harley Farms Goat Dairy
Image by Paulette Phlipot

Today, Harley Farms is home to around 200 goats, an elderly donkey named Rosie and eight Anatolian Shepherd dogs that guard against mountain lions with an assist from two llamas. Award-winning, handcrafted goat cheese made at the refurbished dairy drove Harley’s rapid growth, but visitors who knew nothing of the cheese were drawn by the charm of the property and the lure of fields full of adorable goats.

Dee realized she could harness that fascination and expanded offerings to include extensive tours, farm-to-table dinners and private events. She has hosted thousands of visitors by placing the natural beauty of the land and the refurbished buildings at the heart of Harley Farms’ endeavors.

The door to the small shop where Harley Farms Goat Dairy sells its famous cheese creaks when I push it open. In a small but important way, the creaking door holds the secret to its magic. “My dear friend [local wood carver], ‘Three-Fingered Bil,’ who made this door, believed that when a door creaks it gives you the feeling you are entering another world,” Dee Harley shares. ”Everything here is real—the beams on the ceiling, the wooden planks of the floor, the goat milk paint that colors it, every product we sell—it’s all completely authentic. I think people can feel that.”

In her 32 years of running Harley Farms, Dee has used that gut sense for what feels right to craft her mission, operating with a combination of instinct and hard-won business acumen. Originally from Yorkshire, England, Dee was always drawn to farming, and she worked land from the UK to Honduras before finding herself captivated by the charm of a small parcel of abandoned acreage on the San Mateo County coast.

Pescadero Goat Farm
Image by Paulette Phlipot

When Nancy Gaffney, an expert cheese-maker from Davenport, recommended that Dee get goats to help clear the fields and use the milk to make cheese, a path through the wilderness started to emerge. “I went from looking out of the window wondering what I could get going to having six goats that quickly turned into twelve,” she reflects with a smile. “It just kept growing from there.”

Success came quickly and Harley Farms won awards from the American Cheese Society before going on to take prizes in international competitions. Chevre, in a variety of flavors—spanning honey and lavender to dill to herbes de Provence—headlines the roster of star cheeses. But the delicate Fromage Blanc and an aged Feta also claim places in the hall of fame. “It’s the salt air and the green grass that give the cheese its unique flavor. I mean, we even beat the French, which is really saying something,” remarks Dee, the shock still evident in her tone all of these years later.

In the early days of running Harley Farms, the cheese business was all-consuming with about 300 goats fueling distribution channels around the country. Dee got the old dairy up and running and connected the milking machines to the certified kitchen via an elegant pipeline system, but keeping up with demand became grueling. In 2008, Dee had another one of the epiphanies that have always guided her decision-making. “I literally woke up and realized we had to change,” she recounts. “I pulled out of all the distributing contracts and brought the whole business closer to home. I sold off half of the herd in the following days.”

In tandem, she took full stock of the property’s assets. “People were showing up all the time—curious about the goats, wanting to buy cheese or just to enjoy the gardens and pond,” recalls Dee. She discerned that she could create new revenue streams by charging for tours and hosting events on the property.

Dee launched into renovations, starting with the rustic loft above the shop, which now features a long table—the focal point of farm-to-table dinners—crafted by Three Fingered Bil from a tree trunk uprooted in a flood and made without a single nail. Turning her attention to the pond and secret garden, Dee cultivated settings perfect for weddings and corporate events. To round out the venture’s entrepreneurial options, Dee upgraded the farm shop, expanding Harley’s goat milk product line to include soaps, lotions and balms, as well as kitchen creations like jams and goat milk pot de creme.

Pescadero Harley Goat Farms Spread
Image by Paulette Phlipot

Dee looks back at this time as one of the critical junctures in how she managed the farm. “I still to this day use the health of the goats to determine our direction,” she explains. “If their hooves aren’t trimmed, it means we’re diluted somewhere and it’s time to get back to basics.”

At Harley Farms, the rhythm of life is dictated by the natural demands of animal behavior. In the spring, between February and April, around 250 baby goats are born. “This farm goes from being a very lovely, peaceful place to absolute chaos,” Dee says good-naturedly, adding that the kids are bottle-fed by people rather than suckled by their mothers. “We do this so that they’ll bond to us because we will be their primary caregivers,” she explains, “and it also allows us to control the flow of milk.”

Most of the young herd are sold off in summer, but around 50 goats are retained to be mated with a few visiting males the following September. “We always keep some of the baby goats and cycle out elderly female goats who are ready for retirement,” Dee continues. Because Harley only needs female goats, the males are given to San Francisco Grazing where they’re tasked with chomping down excess brush around San Francisco International Airport and the Presidio.

Many of the people who work with Dee have been with her for the long haul. Roberto Zavala Castillo and Salud Corona Telles joined Harley Farms in the early days before she could guarantee their paychecks. Roberto maintains a strong presence and helps Dee mend fences, repair buildings and care for the goats. Salud learned the art of making cheese by hand from Nancy Gaffney and in turn, trained her daughter, Rebecca, who has now been making cheese for 18 years. During high season, they make around 100 pounds of cheese a day.

Thinking about these long relationships and the shifting nature of life at Harley Farms, Dee becomes reflective. “Looking back, I made use of people’s interests. We’ve been able to build this around the people and the skills they have,” she says. But she also credits the location with making it all possible. “We are a part of a tight-knit rural community. I think you can feel that when you come here.”

As Harley Farms looks to the future, the spotlight is shifting to the next generation. Dee’s son, Ben, graduated with a degree in Organic Food Systems from Washington State University and has returned to help his mother run the farm. ”It’s a business, and you’ve got to be reliable and you’ve got to be sustainable, but it’s also a lifestyle,” Dee points out. “He’s got that in his soul. He understands the movement of the farm, the rhythm of the seasons.”

Pescadero Goats
Image by Paulette Phlipot

Ben is introducing new ideas, like a goats-for-hire program, that would allow for small landowners to clear fire-hazardous brush from their properties. He’s also driving a project that includes the purchase of six cows, British Whites, that will be harvested for their meat, which will be added to Harley’s goods in the shop.

In the meantime, new longer tours take small groups farther into the farm, with springtime viewing of the newborn babies a favorite highlight. Tours frequently sell out, but the farm also welcomes visitors to drop by any day between 11AM to 4PM to greet the goats and donkeys over the fence.

Dee clearly relishes her life at Harley Farms, but she also looks forward to pulling back and enjoying what she’s built. “Maybe I’d learn to drive a tractor if I had a bit of free time,” she smiles. “I would like to have a bit more privacy, but I still want to be able to look out my window and watch goats nibbling a bit of grass.”

Reverence For Wood

Words by Silas Valentino

Stowed in a small crate that he tucks within his black and sawdusty workstation is Tait Detro’s special box.

He burrows about to produce a block of mesquite, shaped like a wedge. The woodworker says he found it while traveling in the Southwest where he also purchased one of the rarest and most expensive timbers around: the desert ironwood. He lifts it out of the box with reverence.

Tait proceeds to thumb through slices of a pear tree. Next is a square fragment of bloodwood, aptly titled for its naturally red coloring, followed by remaining blocks of ash, remnants from a coffee table that he recently finished.

Identifying and describing each piece, Tait is in his element as he stacks these chunks of exotic lumber upon his knee.

“The aim with these woods, and the reason why I keep them, is to use them as tiny accent pieces. For instance, I used some wenge as drawer pulls in a desk I made. It has a nice, rich color but it’s also hard—which is what you need since you interact with a drawer pull,” he explains while assembling a display of these precious materials.

Potaito Fine Furniture
Courtesy of Tait

“I use this box sparingly and as carefully as I can. I value it. This wood has to be used responsibly.”

Equipped with a vision and guided by devotion, Tait designs and builds fine furniture as the sole pair of hands behind Potaito Fine Furniture. In the less than two years since he began, Tait’s produced around 20 pieces of furniture including a desk, dining table, writing desk and a chair inspired by the 1950s Danish designer Børge Mogensen.

He works on commission—past clients include corporate Google and a chic hotel and restaurant on Long Island—and sometimes Tait works out of necessity; such as when he moved in with his girlfriend and they needed a coffee table and a spatula.

Potaito (pronounced like the starchy vegetable) is both whimsical and a play on his first name, continuing a nickname he’s had throughout his life since friends and his two older sisters often call him Taiter or some variation.
“I lean into it,” he says. “I don’t want to come off as pretentious and a lot of fine furniture can be—especially with the price tags. It’s a good indication of what I want my furniture to be about: approachable and fun.”

Tait adopted an early affinity for lumber as a boy raised among its stacks. The Los Altos native’s father, Tod, is the owner of the East Palo Alto-based Knotty Hole Woodworks, a cabinet shop specializing in high-end custom cabinetry and millwork. Tait’s summers were spent at the warehouse in between his years at St. Francis High School in Mountain View and then San Francisco State University.

His first foray into his own professional woodworking endeavor was in 2015 when he launched Potaito Boards, skateboards Tait made using locally sourced and reclaimed wood. Some of the boards he made were direct offcuts from people’s kitchen cabinets found throughout the Peninsula.
In 2019, Tait enrolled at The Krenov School of Fine Furniture at Mendocino College—a reputable and intensive two-year (six days a week) woodworking program. Tait was utterly fulfilled. He’d scrawl quotes from professors in the margins in his notebooks: “Rush slowly,” his professor Laura Mays once imparted.

Potaito Furniture Maker
Image by Gino De Grandis

Each semester concludes by completing a single project and Tait’s first semester ended with a cabinet that he delicately assembled. His mother LaDon now has it and Tait finds himself continuously inspecting and touching it up whenever he visits home.

“The Krenov philosophy is that you’re never a ‘master craftsman’ and I wouldn’t call myself that,” he says. “You’re putting on labels and expectations, and it’s kind of weird. With woodworking, you’re never done learning.”

His process of creation begins with wood but Tait isn’t interested in just any old slab. He’s drawn to recycled wood, pieces that would have otherwise gone to a dump if he didn’t intercept them. He recently saw a post on NextDoor about a fallen tree and came home with a slab of black acacia. (“Having a tree taken out? Call me,” he pleads.)

Designing begins with sketches before he creates a model scale of the project, sometimes entirely out of cardboard. This allows him to lock down the geometric angles before it’s too late to make changes. “You can make a cheap mockup now or an expensive one later,” Tait grins, referencing another quote he learned from school.

He’ll test the sharpness of his chisel by gently scraping against his arm and if a strand of hair slides off, he knows it’s optimal. From there he works alone, off in a corner of his dad’s imposing warehouse. Although he’s surrounded by industrial-sized machines that churn out wood products with speed, Tait steadily turns wood by hand while thin shavings fall to the floor beneath him.

Tait Detro
Image by Gino De Grandis

“Not everything handmade is inherently good and not everything automated is inherently bad. If it’s a good design and thoughtfully made, I think that’s good,” he reasons. “I don’t want my furniture to be trendy but something people will own for as long as they care to use it. I want it to have endurance and a long lifespan. I want people to feel like they spoiled themselves.”

The primary focus for his business is to source recycled, domestic wood while accepting new commissions but Tait is looking out even further, envisioning his own woodshop, perhaps in the industrial sector of San Carlos.

Until then, he’s rummaging through the resources found at the warehouse. Leaned up against the wall near his workstation is a stockpile of various slabs, leftovers from Knotty Hole Woodwork projects. Tait sees potential.
He pulls out a strip of white oak where oxidation occurred, creating discolored patches of dark grey.

“They saw this and thought it was no good,” he says while admiring the unique piece, “but when I saw it, I thought, ‘Hey, that’s pretty cool.’”

Spanish Glam

Words by Sophia Markoulakis

Good design never goes out of style. Such a statement couldn’t be more true for this Palo Alto Spanish colonial’s full renovation. With its stately positioning on a corner lot, nestled among other period homes, this original Birge Clark home was the perfect project for a busy family of four to revitalize and make their own.

Tiffany Mansfield and Lisa O’Neil of Mansfield + O’Neil Interior Design, which has Peninsula and Marin offices, spearheaded the home’s interior design and were already acquainted with the client’s aesthetic, having previously worked with them on other projects. “Our collaboration started 15 years ago,” Tiffany notes. “This is actually the third home we’ve worked on together.”

With just a little more than the house’s front facade left standing, the 6,500-square-foot structure was completely rebuilt to match its early 20th-century architecture, but with modern materials. The project, which took three years to complete, was a collaboration between Palo Alto-based Fergus Garber Architects, the designers and the homeowners who had specific ideas of how they wanted their new home to feel and function.

Outdoor Patio with Palo Alto Spanish Design
Image by Paul Dyer

A defining feature of Spanish and Monterey colonials is a full-facade cantilevered balcony on both the front and back of the house. This appealed to the homeowners as they wanted to create a seamless indoor-outdoor vibe. Contemporary nine-foot black steel and glass doors that open onto the exterior patio bring light into the home, and stone floors in the great room extend to the outdoor patio, continuing the indoor-outdoor narrative. The architects optimized design within the confines of the lot, which included raising the ceiling of the first floor to gain more light and dropping the foundation so that there was no longer a step onto the patio. “We maximized the interior square footage while maintaining optimum outdoor space by creatively approaching the lot’s tight configuration and complicated city regulations,” says architect Catharine Garber. The firm’s experience working with period homes and the Palo Alto Historic Resource Board expedited the building processes for added efficiency.

Tiffany, the renovation project lead for the design firm, actively engaged from the moment the slab was poured. She knew early on what the homeowner envisioned for the space, which made the project harmonious and highly collaborative. “The home’s architectural roots inspired the interior design and the Spanish glam aesthetic, as we called the look, required a unique approach,” Tiffany explains. “We created an eclectic, yet approachable, family-friendly space in a Spanish-style home with a touch of glam. The homeowner was clear on that from the beginning, and it drove the project.”

Tiffany and Lisa of Mansfield + O'Neil Interior Design
Courtesy of Dana Spaeth

The home’s color story is the ideal blend of Old World and modern with corals, creams, turquoise and gold used as a guiding palette. “This project, unlike the client’s first Palo Alto home, has restrained pockets of color against a neutral backdrop,” says Tiffany. The neutrality ties in well with the period of the home and the lack of wood design elements like baseboards and moldings. “The color black was also important, and our primary color palette pops off of it beautifully,” she says.

Natural white oak wood on the interior doors and the majority of flooring was one defining neutral element that allowed more bold colors to shine. “The original dark stained doors and beams were heavy and outdated,” Catharine explains. “The new design features lighter and more modern wood finishes to lighten the space and allow the interior colors to take center stage.” The wood also plays well off the satin brass hardware and coral and turquoise colors in textiles and upholstery.

One room in the house was of particular interest to the homeowner. She was very specific about the parlor being more stylized than the other spaces in the home. “She wanted it to feel elegant with the use of bolder colors while still maintaining a high level of architectural integrity,” says Tiffany.

Interior by Mansfield + O'Neil Interior Design
Image by Paul Dyer

The kitchen’s minimalist design was intentional as the homeowner wanted to keep the space more as a place to gather than a place to cook. The butler’s pantry, which is situated behind the kitchen stove wall, is where work is done, coffee is made and tasks are tracked. “The pantry is really a hub for the family,” Tiffany relays, “and it allows the kitchen to maintain its minimal and clean feel.”

Additional nods to the home’s Spanish roots include the Walker Zanger Arabesque-style ceramic tiles used on the kitchen backsplash, rounded interior archways, lantern-style exterior sconces and salvaged Spanish roof tiles. “Fundamentally, the interior reflects the Spanish character of the home,” Tiffany says of the end result. “This home has history imbued in it and its architecture and interiors reflect that.”

A Sweet Legacy

words by Anni Golding

Preston’s Candy & Ice Cream’s unassuming storefront, with its old-school neon sign and red-and-white striped awning, has been a fixture on Burlingame’s Broadway Avenue for more than 75 years. A sweet slice of Peninsula history, it has been a go-to spot for generations of customers to indulge in locally made treats.

The shop’s quiet exterior belies the activity inside that, even on a relatively quiet midweek afternoon, doesn’t stop: A customer drops in to order a Mocha Almond Fudge Pie for a dinner party, kids crowd the ice cream case for an after-school snack and in the kitchen, candymaker Javier Santiago is mixing up an oversized batch of gooey marshmallow fluff.
At the center of the activity is Irene Preston, the shop’s petite, energetic owner.

Opened by Art Preston in 1946, the eponymously named shop was part of the post-World War II economic boom. (Fun fact: Despite sharing the same last name, Irene and Art are not related.) According to Irene, Art had wanted to be a candymaker from a young age and apprenticed with Douglas Shaw in San Francisco before being drafted to serve in the Pacific theater. When Art returned to the Bay Area after his tour of duty, his mentor helped him set up shop in Burlingame, providing several kiddie pool-sized copper pots that still hang in Preston’s kitchen today.

Painted Chocolates at Preston's Candy in Burlingame
Image by Gino De Grandis

“Art was considered one of the master candymakers in the United States,” says Irene. A small display of awards in the front of the shop attest to his skills and success. Thanks to Art’s reputation and the shop’s proximity to the airport, Preston’s was tapped to provide the mints for United Airlines in-flight meals. Decades later, Irene and her staff provided candy for Virgin America.

Irene was herself a longtime customer before she and now ex-husband George purchased the shop from Art in 1997. Irene and George were Palo Alto residents at the time, with two college-age sons. George was ready for a career change and Irene supported the plan—although she had no intention of being in the kitchen. She would handle the business side of things, and George would make the candy. “I’m not a candy-maker,” she says matter-of-factly, “I’m a candy eater.”

Although Irene, a UC Berkeley graduate, had never worked in the food business before, her career experience as a graphic designer, teacher and art resource person for the Palo Alto Unified School District provided a good foundation for running the business and managing employees.
When she and George split a few years into the venture, Irene became the sole proprietor, and she’s been running things ever since. She also learned to make candy and has passed those skills on to her employees, training five candymakers over the years.

Walking into Preston’s is like stepping back in time to the middle of the 20th century: the blue-and-white linoleum tiles, delicately-patterned wallpaper and lacy cafe curtains in the shop’s window might remind you of your grandmother’s (or great-grandmother’s) kitchen.

For a first-time visitor, it’s hard to know where to look first. An overwhelming assortment of candies lines the left side of the shop along the wall as well as in, on and around the glass-fronted white display cases. There are bags of colorful gummies, tray after tray of chocolate-covered delights and seasonal sweets, heart-shaped candies for Valentine’s Day or bunnies and eggs for Easter that populate the shop’s shelves and tables. Irene says Easter and Christmas are the busiest holidays of the year, but you can find gifts and treats for most holidays, including Hanukkah and Chinese New Year.

Irene Preston of Chocolate at Preston's Candy in Burlingame
Image by Gino De Grandis

Year-round bestsellers include chocolate-covered honeycomb, crispy peanut brittle and handmade marshmallows. All of Preston’s candies are made in-house, many from Art’s original recipes. “He gave me this binder, and we are only using about a third of it,” Irene says.

Her staff continues to produce old-school treats, like coffee blacks, while also creating new products for changing times and diets, like the vegan chocolate Javier has developed. “He’s so creative!” Irene says proudly. The two have a good working relationship, joking around in the kitchen and playing off each other’s ideas.

“I’m having so much fun with him,” Irene says. “Because most of the times when I come up with an idea—”

“—I’ve already made it,” Javier interjects, finishing her sentence, as they both laugh.

Ice creams, however, are no longer made in-house but are purchased from local producers Loard’s, Mitchell’s and Golnazar Gourmet Ice Cream. Loard’s provides the bulk of the flavor options that fill the cold cases along the right side of the shop.

Fancy Chocolate at Preston's Candy in Burlingame
Image by Gino De Grandis

Cross-pollination between Preston’s and Loard’s goes back to the early days of both businesses, says Irene. “Art and Russ Sayard (Loard’s founder) shared recipes,” she explains. When Irene took over in 1997, Preston’s ice creams were being made at Loard’s facility in the East Bay and, she says, “My candymakers actually went over there once a week to make their syrups and things like that, and then we made all the candies for their stores over here.” But times change, and purchasing frozen treats from different makers allows Irene to offer a variety of flavors and introduce new options to meet customer demand and changing tastes.

The fact that Irene has kept the shop going for the past 25 years is a credit to her tenacity, creativity and passion for the business. But make no mistake, it’s hard work, and at 76 years old, Irene is considering the future of the shop. “My boys are very busy with their own careers, so I don’t have anybody to take over,” she says.

She’d like to see Preston’s legacy continue and would be willing to teach a motivated, new owner, just as Art taught her 25 years ago. “Preston’s goal is to present opportunities to have real candy,” she says, referring to the shop’s handcrafted products. That sounds like a pretty sweet goal.

Chilicali Cooking

words by Anni Golding

“I did not want a brick and mortar,” says Siska Silitonga, chef-partner of Redwood City’s Warung Siska, who had spent seven years building her culinary career through pop-up dining events. Then again, she notes, “‘Why not?’ is always my thing.”

Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, and part of the Batak tribe of North Sumatra, Siska learned the business of food from her mother, a professional cook and caterer. “I always had that in my life,” she recalls, “but I never liked it, to be honest.” As a teenager, Siska worked for her mother and learned to cook for a crowd, but she envisioned a different future.

After attending university in Beijing and earning a degree in Mandarin Literature, Siska arrived in the Bay Area in 2002 to pursue a media studies degree at the University of San Francisco. She considered becoming a journalist, but instead she says she “took the Silicon Valley route,” leaving USF for a career in corporate media.

Siska Silitonga of Warung Siska
Image by Paulette Philipot

In 2015, after more than a decade in the Bay Area without a community of compatriots, Siska deeply missed Indonesia’s food, language and culture. While searching the internet for Indonesian eateries, she discovered Eatwith.com, a website for immersive in-home dining experiences. Why not create her own Indonesian dining experience through Eatwith? Siska designed a meal that presented Indonesian flavors in a way that would be approachable for her guests. The event was a success and a turning point. “When I look back,” she says, “it was such a freedom. I realized that I could create Siska food. It doesn’t have to be 100% my mom or my grandmother.”

She started a pop-up side hustle, which became a full-time business when she was laid off from her corporate job. She named her venture ChiliCali, because, as Siska says, “Chili has to be with everything in Indonesia, and Cali is for California.”

Her modern Indonesian cuisine, based on bumbu—spice mixes or sauces made with fresh components like red chilis, lemongrass, galangal and makrut lime leaves—combined with local ingredients, was a hit with diners. To reach a broader audience, Siska created a line of cooking sauces in 2017, financed through Kickstarter, and won a Good Food Award for the Sambal Red Hot Chili Base.

Off the Grid reached out in 2018, encouraging her to apply to Instrucktional, their rigorous food truck incubator program. A food truck wasn’t part of Siska’s plan, but it could get her food onto more plates, so she applied. The program gave her a stipend, access to a truck and an immersive hands-on education. At the same time, she was becoming an ambassador for Indonesian cuisine.

Siska described her Instrucktional experience, including the challenges of driving a food truck, in a 2019 essay for Bon Appétit. (Spoiler alert: She may have sideswiped a FedEx vehicle.) The essay also touched on the politics of food and how gastrodiplomacy could help illuminate Indonesian food in the U.S. The piece caught the attention of the Indonesian consulate, and they reached out to Siska to brainstorm ideas.

Pandemic shutdowns brought Instrucktional and pop-ups to a halt. Adding insult to injury, ChiliCali’s commercial kitchen was destroyed by a fire, putting takeout meals on hold. “Why not?” was turning into “What next?”
Serendipity intervened in 2021, bringing Siska together with restaurant-industry veterans Ervan Lim and Anne Le Ziblatt. Ervan, who is from Jakarta and has managed operations for M.Y. China and Live Fire Pizza, noted the dearth of Indonesian restaurants among the Bay Area’s diverse food scene. He wanted to change that. He knew Siska and her food through pop-ups and social media and shared her goal of elevating their homeland’s cuisine.

Crab at Warung Siska in Redwood City
Image by Paulette Philipot

Restaurateur Anne (formerly of Tamarine and Bong Su), who knew Ervan professionally, was at a transitional point with Nam Vietnamese Brasserie, the modern-casual spot she opened in February 2020. “I was just planning on a wholesale change,” she says, when she and Ervan met to discuss his idea for a brick-and-mortar Indonesian eatery. She was interested. “I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Indonesia,” says Anne. Her family spent a year in a refugee camp there after leaving Vietnam, and her parents spoke often of the generosity and kindness of the Indonesian people.

By May 2021, the new restaurant project was a go, with Anne as principal partner, Ervan as managing partner and Siska helming the kitchen. Warung Siska (a warung is a small, casual eatery) opened in July 2021 in Nam’s place. “It was madness for two months,” recalls Siska.

They made only minor modifications to the restaurant’s original design by Anastasia Contakos, adding Indonesian details to the wall murals and cushy batik pillows, sewn by Ervan’s mom, to the window and wall banquettes. Counter service maintains the friendly, fast-casual vibe.

The compact menu offers a dozen or so seasonally-inspired small plates and mains, plus a couple of light desserts. Chicken Lemper, an Indonesian snack of steamed rice stuffed with shredded chicken that takes more than 24 hours to prepare, is presented musubi-style. Siska’s take on bakwan (corn fritter) incorporates makrut lime leaf and okra and is served with kecap manis, a sweet soy dipping sauce. Main plates include Otak Otak, a steamed, ground fish dish with lemongrass relish, two types of satays and Gulai Sayur, a flavorful vegetarian curry.

Warung Siska Dining Room in Redwood City
Image by Paulette Philipot

The beverage program, under Ervan’s purview, includes several nonalcoholic options, like the pretty, cheerful Soda Gembira (translation: “happy soda”), in addition to beer, wine and sake. Coming soon are cocktails and a custom-blended red wine, all crafted to complement Siska’s dishes.

The restaurant has already received kudos from the local press and the Michelin Guide California. And as for the Indonesian community Siska was missing? “You should see all the Indonesians who come here!” she exclaims. “The Indonesian community has been so, so supportive.”
Asked about what’s next, she says, “If I truly want to make Indonesian food known in the Bay Area and beyond, I can’t just be glued to one place. While I’m here, it has to be the best. But I have dreams, and my vision is bigger than just one place.”

That comment would prove prescient. Siska recently announced her departure from the Redwood City restaurant, which will maintain the Warung Siska name as well as its Indonesian concept and menu. Siska has a new culinary venture in the offing in San Francisco and will continue to produce her ChiliCali brand of cooking sauces. Continuing the trajectory of her career, she’s already making a quick transition and optimizing opportunity. But then again, why not?

The Beat on Your Eats: Romantic Restaurants

Calling all Cupids — the holiday of love returns with a selection of romantic settings

tamarine

Palo Alto

Vietnamese cuisine couples up with our state’s abundant produce to hatch Tamarine, a gastronomic tour through Southeast Asia and the California coast. Begin the trek of bites with the crispy beef ribeye rolls, filled with sliced beef, onion, carrots, sesame and served with fennel kimchi. From there, experiment with the flavors of cymbopogon: lemongrass cooked in garlic, either with the sea bass that’s served with a cold mango and cilantro noodle salad or with the Kurobuta pork shoulder. Dessert unites cultural fusion with the banana beignets, cooked to a crisp alongside coconut gelato and sesame seeds. For reservations call 650.325.8500 546 University Avenue. Open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30AM to 2:30PM. Dinner hours are Sunday through Thursday from 5PM to 9PM; Friday and Saturday from 5PM to 10PM.

Crab Pasta Dish from Stella Alpina Osteria
Courtesy of Stella Alpina Osteria

Stella Alpina Osteria

Burlingame

The Alps are alive in the lowlands of Burlingame at this downtown mainstay, a vision from Chef Matteo Ferrari. Stella Alpina Osteria is a celebration of the chef’s native cuisine, imported from the alpine Piedmont region. The menu features longstanding favorites such as a housemade potato gnocchi that uses a recipe sourced straight from Matteo’s nonna along with braised meats and the signature Veal Osso Buco over Mascarpone Polenta. Uncork a bottle of Barbera d’Asti, add a pair of wine glasses and say cheers to the eve of romantic gush with that one person who doesn’t mind a touch of sentimentality. For reservations call 650.347.5733 401 Primrose Road. Open daily from 5PM to 8:30PM.

Meat Dish from ASA in Los Altos

ASA

Los Altos

ASA’s menu is divided into a few categories including field, sea and pasture. A blend of panache from Spanish, Italian and American influences, ASA offers a softly-lit dining experience that’s perfect for relaxed conversation. Fetched from the field is a roasted yellow bell pepper filled with a garlic crema. The haul from the sea features crispy-skinned rainbow trout: a boneless, pink fillet basted with a herb lemon preserve. And fresh from the pasture is a tender New York cut-steak served á la Argentina alongside chimichurri with sautéed spinach and silky mashed potatoes. The approach has proven successful: its ASA South sister location in Los Gatos was recently honored with Michelin’s 2021 Bib Gourmand award. For reservations call 650.935.2372 242 State Street. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 5PM to 8:30PM. Closed on Sunday and Monday.

Pirouette ‘N’ Sweat

Words by Sophia Markoulakis

It’s said that during his off-season, Michael Jordan trained with the Joffrey Ballet. One look at his iconic vertical leap, and it’s apparent. In fact, many sports figures commit to rigorous dance training to obtain an advantage over their opponents. Why? Because ballet, more than most other dance disciplines, is anchored in metadata.

“Ballet is a study of small, incremental movements,” says Christine Leslie, executive director and CEO of San Mateo’s Peninsula Ballet Theatre (PBT). “It’s a discipline of the body and the mind. Once you get a pattern or sequence down, you never forget it. You can take a class anywhere in the world, and it will be taught the same.”

For 55 years, PBT has enchanted and educated locals through performances and programming. The company’s Winter 2022 season opens on February 12 with a live performance of Guys and Dolls, the theatre’s first-ever musical production, followed by Cinderella in March, which will feature new choreography by Gregory Amato, the company’s artistic director and adult class instructor.

Ballet Dance
Sustaining a successful arts program is notoriously difficult, and the company attributes its longevity to a loyal community of fans and participants. So, this isn’t a sad story about a non-profit on the brink of collapse. Quite the opposite. This is the story of a group of administrators, instructors and performers who function as a family, and that family’s expansion is rooted in its dance school and classes.

“We’re in the business of making art,” Christine says of the company she’s been a part of for more than 40 years. She’s watched dancers grow from students in their school to principals heading up their performances. And, that evolution is made possible by the educational programming offered.
The company’s youth programming begins with aspiring dancers as young as six. There are several levels of classes in which students can ultimately apprentice in a performance or go on to study dance at the college level. These schools are the backbone of a successful program like the San Francisco Ballet.

The adult classes, however, are entirely different as they are more about the pleasure of combining movement to music and engaging your mind for a holistic whole-body workout.

The benefits of the adult classes, regardless of the skill level, stretch beyond the physical. “Our adult classes are about the joy of dance, not about technique. Included in that is the joy of music and movement,” says Gregory.

As music by French composer Fauré plays in the background, these adult class offerings include a beginner bootcamp where part of the curriculum is learning the language of ballet.

“All of the steps are in French and as we describe the steps,” Gregory says, “you learn them in French first.” He notes that this is their most popular class, and they’ve had to expand their sessions. “People are coming back to dance,” he observes, “especially those who did it when they were younger. As adults, they are in a different mind space that is more about being with other people, simply dancing.”

Ballet Shoe
Gregory and the company are noticing how ballet is no longer considered an “elitist art form.” They are seeing more young people who may not have had the opportunity to be exposed to ballet. “I love this art form and think it has something to say,” Gregory affirms. “It enriches the mind and the soul. And it helps us have better humanity. The more people we get into the theater, the more people we will touch.”

Hybrid workouts are now customary and though you wouldn’t think ballet could benefit from this form of learning, both Gregory and Christine admit that the remote classes have worked well for them. They are even planning to expand their virtual programming in the coming months.

“It was hard adjusting to virtual at first, because everything we do here is hands-on and visual and so many of the movements are about aesthetics,” explains Gregory. “With the technology, we are able to zero in on a move, on a positioning, which is beneficial for the students,” adds Christine.
Gregory is also quick to distinguish the company’s classes from fitness trends like Barre and Pure Barre. “Those classes have nothing to do with ballet,” he says emphatically. “They are all focused on cardio and weight loss. If you were to dismantle those moves, you’d see that the only thing that they have in common is a bar.”

When Gregory joined the company four years ago, he worked to expand the class offerings for both adults and children. He’s found success, in part, due to the fact that people often underestimate how ballet influences us every day.

“Our next goal is to grow our outreach program to reach people who might not have the opportunity to go see these types of performances,” he says. “We go to schools and introduce students to classical ballet and show them that the dances they see on TikTok are often rooted in ballet.”

Sausalito’s Many Surprises

words by Sheri Baer

Snuggled up on a cushioned lounge chair on a private deck perched directly over Sausalito’s lapping shoreline, I’m mesmerized by the views unfolding in front of me. Dusk is setting in, and I can just make out the outline of Alcatraz Island as the lights on the Bay Bridge begin to pop against the darkening sky. With a deep contented sigh, I relax into the flickering warmth of the indoor-outdoor gas fireplace next to me.

“All the craziness of the world goes away when you close that door,” observes Kass Green, one of the owners of The Inn Above Tide, a waterfront boutique hotel in this Marin coastal hamlet. “You’re in this magical space with the San Francisco Bay out in front of you—it’s just the views and the calm.”

Despite numerous visits over the years, this facet of Sausalito is new to me. Living in such close proximity, I’ve always thought of the picturesque seaside town as a jam-packed day jaunt, so my curiosity was piqued by the opportunity to experience Sausalito as an extended getaway. Anticipating a weekend of active replenishment, we packed our bags, loaded up our bikes and jumped on 280. Quick trip, indeed. An hour later, we arrived at our destination.

Traveling to Sausalito
Courtesy of Shirley Berman

A Stay on the Bay

As a tourist haven drawing visitors from all over the U.S.—and even around the world—Sausalito offers a wide mix of accommodations ranging from historic properties to upscale hotels and spas to quaint B&Bs. For a “Box Seat on the Bay,” you can’t get closer access than The Inn Above Tide, a contemporary luxury hotel built (literally) over the water.

Back in the early 1960s, William McDevitt saw its former incarnation—a machine shop for the ferries and parking lot—and recognized the untapped potential of the spectacular setting. He initially developed the site as an apartment building before opening his dream hotel in 1995. With 33 rooms and suites, The Inn Above Tide is now owned by McDevitt’s children, Kass and two brothers, who evolved the accommodations from nautical quaintness to indulgent waterfront retreat. Every room delivers panoramic views with expansive suites (as large as 1,000 square feet) providing next-level luxury with features extending to furnished overwater decks, intimate dining areas and lavish spa tubs. “There’s this serene blanket that kind of wraps around you when you walk inside the hotel,” says Kass, “but just steps away, you’ve got all of Sausalito—all the great restaurants and cute stores and access to all kinds of activities.”

Paddleboarding in Sausalito
Courtesy of Sea Trek

Backdrop for Adventure

A forester and cartographer by trade, Kass parlayed her professional background and passion for Sausalito into the creation of an Adventure Map, which captures recommended hiking, driving and biking routes for nearby attractions including the Marin Headlands, Angel Island and Tennessee Valley. “It’s easy to look at San Francisco and stay glued in that direction,” Kass notes, “but I wanted to share that there’s this wildland experience that’s within footsteps of Sausalito.”

To encourage exploration, the hotel offers complimentary use of touring bikes—and there are additional rental opportunities (with and without power assist) at Sausalito Bike Rentals in town. Scenic, mostly flat, stretches abound, including Sausalito’s buzzy waterfront Bridgeway and the 2.4-mile Mill Valley–Sausalito Bike Path. Knowing that we wanted to tackle the Marin Headlands, we brought my e-bike (my source of cycling superpowers) along for the ride.

After winding our way up Alexander Avenue out of Sausalito, we ascend to jaw-dropping vistas at Battery Spencer and Hawk Hill. From there, the 18% “Whoo-Hoo!”-grade down hits like a roller coaster adrenaline rush, banked against cliffside drops to the Pacific. Our ride continues through rolling hills marked by spottings of military bunkers, the Nike Missile site, the Marine Mammal Center, along with Rodeo Beach and Lagoon.

Kass also created a Sausalito Step Walk, a turn-by-turn guide for getting in steps while exploring the fascinating chapters in Sausalito’s history. Initially a small settlement selling fresh water to mariners, the city’s rich lore includes being a bootlegging base during Prohibition, a bustling WWII shipyard, a Bohemian haven in the 1960s, and of course, a timeless tourist destination. Our hike through Sausalito’s hilly neighborhoods feels like a treasure hunt, leading us up hidden stairways, along lush pathways and past stunning homes and mansions, punctuated by countless declarations of, “Wow! Look at that view!”

The San Francisco skyline is omnipresent in the distance, but up close, it’s all about Richardson Bay, the resplendent body of water named for the English seaman who founded Sausalito after receiving a Mexican land grant in 1838. To honor the setting, we turn to Sea Trek, a one-stop resource for stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking, including classes, guided excursions and rentals. After an easy dry launch from a dock, we set out in a double kayak, interspersing bouts of coordinated paddling with quiet moments of floating and contemplation. We find ourselves enchanted by the seabirds soaring overhead, the bobbing heads of harbor seals and the eclectic colors and styles of Sausalito’s houseboat communities. When the sun breaks through the morning fog, we see the clouds perfectly mirrored in the water.

avocado tacos
Courtesy of Copita

Fueling the Fun

Taking full advantage of our suite with a view, we enjoy our hotel’s complimentary evening wine and cheese and continental breakfast service—with a special callout to the fresh-squeezed orange juice. Given that Sausalito is also known for its chic boutiques and dining, we’re not surprised to discover dozens of restaurants within an easy stroll. Seated on Bar Bocce’s patio overlooking bobbing boats (Sausalito has 13 marinas), we make lunch of a shaved artichoke salad and mushroom pizza with fontina, caramelized onion and garlic. Visit Monday through Thursday and you can play a game of bocce before or after your meal. At Sausalito Bakery & Cafe, we claim a bayfront window nook while we nosh on a tuna nicoise salad and roast turkey sandwich with cranberry and brie.

For dinner, we select Copita, a vibrant modern Mexican eatery and tequileria created by cookbook author Joanne Weir and longtime Sausalito resident Larry Mindel. After our waiter Bernardo talks us through the menu and Copita’s 60 brands of tequila, we clink glasses of red sangria (picking up distinctive accents of cinnamon and cloves) and a Copita margarita, followed by a Maestro Dobel reposado, which will be sipped and savored through the meal. We relish chef Aaron Sabido’s deliciously spiced and tangy mix of seafood in the Coconut Campechano ceviche and tuck into the flavorful Quesabirria (slow-cooked lamb and Oaxaca cheese quesadillas) and Enchiladas de Pollo en Mole Manchamanteles.

Sausalito by the Bay
Courtesy of Felipe Passalacqua

During our stay, we also score a table at the award-winning Sushi Ran. Founded in 1986 by famed chef/owner Yoshi Tome, Sushi Ran maintains its reputation as one of the top Japanese restaurants in the U.S. As we sip our selections of warm sake and Japanese whisky, we enjoy a starter of Shrimp & Basil Dumplings before focusing on the dazzling display of fresh fish—a sushi plate sampler (six offerings including nigiri of maguro, salmon, hamachi and ebi) and delectable maki, including a spicy tuna with seven types of Japanese spice.

Walking back to our hotel, we remark that Sausalito’s nights are blissfully quiet. So it’s the muffled notes of live music that draw us into the No Name Bar, a venerable Sausalito nightclub and hangout since 1959. We grab two drafts and find a table to soak up the atmosphere and familiar tunes from Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan. Knowing that there’s no Golden Gate Bridge to traverse tonight, we settle into the scene, grateful that we’re only steps away from our waterfront home away from home.

Diary of a Dog: Chica

Can you imagine a seven-pound diamond? You’re looking at one. I’m what Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) refers to as a “Diamond in the Ruff.” I was brought to HSSV because my owner couldn’t take care of me anymore, and I was super shy at first because everything felt unfamiliar. Knowing that I needed a low-key home where I could adjust at my own pace, HSSV put me into their “Diamond in the Ruff” program for special-needs animals, and that’s how Kimberly found me. She took one look at my sweet Chihuahua-mix face and knew I was meant to be her “Chica.” Sure enough, when I’m with Kimberly and her friends, they treat me like I’m one of the girls. It’s such a relief to feel calm and secure again—Kimberly swears it’s the spa music she plays for me, and I do find it lulling and relaxing. Even though I was initially shy, it didn’t take me long to show how sweet and affectionate I can be. Now Kimberly takes me everywhere—I love to speed walk (I can go for miles and miles), dine in outdoor restaurants and travel too. Since I’m so small, I’m always happy to hang out in Kimberly’s little carry bag—which lets me pop my head out so I can see everything. Kimberly thinks of me as her little gem and even told her friends, “Since I got her, every day has been seven pounds happier.”

Storied Jeweler

words by Silas Valentino

An undeniable impression lingers after taking a simple stroll through the Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park and for some, Sharona Wolff included, its influence may become everlasting.

Before she evolved into a goldsmith, Sharona was creative without an outlet as she wandered by the Davide Bigazzi Studio one afternoon in 2014.

“I walked past here and Davide had a sign saying ‘Jewelry Classes,’” she remembers. “I walked in and said, ‘Do you really teach people? When do I start?’ I had never done it before but if we’re lucky in life, we’ll meet someone like Davide.”

Jewelry rings

Raised in Australia, Sharona had moved to the U.S. following some 20 years working in the tech world and as an international executive of Bentley Engineering Ltd. She was drawn to the Bigazzi Studio—a workshop with a distinct aroma: a bouquet of metal, steel and copper all melded together—because it resonated deeply. She continues to work out of the Florentine master goldsmith’s studio and has even led classes there herself.

“I thought about it for a while,” she says of becoming a jeweler, “and in a sense, it was a natural fit. I did grow up surrounded by gold and mining …”

On the website for her business, Atelier Wolff, which she launched in 2018, you’ll discover examples of her radiant jewellery (she opts for the British-Australian spelling). Platinum granulation is her signature as are earrings of gold and rings that pop with brilliant gems.

These are pieces meant to be worn, and absolutely meant to be seen.
Spotted on Sharona’s finger is a ring that’s dark blue with vitreous edges. The stone is tanzanite and the ring happens to be the second piece of jewelry she ever made as a student in Bigazzi’s class. He had tried to warn her that the design was too complicated for a novice jeweler; nevertheless, Sharona insisted. She included 46 solders in the custom 17-gram pink gold and continues to don the blue bijou as a totem for her evolution.

Jewelry maker Davide Bigazzi

“I’ve had some men ask if this is women’s jewelry—no, I make it with a person in mind,” she clarifies. “Some people have said, ‘Why don’t you use more diamonds?’ I like color. And I predominately make gold jewelry. What I don’t make are very small pieces. What I’m looking at here is the jewelry that I always wanted to make as a child. It has a presence. It is a statement.”

During a recent rainy afternoon, Sharona has the Bigazzi Studio all to herself. Sounds from her favorite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, waft from the corner. She inherited her love of Bach from her father, who was of German descent and moved to Australia to work in the mining industry. Sharona’s mother is an environmentalist and her parents’ influence of explorative geology and eco-awareness guides Sharona in her work. She only works with lapidaries she knows and trusts who assure her that the miners who unearthed these gems were paid and treated fairly, and that none were children.

Sharona is the eldest of three siblings and began absorbing languages by the time she was ten when a mining manager’s wife taught her Spanish. Today, Sharona has acquired German, Italian, Japanese, and several Pacific Island dialects and cites Russian, Arabic and Hebrew as next on her language list.
As the daughter of mining parents who traversed Australia, Africa and Asia, Sharona grew accustomed to rapid relocation. She lived in over 20 different places before becoming an adult and she once stayed at a school for just two weeks before jetting off again. (Menlo Park is the 34th place she’s lived.) She embraced the nomadic upbringing and relished in the breadth of life experiences.


Upon receiving her degree from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology with a major in cartography, Sharona directed the flight chart production of the Royal Australian Air Force and later transferred into tech.
When she was 15 years old, the notorious pop hit “My Sharona” had entered the air waves and she’s rolled her eyes ever since. “I’ve been to a few places where they played it on my first day of work,” she admits.

Cartography and geomatics, in addition to serving her well with jewelry design, are repeatedly referenced throughout her life. She describes cartography as spatial relationships that underpin our entire social infrastructure.

“It’s not a map, per se, it’s a relationship to where we are and how we interact,” she explains. “Cartography is the basis for UPS and FedEx delivering your parcels. It’s a positioning system. One of my favorite places in the world is the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel, Germany. It was established in 1572 and you go in and see the map Vasco da Gama used when going around the Cape of Good Hope. It’s absolutely fascinating to walk through there and all of a sudden you see what you learned in school. Then you start to see globes that draw you in … you want to reach out and touch them—but, of course, you can’t!”

Each piece of Atelier Wolff jewelry is entwined with such storytelling. For instance, while viewing cylinder seals at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York, Sharona was captivated by the symbolism, myths and legends encrusted on these ancient seals. Some stretched back to the Fertile Crescent Era when the sculpted seals had once served as an identity document (similar to what a driver’s license is today) that stored a person’s personal information.

Sharona wanted to create a piece of jewelry that celebrated this influence. She found a carver in Los Angeles who delicately engraved floral imagery and decorations and now the Atelier Wolff collection includes seals inspired by the past but worn for today’s admiration.

“People interpret what we wear. That’s what we do with jewelry or clothing—any adornment really,” Sharona reasons. “When the queen wears her ceremonial jewelry—it’s power, or the story of power. Why do kings wear crowns? They are regalia and symbols of power and authority. It’s telling an interesting story. Kissing the Pope’s ring—that’s a story. It’s telling the story and the believer is buying it while giving it power.”

Perfect Shot: Morning Mood Boost

An active mother of four who resides in Atherton, Marnie Marcin made a commitment to herself that she’d save space for her morning, meditative strolls. The apex of these ambles is the top of “Valpo Hill” in Sharon Heights Park, where this Perfect Shot struck her, “as the clouds appeared to dance in the sky,” she says. “It’s a rejuvenating and mindful moment that helps me get going on a fresh, optimistic note, before diving headfirst into all the business of the day.”

Image by Marnie Marcin

calling all shutterbugs

If you’ve captured a unique perspective of the Peninsula, we’d love to see your Perfect Shot. Email us at hello@punchmonthly.com to be considered for publication.

Enhance with Plants

words by Jennifer Jory

Entering Penflora in San Mateo feels like walking into a secret garden tucked in the midst of industrial buildings. A large archway crafted from tree branches, moss and live greenery frames the front entrance where owner Melissa Olson and her dogs greet you. As you wander through the expansive floral arts studio, you can see how Melissa has let her imagination run free—and how she embraces her own mission of “Accessorizing Your Life Through Plants.”

“Flowers and plants are the soul of a home,” she notes. “Nature is therapeutic and people have had a bit of an awakening to the impact plants can have on their lives.”

Melissa Olson of Penflora arranges flowers

Dozens of intricate wreaths and arrangements share space with a florist refrigerator, an orchidarium and plants growing under lights. In Melissa’s office, an artful ceiling fixture made from dried flowers and natural materials showcases her whimsical style. “I am a forager,” she smiles. “My favorite time to collect things is after a storm. My friends laugh when they see me walking down the street collecting.”

For Melissa, it’s an ingrained pursuit—she traces her foliage-strewn path back to her childhood. “I grew up with plants everywhere and my parents had really beautiful gardens,” she remembers. “My mother was always doing arrangements on the fly.”

Melissa also acquired skills through Filoli’s landscape course “Through the Year in the Garden,” where she learned about soil and pruning. She went on to work with homeowners needing a garden refresh and new landscape. Melissa credits her background in landscape consulting with informing her design sensibility when it comes to floral creations.

Part florist studio, part workshop and garden boutique, Penflora offers a fresh take on floral design for Peninsula plant lovers. In the workshop section of Penflora’s many vignettes, Melissa points out a long wooden box. “We melted wax on it to give the feeling of ice and snow,” she relays. The box became a centerpiece for a Hillsborough Garden Club event, an organization in which she is a vital member. “People often bring me their own containers and I fill them with plants and flowers or a combination of both,” she says. “I love that, because the containers express the person’s personality so you can see what they want.”

After studying business at the University of San Diego, Melissa pursued a career in finance at Montgomery Securities in San Francisco. Originally from Sacramento, she and her husband Erik moved to Burlingame and then Hillsborough to raise their family of four boys.

“When I was pregnant with my first child, I ended up staying home and that’s when my creative world opened,” she recalls. Melissa eventually took over the garage and finally Erik suggested it was time to find a new spot. “I did a total makeover on this space, and I continue to tweak things,” she says of her San Mateo studio. “I’ll never be able to move out.” Her family has been very supportive of her business and her sons pitched in to help during the redesign of the space.

Real flower ring
Melissa’s work ranges from containers to large-scale floral installations. “I love building stuff,” she summarizes, before describing a project. “I am going to build an arch over the window for the baker across the street—a branch is going to attach to metal work and it will change with the seasons.” Melissa acknowledges that working with living things does require extra attention to detail: “When I find logs and bits and pieces, I cook them at a low temperature to get the bugs out.”

Melissa’s love for plants runs deep. She believes that everyone has an innate tendency to seek a connection with nature and that living things bring energy and personality into a home. “From a health perspective, plants bring air purification, increased humidity and focus to your work,” she adds. “They also have a calming effect.” Melissa also keeps sustainability in the forefront at Penflora with composting and repurposing materials in nearly every aspect of the business. “I have a bent for things that last,” she says.

Throughout the year, Penflora offers classes ranging from wreath making to wearable floral necklaces made from natural materials and plants. “The first class I offered was succulent pumpkins and it was sold out in two minutes,” she says. “I work with things that are in season for each workshop. I think everyone is creative but they don’t have the time to explore it. Every person walks out with an amazing project and a lot of pride.”

Penflora Owner Melissa Olson
Since opening its doors in September, Penflora has experienced some growing pains of a new business. “I don’t have foot traffic, so that is challenging,” Melissa reveals. “Also, I am a one-man show.” On the other hand, she has a strong network with neighboring businesses and has already collaborated on a few projects. “I like to bring beauty and I love bringing the community together,” she says. Melissa also supports other local artisans and sells their products such as honey from a local beekeeper, beeswax candles and bracelets.

Not held back by the traditional constraints of floral arranging, Melissa’s style reflects a new way to incorporate natural materials and plants in everyday life. “I see plants as art,” she emphasizes. “Plants can replace a statue or a decorative object. They make a house feel lived in.”

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