Out of the Woodwork

words by Silas Valentino

On the wall of the woodshop in the back of Michael Osborne’s house in Menlo Park is a neatly-nailed notecard detailing the antiquated word lagniappe.

Quoting Mark Twain’s memoir Life on the Mississippi, this ornamental placard describes the noun—which is Louisiana French by way of Spanish—as “the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a ‘baker’s dozen’” or something thrown in for free—for good measure.

Michael received the word following a routine exchange for this backyard artisan. An architect friend sent him 13 cut-off pieces of upcycled blackbutt wood from a late 19th-century tennis club in Australia. The deal was that Michael would make him a knife out of the free timber. Following their transaction, tucked in a greeting card, was the definition.

Now the unexpected virtue of lagniappe flows through Michael as he works in his shop every day, hand-carving gorgeous variations of woodcraft.

The retired graphic designer started working with wood a few years ago after a neighbor tipped him off to night classes held at the Palo Alto Adult School. He’s since become self-taught (sometimes finding ideas in the winsome Mortise & Tenon Magazine) and his output is active, producing several styles of chairs, a ukulele, spoons, knives, cutting boards, jewelry drawers, an array of hardwood boxes and even an urn for a deceased friend.

He treats the passion with the same diligence previously deployed during a career developing recognizable designs for household brands. Among his successes, his firm Michael Osborne Design is the reason a bag of sea salt and vinegar-flavored Kettle potato chips is the color of ocean blue and it was the brains behind Beverages and More adapting to the BevMo! rebrand. There’s also a good chance you’ve mailed a letter using one of the stamps he designed for the USPS.

Michael is guided by the philosophy that a well-defined problem is half-solved, so as a recent retiree, he made sure his idle hands would not end up at the wrong workshop.

 He chisels and cuts slabs of wood purely for the pleasure of creation, neither motivated by financial gain or fame. In the end, he revels in the joy of giving or trading with fellow craftspeople. He’s swapped for an oil painting, a hand-knit beanie, a couple of pounds of dried salmon and from a non-creative, a bottle of whiskey not found on the West Coast.

“There’s no client, no pressure and no deadline,” Michael says, seated outside his woodshop on a recent afternoon. “I get up and come out here like it’s my office. I’m the happiest when I’m making something. It gives me great pleasure. Every day, I come back to my wife Jane with a finished thing. I take reused wood or wood scraps that would have otherwise been thrown away and make something that somebody could love. I can do that; it’s nice to be able to do that. And it happens right here in my church.”

He motions to his backyard where an oak tree provides cool shade and a few boxes of buzzing bees in the distance produce honey. (He’s also known for handing out jars of honey as a lagniappe.) He keeps a BB gun nearby to wallop on some aluminum cans perched up on a post while musing between projects. In lieu of gospel, the music heard at Michael’s church is likely The Beatles or solo Paul McCartney.

In the foreground is an art installation shaped as an abstract heart, just one of seven of his contributions to the Hearts in San Francisco series that celebrates public art. Michael has amassed a healthy accumulation of art spanning paintings, statuettes and photography, and he admits that they’ve run out of wall space, which spawns creativity for their placements.

Jane Anderson, his wife for the last decade and a fellow accomplished designer with a talent for gardening, teases Michael for his decision to keep his cardiac sculpture and another hefty installation piece in their backyard exposed to the elements.

But the casualness fits Michael’s straightforward demeanor. He’s frank, but not careless. And for someone who has a keen eye for designs that lure, Michael does not appear burdened by conveying some flashy perception of himself. He opts instead to remain grounded and open to sharing—like how he earned the bandage that’s presently wrapped around his hand.

“I accidentally rasped my thumb,” he says, referring to a filing tool used for abrading a recent project. “But I have all my digits! That’s the thing with knives and something as seemingly innocuous as a rasp, you can easily take your finger off. But I still go into the house bleeding. Ask Jane if Michael ever comes in bleeding… half the time I don’t even realize it.”

Michael’s hands have endured their share of wear. He’s had surgery on both hands for Dupuytren’s contracture, a condition where knots of tissue form under the skin, but he maintains a positive outlook. “I figure that I’m 70 years old and am in pretty good shape,” he says, “so if that’s the worst thing about me, I’ll take it.”

Michael has been active with his hands and toying with design ever since his parents brought home an original set of Colorforms, the creative toy with geometric shapes that cling to a black vinyl backdrop. He was in heaven creating his own patterns. Growing up in Cincinnati, he was socially malleable, weaving between painting the sets for the school play and practice for the baseball and football teams.

Following a friend’s advice, he found himself on the Peninsula in the early 1970s, where he soon enrolled in graphic design classes at Foothill College. When Michael entered the industry, graphic design was a fledgling profession, then referred to as “commercial art.” He rose with the field, earning his degree from the esteemed Art Center College of Design and learning the trade by hand and not a computer.  

“I taught design at the Academy of Arts for 25 years and my biggest frustration was that young designers do not use their hands,” he bemoans. “They don’t have the hand-eye coordination to draw a line and then correct the part that is not perfect. Only your eye tells you that.”

At another school much closer to home where he’s the student, Michael has carved out a crafty reputation amongst his peers and fellow woodworkers.

“They know me at the Palo Alto Adult School for digging into the dumpster,” he says with a grin. “It’s not garbage to me. It makes me happy that I can make five knives out of a used, old Martha Stewart cutting board that was going to be thrown away. You would have never known that the wood was beautiful unless you started cutting into it.”

Polish and Pizzazz

Every few weeks while Sindhu Peruri was growing up in Bangalore, India, she and her extended family would gather in the living room after dinner to watch her maternal grandfather, a textile merchant, unwrap bundles of vibrant, freshly-made saris.

“My uncles and my grandfather would pick our brains, asking, ‘What do you think of these colors? Would you wear this?’” Sindhu reminisces. Three generations of women would inspect the saris’ traditional embroidery, contrasting and complementary borders and silk and cotton fabrics shot through with metallic Zari thread, and then offer suggestions for mixing colors and textures. “I come from a family of very strong women with very good taste,” she adds as a simple matter of fact.

The memory is one of Sindhu Peruri’s favorites from her childhood, and today, its impact resonates in her work as principal of Peruri Design Company, a Los Altos-based firm renowned for incorporating color into sophisticated and serene interiors.

Photography: Courtesy of Eric Roth Photography

Among the firm’s notable recent projects is the library in the 2021 San Francisco Decorator Showcase, an all-virtual tour featuring the work of ten hand-picked West Coast interior design firms. Using repetition of curved forms and varying shades of blue accented with a single splash of fuschia, Sindhu transformed a blank white shell into a moody and inviting nook that—like many of the firm’s projects—discreetly nods to Sindhu’s Indian heritage without even a whiff of cliché.

“I’m not sure I even draw on heritage consciously,” she explains when asked about her process for planning a room and choosing a color scheme. “I probably have a unique way of pairing colors, textures and materials because of my heritage, and the way I use color probably has something to do with those very early ‘unfurling the sari’ days,” she continues. “Because of my heritage, I also love using different fabrics and textures, andI love mixing print with texture or embroidery.”

That said, Sindhu is quick to point out that she avoids overtly Indian fabrics and design details. “I draw my influences from my heritage in more of a modern sense,” she notes. “It’s more subtle—an undertone.” 

Photography: Courtesy of Nicole Scarborough Photography

Sindhu also credits her upbringing for her appreciation for fine craftsmanship and penchant for working with local makers. Throughout her childhood, groups of furniture makers would take over the family’s garage for months while they made custom furniture for her house. She now commissions custom furniture for many of her projects, including her own Los Altos home, where a chandelier from Ochre in New York illuminates a wooden dining room table of her own design. Now she’s collaborating with San Francisco artist Caroline Lizarraga on a set of tables. “I sort of see my own home as a studio or a lab for me to play with,” she says.

How do Sindhu’s love of color and craftsmanship translate to her residential projects? Glance through her firm’s portfolio and you’ll see finishes in bold colors like emerald and amethyst paired with earthy neutrals, sleek metal alongside woven baskets and modern side tables paired with intricately inlaid wooden chairs. For one client, Sindhu designed a fabric headboard in burgundy and grey ombre; another project is primarily neutral but punched up with minty pastel green.

For the 2019 Decorator Showcase, she flipped a shiny tile and installed it wrong-side out. Despite—or perhaps thanks to—that kind of irreverent approach (“I wear white after Labor Day, so no rules,” Sindhu says.), the interiors are consistently warm, sophisticated, richly layered and pleasingly proportioned. The aesthetic sensibilities that lead to those visually compelling spaces may be rooted in India, but Sindhu traces her career as an interior designer to another rich and vibrant locale: New York City. She arrived from Bangalore at 21 as a newlywed with no idea of what—or who—she wanted to be. 

Photography: Courtesy of Eric Roth Photography

“I was still sort of discovering myself, getting used to living in America and leaving my family back home,” she says. “I was walking the streets of New York every day to figure it out, just assimilating with the culture and a new place. About six months before my husband and I left New York, I happened to walk by a New York School of Design, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I should be going to design school.’ So when we moved out to California, that’s the first thing I did: I enrolled myself at Academy of Art in San Francisco.”

After graduation, Sindhu joined a local firm, quickly climbing the ranks to senior designer, then partner. “That experience gave me this big-firm mentality, so I knew how to run my own firm if I were to start one,” she says. In 2015, after a hiatus to raise her kids (now 10 and 14), Sindhu faced a pivotal choice: find a new firm or start her own. To protect her time for her family, she opted for the latter, launching Peruri Design Company. “Since then, I haven’t looked back,” she says.

Today, the small, all-female firm’s projects range from the Peninsula to Montana and Hawaii, and include residential as well as commercial interiors. Sindhu redesigned The Post Restaurant & Bar in Los Altos, and its owners have also tapped the firm for a forthcoming project.

Photography: Courtesy of Suzanna Scott Photography

Increasingly, they’re getting involved with projects from the very beginning of home construction—a process through which Sindhu feels she can really add her value and build long-lasting relationships with her clients. For example, they recently completed work on a Mediterranean-style home in Palo Alto in which they were involved from the architectural planning stages through selecting art for thewalls, and they’re about to break ground on a project in Los Altos Hills that will blend European elegance and Asian minimalism.

“It’s so hard to combine the two and come up with a design that is minimal yet warm, with detail and interest to the space. So that’s actually a very interesting project,” Sindhu says. 

Over the course of her life, from unfurling saris in Bangalore to her professional epiphany to her role today as the principal of a top design firm, Sindhu has tapped into her roots to cultivate a style that’s at once evocative of place and distinctly her own. “There’s so much rich history that comes out of India, and there’s so much to draw from,” she says. “That’s something that’s always in me.”

Photography: Courtesy of Brad Knipstein

The Beat On Your Eats

Bay Biryanis

Mountain View

 The dining scene in downtown Mountain View is alive with tastebud variety and outdoor seating, so finding your footing as a new restaurant is no easy feat. With only a couple of months under its belt, Bay Biryanis is earning its name on the block as a purveyor of Indian food with authentic, complex and layered flavors. Their menu shifts throughout the week; for instance, on weekends, you can find their tasty panipuri, a ball-shaped and hollow crispy flatbread filled with a mixture of tamarind chutney, chili powder, chaat masala and chickpeas. Other staples, like the dhaba-style methi chaman paneer and the butter chicken biryani, are available every day. 698 West Dana Street. Open Wednesday through Monday from 11:30AM to 2PM for lunch and 5:30PM to 10PM for dinner; closed on Tuesday. 

Photography: Courtesy of La Costanera

La Costanera 

Half Moon Bay

Having already earned its reputation as a destination for Peruvian cuisine on the coast—becoming a Michelin-recognized restaurant when it was previously located in Montara—La Costanera moved down the coast to a new home and revamped dining experience. The main dining room showcases floor-to-ceiling windows to provide sweeping views of the harbor to complement the bites. The menu, helmed by chef Carlos Altamirano, focuses on traditional Peruvian small plates or seafood entrees like the paella with mashed purple potatoes or seasonal fish catches served with quinotto. Not to be missed is the full bar where you’ll find favorites like a pisco sour or pisco punch to accompany the views. 260 Capistrano Road. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 4PM to 9PM; for brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11AM to 2PM; closed on Monday. 

Photography: Courtesy of La Fonda De Los Carnalitos

La Fonda De Los Carnalitos

Redwood City

Driven by their success as a celebrated taco truck, the family behind the local favorite Los Carnalitos food truck has opened the doors on a brick and mortar. La Fonda de los Carnalitos is a celebration of typical neighborhood mom-and-pop eateries found in Mexico City called fondas. Alongside classics like an empanada appetizer, pozole, carnitas and flautas de cochinita, you can expect plates of mole and mole verde with handmade corn tortillas. Owners and brothers Luis and Alfredo Santos share an expertise in this culinary transformation; one of their previous taco trucks expanded into a restaurant in Hayward a few years ago to much success. 820 Veterans Boulevard, Suite B. Open Monday through Thursday from 10AM to 9PM; Friday and Saturday from 10AM to 10PM; closed Sunday.

Hot Off the Skillet

Frank Shanahan never shied away from a challenge or goal. With a degree in engineering from Vallejo’s Maritime Academy, Frank quickly found his calling in sales and spent over a decade selling shipping parts to international corporations and outfitting large and small businesses with ventilation systems. But he always knew that one day he’d own his own business.

What he wouldn’t have guessed is that his business would be creating killer English muffins. 

In April 2020, while sheltering in place, Frank was working from home, co-parenting his two small sons and supporting his wife who was working the front lines at El Camino Hospital. 

“My wife is a labor and delivery nurse. While she was going into the hospital, doing her thing, I was keeping things going around the house and cooking a ton,” he recounts. “English muffins were on the list of foods to make, and the boys loved them. They stayed on the list, and every time I made them, I iterated to see how I could improve them.”

For the next several months, Frank rode out the pandemic with serendipitous moments that accelerated and then ultimately, helped him establish his business, Skillet Bakery. 

Those moments include consultations with a cousin who had just completed a baking program and who educated him on the science of bread fermentation. He also sought feedback from an unexpected group of product testers. 

“I knew that in order to really nail down the recipe, I needed to bake in quantities. It turns out that the nurses and staff at my wife’s hospital loved them and were serving them to their families,” he says. “The positive feedback that I got over those six months confirmed that I was on to something.” 

Those nurses and staff weren’t the only ones who benefited from Frank’s recipe refinement. His muffins and meals also helped feed his fellow Redwood City residents.

“I noticed a thread on Nextdoor about needing volunteers to cook meals for people who were left stranded after Meals on Wheels suspended their deliveries. I figured I was already cooking a lot anyway,” Frank says, “and it gave me something to do in the evenings when my wife was at work and the boys had gone to bed.”

By the end of 2020, Skillet Bakery’s proof of concept was proving to be a viable business, and Frank was able to put his newly earned MBA to the test. 

“I always had a plan to start a business, to take something from A to Z and watch it grow,” he says. Not wanting to lose momentum, Frank finalized the company website, established an online ordering option and secured a spot at the San Carlos Farmers Market on Varian Street.

This past March, right around the time he debuted at the market, Frank began receiving some local press, which quickly amped up business to the point that he needed larger mixers to increase efficiency and quality control in his home kitchen. 

Production increased so much that Frank needed to order flour in large quantities. He turned to Petaluma’s Central Milling for guidance and test samples. 

“They have so many high-protein flours, and I sampled quite a few to find my perfect blend. Different ratios of wheat in each flour affect things like a product’s crust or interior,” he says. 

Frank attributes Skillet Bakery’s growth to a mix of relentless inquisitiveness and a never-ending desire to iterate and grow. “I feel confident that I understand the mechanics of selling at the market,” he says. “Now I have some time to explore my options regarding scaling and diversifying flavors.”

Frank’s English muffins taste nothing like the common supermarket variety. They are substantial, yet fluffy, flavorful, chewy and buttery. These clouds of carbs are labor-intensive, from the mixing and kneading of the dough to the 24-hour-plus cold fermentation, shaping, proofing and finally cooking on a stovetop skillet. 

Fermentation can be fickle. Frank describes his trade secret as letting that fermentation process alter the starter to just the right stage of sourness. “And then folding the starter into a new dough gives that unique flavor that a lot of people have come to love,” Frank notes with a smile.

Eye on Ettan

One of the colorful umbrellas hanging above Ettan Restaurant’s outdoor dining area catches founder Ayesha Thapar’s eye. “Does that look a bit off?” she asks, looking up at it. The recently installed parasols from Japarra Umbrellas (owner Penelope Joye is a friend) serve as both a head-turning art installation and a practical shade solution at the buzzy Palo Alto restaurant, where even the smallest detail matters. That attention to detail is paying off: in August, the Michelin Guide lauded Ettan as one of ten “new discoveries” in the Bay Area.  

Three years in the making, the story of Ettan (Sanskrit for “breath”) begins with Ayesha, who relocated to Atherton from India as a newlywed in 2014. An entrepreneur who had also previously held C-suite roles in real estate and telecom businesses, she was pondering her next move. Restaurateur wasn’t initially on her list of what to do next. 

The idea of opening an eatery evolved through conversations with friends about a desire for more local options for “really good, fun restaurants you could make an evening out of,” Ayesha recalls. She imagined a destination that would become everyone’s favorite restaurant—an iconic, chic-yet-approachable spot that would keep people coming back. “It’s a big wish to have,” she acknowledges. 

Undaunted, she got to work in 2016, collecting design ideas, consulting with industry veterans and meeting with real estate brokers. “It was critical for me to find the right space, where I could do justice to creating what I was looking to create,” she emphasizes. 

Equally as important was finding a chef who could bring a high level of skill and creativity to the dining experience—as well as a rich spice palette. Reluctant to focus on Indian food exclusively, she was considering chefs who excelled in a variety of cuisines.

Campton Place executive chef Srijith Gopinathan (Sri to friends and family) was a late addition to her list of candidates. “Sri was actually on the bottom of my list,” Ayesha says plainly. “I didn’t know him and hadn’t done enough research on him.” She was also skeptical about whether the fine-dining chef would be a fit for the more casual-chic ambience she envisioned. 

Srijith, born and raised in the southern Indian state of Kerala, learned what he calls “basic cooking” from his grandmother while growing up. “It always made me curious to see what’s cooking, how it’s done and how fire transforms something to something else,” he recalls. 

After earning a bachelor’s degree in hospitality, Srijith  began cooking professionally in hotels; there he met visiting European chefs, who offered new perspectives on cooking. “They approached things in a very different way than Indian chefs would. Indian chefs always had secrets, but European chefs did not have any secrets. You don’t want to be doing secret cooking,” he says, half-joking.

Offered the executive chef role at Campton Place in 2006, Srijith relocated to San Francisco (where he still lives with his wife and teenage son). Under his direction, the restaurant garnered its first Michelin star in 2010 and added a second in 2014. It was a significant milestone: never before had an Indian chef achieved two stars. 

After dining at Campton Place in 2016, Ayesha was determined to get Srijith on board. Eventually, she sold him on the idea of a partnership, and he sold her on the idea of doing Indian food. He signed on as chef/owner while maintaining his role at Campton Place. At Ettan, he would execute elevated dishes, pairing Indian flavors with California ingredients—without the restrictions or expectations of fine dining. 

They took on the coveted former Three Seasons spot on Bryant Street, and construction began in 2018. It was a ground-up renovation. “We had to gut the entire building and redo all of the services. The HVAC is new, the electrical, the plumbing, the basement, the kitchen,” Ayesha recounts. 

She tapped Schoos Design (whose snazzy restaurant projects include Tao and Morimoto) to draw the plans and execute the design. The interior was brightened up with an indigo-and-white color palette, large windows and a stunning modern glass dome that brings natural light into the private-dining mezzanine and main dining room. Diners are welcomed through an eye-catching entrance with large custom-made double doors, blue and white Moroccan-style tiles and elegant chandeliers.

Ayesha also selected the restaurant’s artwork: images from photographer Rohit Chawla’s Wanderlust series, a custom mixed-media piece by A. Ramachandran and streetscape photographs of Kolkata and Delhi by Gautam Vir Prashad, a close family friend. Selections from Prashad’s Then & Now series, in which he pairs classic Kama Sutra images with contemporary black-and-white photography, hang near the restrooms. 

Highly anticipated, Ettan opened to heavy bookings in February 2020. And then closed again three weeks later due to the pandemic. Ayesha and Srijith used the time to fine-tune internal systems, implement delivery options and modify the patio area. 

Well aware that support from Indian diners could make or break Ettan, Ayesha says, “We didn’t bastardize the palate, and the flavors are authentic in the sense that you know those flavors as an Indian person.” 

Most menu items are named simply for the main ingredient—garden pea soup, mung bean paneer, Kerala Fried Chicken (KFC). But don’t be fooled—each dish is replete with a nuanced layering of flavors and textures.

The pick-it-up-and-eat-it sesame leaf appetizer is a unique take on chaat that fits into the palm of your hand. A lightly battered and perfectly fried California-grown sesame leaf is topped with sev (crispy chickpea noodles), dollops of creamy yogurt, cilantro sauce, sesame brittle and cubes of mango. The Red Chili Octopus dish, which is more flavorful-spicy than hot-spicy, has an exquisitely tender texture that is not to be missed. Large plates, like the Wild Mushroom One Pot, can be a main for one or shared. Chef’s picks come with assorted sides and are meant to serve two people, family-style.

The beautifully plated dessert options are cheat-day worthy. Passion fruit lovers will swoon for the baked meringue with passion fruit curd, which evokes the image of a cracked egg. For chocoholics, there is the dark chocolate-hazelnut cremeux “puck,” covered in a mirror glaze. 

The restaurant has been a hit, especially with Indian diners helping to cement its success. “Indians are very picky,” notes Srijith. “We’re not a new country, and our food is very old and original. If we don’t play ball with that—”

“—we will not be successful,” Ayesha interjects, “not at all.”

Ettan’s success has paved the way for future projects, and Ayesha and Srijith already have two in the works, to be announced soon. A rich story, Ettan has not only become a destination, it’s also moved the needle on Indian cuisine and become a place of cultural pride. “This restaurant, in the food, in the decor, in every aspect,” says Ayesha, “is a way to be proud of India.” 

And just like that, a big wish came true.

Secondhand Adventure

words by Sheri Baer

When Sasha Landauer heard that a new acquaintance was going surfing the next day, the then-Stanford sophomore jumped at the chance to tag along to Half Moon Bay—erroneously assuming that classmate Alex Friedman knew what he was doing.

“We ended up paddling out and just getting completely destroyed by many, many, many rows of waves—I think the technical term is thrashed,” Sasha recounts. “It was terrifying. I could barely hear because I was underwater for the whole hour.” 

Rather than let a budding friendship wash up on Linda Mar Beach, Sasha forgave Alex for his “surfing misdeeds,” and ultimately, it was their shared passion for adventure that aligned them on an even gutsier exploit. As co-founders of Requipper (formerly Switchbackr), an online marketplace for buying and selling used gear, they’re on a mission to make the outdoors more accessible and sustainable. 

Starting with his birth at Stanford Hospital, Alex’s path to this point has been grounded on the Peninsula. Growing up in Menlo Park, he ventured just a short stretch south on El Camino to college. “My entire educational career has taken place within a five-mile radius,” he quips. With his studies at Stanford a bit of a moving target—ultimately settling on a double major of applied math and history—Alex embraced the outdoors as a constant. 

He caught the bug as a Menlo-Atherton High School student after hiking the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail with his father, covering 29.5 miles from Castle Rock State Park out to the coast. “It was this awesome hike,” he recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘This is pretty sweet. I could get into this.’” Seeking more natural pumps of adrenaline, he added skiing, cycling, trail running and sailing to the mix.

Photography: Courtesy of Requipper

Meanwhile, Sasha made her debut on the East Coast. Born in New York, she moved to Palo Alto when she was nine, where she attended Addison Elementary and Castilleja Middle School, before moving back to the East Coast for high school. Her early childhood recollections of nature entailed forced foggy, cold hikes. “I was just so miserable,” she remembers. “It seemed like something people did to torture themselves.” 

Sasha took a gap year after graduating high school and traveled to New Zealand, South America and Europe. Discovering the outdoors on her own terms was a transformative experience and, when she returned to the West Coast to attend Stanford, she brought back a fresh perspective. “I was really excited to get closer to the woods,” she says. “It was on my mind that I wanted to have a balance of being outside while being in college.” 

An avid backpacker and climber, Sasha recognized a kindred spirit when she met up with Alex, and their initial surfing snafu led to more epic outings. Although double majoring in comparative literature and philosophy, Sasha, like Alex, found herself working in finance the summer after her junior year. “It’s the summer you’re supposed to figure out the rest of your life,” observes Sasha. “Except…” Alex jumps in to finish the thought: “Both of us realized we didn’t really love finance as a career. I was like, ‘No, I don’t think so. I love working hard, but not doing this.’” 

Photography: Courtesy of Requipper

The turning point came that same summer. Through a combination of getting his bike stolen and looking for a way to offload some extra camping gear, Alex identified a hole in the marketplace: an easy platform for buying and reselling used outdoor gear. “That was the epiphany,” he says. When he told Sasha, she seized on the opportunity to turn their proven friendship into a business partnership. 

Next came market research. User interviews. Initial testing with three outdoor clubs. Followed by the launch of a beta site right before Thanksgiving 2019. Early in their pitch cycle, investment came in. The timing was April 2020, which coincided with Stanford extending spring break before announcing a remote semester. Sasha says that she and Alex came to the same conclusion: “If school is going to be virtual, it would be awesome if we could fully commit ourselves to making this a reality.”

Both took leaves of absences to launch Requipper, which they developed into a peer-to-peer online marketplace, an “eBay for the outdoors,” supplemented by relationships with outdoor consignment shops. “It’s a unique challenge to sell used gear,” Sasha notes, “so we have tech integrations to make it much easier for them to list stuff.” Categories include Camp & Hike, Snow and Climb, with gear running the gamut—from apparel, tents and dry bags to cast iron cookware, lanterns and hammocks. 

Photography: Courtesy of Requipper

Alex wears the CEO cap with Sasha tackling marketing and sales as CMO. In addition to the Requipper marketplace, they are also testing a new “GEARage Sale” offering, starting with a pilot program in Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Atherton and Portola Valley.

“If you put yourself in the shoes of the average Peninsula parent, you likely have a bunch of outdoor gear that you probably don’t have enough time to use—and definitely don’t have enough time to sell,” explains Alex. “From a high level, it’s a consignment program. We pick up people’s gear and then they get their money once we sell it on our platform.” And, as Alex points out, it’s also a huge win for wannabe adventurers: “It’s great for the person buying it because they have access to really awesome deals for outdoor gear, which is a huge issue with this industry—gear is just too expensive.” 

Back on the education front, Sasha finished up her final Stanford credits while working full-time this past spring. Alex is still touting Stanford “drop-out” status but has promised his mother he’ll eventually complete his degree. For now, the Requipper team says they’re eager to ride the wave of two mega trends: recommerce and the growth of the outdoor industry. After hitting an 80% increase in revenue this past quarter, they’re looking at expanding GEARage into other big outdoor hubs. “We’re really stoked for what lies ahead,” relays Alex. Sasha nods in agreement. “You’re buying something that has hopefully facilitated someone’s adventure, be it a misadventure like our surfing trip or like the best time of their life,” she adds. “Everyone should be inspired to share what they don’t need and make sure that other people are getting to have similar life-changing experiences.”  

Photography: Courtesy of Requipper

Exploring Mill Valley

words by Silas Valentino

The timbered exoskeleton of a ramshackle sawmill is partially enshrouded by twin redwoods. The sequoias shoot up and disappear into the overstory. Fallen foliage collects on the mill’s rooftop; otherwise, the structure is visibly transparent—a tribute to Mill Valley’s history.

 As the namesake for Old Mill Park, this bygone sawmill now plays a recreational role. Teenagers hop between the gaps in the wood beams while others gravitate to marvel at the multi-story frame that’s withstood the axe of time.  

 It beats on as the heart of Old Mill Park, an area that links downtown Mill Valley with the iconic open space that surrounds it. Not just a portal between diverse physical worlds, the park is also an ideal starting point to begin exploring one of Marin County’s more treasured hamlets.

Mill Valley drew its name from the signature mill at the park. And the legendary Dipsea footrace begins the ascent onto the mountain from the base of it, too. Take a short stroll down the road, and you’ll find restaurants, shops and a picturesque downtown, but Old Mill Park is where it all begins.

Bohemian Beverly Hills

The city of Mill Valley was established to support the timber
trade in the mid-19th century and fortunately for us today, the arboreal environment was never entirely uprooted.

Trees, in particular old-growth redwoods, continue to serve as the city’s unofficial mascot. They’re the first to welcome you as you travel along either Miller Avenue or East Blithedale Avenue, the two major roadways that lead you in from Highway 101.

The two avenues coalesce in the downtown depot where boutiques both old and new line the winding streets. The downtown maintains a charming Rockwellian appeal with a mid-century CineArts Sequoia movie theater showing films on two screens and the Mill Valley Market, a hub for groceries with a façade that celebrates Tudor Revival architecture. A historic clock, a gift from the local firemen in 1929, presides over the quaint Lytton Square in the center.

Within steps of the clock is the Depot Cafe and Bookstore, offering books of local interests, and across the street lies Vintage Wine & Spirits for anyone seeking to add bubbles or wine to their picnic.

The furniture and houseware shop Prevalent Projects specializes in non-toxic and sustainably-sourced materials for its modern interior design; its window display is known for luring unsuspecting shoppers. Venturing farther down the street yields high-end styles for women at OSKA Mill Valley or for men at Fez across the way.

 The oldest trail race in America

With a start line at the clock tower, the Dipsea Race is an historic event that binds together the community each year on the second Sunday in June. (Due to current events, the 110th Dipsea is set for Sunday, November 7.) Hundreds of spectators and supporters gather downtown to cheer and rattle cowbells for runners who climb over the mountain to the sands of Stinson Beach.

The scenic, 7.4-mile course is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the runner’s world but it comes at a grueling cost: the narrow trails force unintentional combat with fellow runners, poison oak abounds, there are several steep climbs to conquer (to reach the highest point of 1,360 feet requires mounting the punishing “Cardiac” Hill) and before even completing just the first mile, you encounter some 675 steps spanning three staircases.

 Although the race is only held once a year, the course is open year-round and fun to run, walk or take at a leisurely pace. The first mile and a half of the course is a challenging workout that begins near Old Mill Park and concludes at the Panoramic Highway.

 The Dipsea stairs are either made of stone, cement or wooden planks and your hustle is rewarded with gorgeous views of luscious greens in the backyard of Mill Valley. A fundraiser for the race allowed the public to purchase oval plaques to embellish the steps with sentiments and well wishes that provide encouragement as you haul up each flight. Names of race legends also dot the climb.

One such favorite, Jack Kirk, earned his nickname, the Dipsea Demon, for continuing to run the race well into his twilight years. He ran the race 67 consecutive times (winning twice) and continued until he was 96 years old. He passed away in 2007 at age 100 but his ethos continues to inspire: “Old runners never die, they just reach the 676th step,” he once said in reference to Dipsea’s infamous staircase.

 Cooking with a kick

As a treat for taking on the Dipsea Trail, follow your gut to several worthwhile eateries scattered throughout Mill Valley.

The local favorite Avatar’s Punjabi Burritos is a fusion of Indian and Mexican cuisine that blends deliciously. Its basic burrito includes curried garbanzo beans, basmati rice, herb salsa, seasonal fruit chutney, carrot pickle, low-fat yogurt and tamarind sauce. India and Mexico share a similar latitude on the map, leading to certain synergies between the two cultures. No other place celebrates this perfect union better than Avatar’s.

 If you’re interested in more of a sit-down setting, give Playa Mill Valley a go. This trendy indoor-outdoor restaurant serves modern Mexican cuisine with a signature cocktail list. The grilled mahi mahi is noted for its guajillo-citrus marinade with chile de arbol salsa and avocado-poblano crema.

 And in between downtown Mill Valley and Highway 101 is an outpost of the popular Marin staple Sol Food that deserves its heralded reputation for lively Puerto Rican dishes.

 If you time your departure just right, you’ll catch a final glimpse of natural splendor as you trek across the Golden Gate Bridge at sundown and look west to the nightly colorful light show that brings a day in Mill Valley to a close.

Diary of a Dog: Gracie

One look at my kind eyes and sweet face and it’s easy to understand why Labrador Retrievers are such a popular dog breed. And Mady and Mel will tell you I’m exactly the companion they were seeking. After saying goodbye to two beloved yellow Labs, Mady and Mel had adopted Annabelle, a scruffy Terrier mix, from Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV). Although Mel adores Annabelle, he missed having a “real” dog (bigger than 17 pounds), so they checked back with HSSV, which turned out to be perfect timing. Pregnant with eight puppies, I had been rescued from the Central Valley and brought to HSSV. After being fostered and getting medical care, I was ready for my forever home in Los Altos. It took Annabelle a little while to warm up to me, but now we keep watch together and chase rabbits and squirrels in the backyard. And I absolutely adore Mel and Mady. I’m happiest when I’m sidled up so close that my head and entire body are touching them. They say I’m incredibly polite for a Lab (I guess it’s unusual that I daintily eat and sip my water.), but I show my exuberance whenever it’s time to go for a walk or ride in the car. I jump in the air and “talk” with joy, madly waving my thick, tapering tail. I’m super lucky that I have all kinds of toys to play with. Although I try to be as gentle as possible, white stuffing always seems to come out as I express (chew) my affection. Thankfully, Mel and Mady make sure I have a steady supply, although if you hear of a good sale on stuffed animals, I’m sure they’d appreciate the tip.  

Peninsula Pet Surgeon

There’s a saying that all surgeons want to cut. Not true for mobile veterinary surgeon Dr. Dean Filipowicz. Just the other day he walked in to work on a dog who was already shaved, sedated and prepped for a surgery that never happened. That’s because after palpating the pup’s injured leg, Dean decided the dog would heal fine with two weeks of rest. “We are trained that we are our patients’ advocates, so if we can manage medically and avoid a risky surgery, it’s okay to put the brakes on,” he says. “Doing nothing is not actually doing nothing.”

As a mobile vet, Dean makes the rounds through a dozen animal clinics and hospitals between San Francisco and San Jose. Usually, the board-certified specialist comes in to collaborate with the owners’ referring veterinarians at their locations. The first step is a patient consultation with the owners in person; the second step could be surgery. The recent cancellation was one of the rare times when Dean was brought in cold without a consultation. 

Dean will operate in the middle of the night if it’s an emergency, but after treating thousands of dogs and cats over the years, he says most cases are what he calls “emergent.” That is, surgery can wait until the animal is stabilized and the pain is managed. He presents owners with all the options, and whether it’s a newborn pup or an 18-year-old cat, “I prioritize the animal,” he says. “Making your best friend better” is his business slogan, so it’s not surprising when he admits, “I probably like dogs more than I like people.”

Dean’s preference could also help explain how a young man who grew up outside of Annapolis, Maryland, and earned a BA in economics and a BS in mechanical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, went from wanting to build racing sailboats to trading commodity options in New York City, before landing in vet school at age 30. He still enjoys tinkering on boats and cars and working with his hands, which are insured, by the way. 

Dean’s father was a doctor and the younger Dean considered going into human medicine. He tried candy striping for a while, then switched from handling bed pans to cleaning cages at small animal practices. When he ultimately left trading to become a vet, he enrolled at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, then did his internship and specialized in small animal surgery during his residency at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. That’s where he met his wife, Kelly Zeytoonian. 

With a focus on large animals, Kelly went on to establish Starwood Equine Veterinary Services on the Peninsula and in the East Bay. “With equine medicine and small animal surgery, there is minimal overlap, so it’s interesting to hear what she does—it’s a different world,” observes Dean, before noting another advantage. “If you have a horse, you almost certainly have a couple dogs, so when I was getting started, she was a pretty good referral source for me.” 

When Dean returned to the West Coast, he worked with a surgeon at a specialty hospital in the East Bay and helped set up a specialty facility in Fresno before targeting where to set up his own mobile practice. The greater Palo Alto area appealed, and he operated in rented space before expanding to form a group of specialty veterinarians. In 2017, he went back to practicing on his own under the name of Bay West Veterinary Surgery.

With no overhead aside from an office in Redwood City where he sterilizes his tools and meets the technicians who sometimes assist him, he travels to hospitals and clinics where he has a relationship. They provide staffing, X-rays, CT scans, surgery rooms, anesthesia, bandages, medicine and follow-up care, plus handle the billing.

This arrangement allows Dean some extra flexibility in his schedule. He mountain bikes near his Woodside home a couple of times a week, and when time permits, pulls over to kiteboard off of Third Avenue in San Mateo on his drive back from appointments in the City.

At home, his black Lab Zorba and Jack Russell Terrier Andy eagerly greet him, sniffing out traces of smells from strange dogs. Little do they know that their owner probably just returned from performing a complicated fracture in the morning and repairing soft tissue in the afternoon.

Given the variety, with about 75 percent of his surgeries involving orthopedics, the rest soft tissue, oncological mass removal and emergency trauma, “There’s no way I can get bored with my caseload,” Dean says. “I love what I do. I love what I do on a daily basis.”

Dean repairs a lot of dogs’ knees, but one surgery he finds particularly rewarding goes by the initials TECABO, which stands for Total Ear Canal Ablation and Bulla Osteotomy. “Cocker Spaniels are the poster children for this condition because they have big droopy ears and allergies,” he says. As bacteria builds up, the ear canal closes down and turns into an “awful stinky painful infection.” Technically, the fix is difficult since the lining must be removed and the ear flap left intact. “The surgery is effectively amputation, you amputate the ear canal,” he says, “but afterwards, they become different dogs. They become happy and friendly again and gain years back in their life.” 

Certain breeds are predisposed to other problems. Pregnant Pugs and Bulldogs, he explains, usually need to deliver by C-section due to their flat faces and breathing issues. One week he treated broken bones in several Chihuahuas after their owners stepped on them. He attributes that freak streak to COVID, when more people started adopting animals and staying at home. 

When not consulting and operating, Dean is preparing to start a new company for diagnostic products that he’s developing. “The reason for pivoting and coming up with devices and apps is that I’ve learned enough about what I’m doing that I want to benefit more animals in an impactful way,” he says. “I can do that at the same time that I’m still operating on individual animals.”

A few years ago, Dean and his wife decided to go to business school together, maintaining their professional lives while they completed their degrees online at University of North Carolina. “It was a lot of work; for two and a half years, there were no evening activities at all,” he says. For this power couple, on call and practicing medicine in the veterinary world where animals get sick and injured 24/7, that routine actually isn’t that different from a normal day.

Perfect Shot: Up and Away

Excited to be on her first flight in over a year, photographer Mary Ries Fischer captured this Perfect Shot just after takeoff from SFO. “As we ascended into the blue sky, I saw this glorious view of the Crystal Springs Reservoir framed in my window,” she says. “As I lined up the shot I realized how lucky I am to call the Peninsula my home.” 

Image by Mary Ries Fischer @maryriesfischerphotography 

The Essence of Beauty

The sensory experience of stepping into Essentique is as meticulously crafted by its owner, Mandana Navi, as the natural skin, hair and body care products that line the shelves. The white walls soothe, leading your gaze to the child-sized Buddha sitting serenely at the back of the space. Tactile foliage on a living wall graces the entryway, inviting respite from the hard edges of the Palo Alto business district. Bottles in shades of brown and white invite you to spritz a toner or roll a little spicy scent along your wrist. 

“There is an intimacy to the products we use on our skin and hair,” explains Mandana, as she pumps a silky dollop of hand cream scented with amaranth into my palm. “You can’t make people understand what you have to offer. The customer has to take his or her own journey. When people need something specific and that need is met, they appreciate it so much.”

Mandana, who grew up in Iran, was interested in self-care from a young age. “Persian women take good care of themselves,” she says. “They really care about beauty and health.” When she wanted to lighten her hair, her mother wouldn’t let her bleach it, so Mandana experimented with what she had access to in the natural world. “I discovered that with dried apple tree leaves and chamomile tea I could lift the color from my hair,” she recollects with a smile. “That may have been my initial spark.”

It would take time and a particular kind of dedication for Mandana to grow that spark into the locally handmade product line she now creates, while managing every aspect of her business spanning marketing, research and development and front-of-house sales to hosting team building workshops where clients can create their own essential oil mixes. She pulls long hours, works almost every day and doesn’t regret a moment of it. “I make everything with love,” she says. “It’s my passion.”

Mandana started out with a biology degree, which included coursework in botany. “I think something in me must have known all along that this is where I would end up,” she muses. She worked in an infertility lab in Canada before earning her MBA, still not quite knowing where it would take her. It wasn’t until she was living in Palo Alto, taking a lot of yoga classes, that inspiration began to bloom. “I loved that moment in yoga when they would dab a little essential oil onto your forehead or neck,” she recounts. “I was really aware of the way the scent would wake up my senses.” 

Scent, Mandana says, bypasses the rational mind and heads straight to the limbic area of the brain: “That’s why smells can make you so emotional and bring up so many memories.” She began to experiment with essential oils to soothe muscle aches and create smells that spoke to her. Australian Sandalwood. Basil. Bitter Orange. Lemongrass. Cinnamon Bark. “Self-care is about so much more than beauty,” she says. “It’s about caring for your whole being, nurturing your spirit as well as your body.” 

It is no accident that the personal, the intimate, the bespoke, are central themes in Mandana’s work. Many of the products on her shelves she initially designed for just one person. A client of hers suffered from a scaly scalp, so Mandana crafted a serum to soothe the itch and heal the skin. When a friend published her first novel, Mandana made a spicy-scented perfume inspired by the story for its launch. She created a cleanser for the teens she hires to work part-time behind the register. “They had breakouts,” Mandana explains, “so I researched how to balance the sebum in the skin and I came up with an extract of sea kelp that helps with inflammation. They love it.”

Crafted in small batches to ensure freshness, Mandana’s creations draw from more than 100 natural and plant-derived ingredients ranging from Abyssinian oil and Pracaxi butter to willow bark extract. A glance at the final packaging reveals offerings like Luminescence, a hand and body polish derived from walnut shell powder and argan oil, and Dew de Dew, a moisturizing hair wash laden with bamboo and turmeric extracts. When asked which of her products is her favorite to make, she’s stumped for a moment. “Some recipes take longer, some are so hard to figure out,” she responds. “But they’re all satisfying in their own way. And when they meet the needs of the client, well, that is precious.”

Mandana spends every Monday when the shop is closed mixing up her standard product line in her lab and doing research and development on the recipes that still need perfecting. Even in the early days of forming her business, Mandana believed that making the bold move of having a storefront was essential, which led her to open Essentique on Park Boulevard in September 2016. “The efforts I make could seem extreme from a distance,” she notes, “but, I care so much about the finished product. I value the transparency and personal touch of having a shop where you can enter, smell and try.”

Continually crafting concoctions and experimenting with new equipment, Mandana is currently trying to crack the code for a non-toxic sunscreen and develop a product line for babies. She can imagine a world in which she opens a business in Paris where her sister lives, or in New York City, where she loves to take weekend jaunts.

But her connection to the community she’s cultivated is what drives her passion—along with the joy she feels watching eyes light up after a sniff or a gentle rub. “I can never fully explain how what I do is so different from everyone else,” she says. “I need people to discover it for themselves.”

Playing Catch with My Wilson

We have a good-sized patch of grass in our backyard. It’s just right for playing catch with a baseball. It was there that I taught my boys how to “feed the apple” and how to move side to side to get in front of a grounder. We spent countless hours there, well into summer nights, reenacting dramatic plays from World Series games.

Though the days of Little League have long passed, there is still something magical about going out back and throwing the ball around, which my adult sons and sons-in-law do from time to time. Playing catch returns us to the heady days of youth—at once we are 12 and ready to strive for the majors. 

When we play today, I reach into our sports cabinet and grab my Wilson glove, the Ted Sizemore edition, something that’s been with me a long while.

On a beautiful spring Saturday in Amarillo in the ’60s, with The Beatles playing on the AM radio, my Mother drove me in her Chrysler station wagon to Vance’s Sporting Goods store. I was buzzing with excitement—the kind you feel when you are getting something special. In this case, my lust was for my own mitt, a glove like those used by my heroes of the day. Players like Carl Yastrzemski, Pete Rose and Willie Mays. 

Vance’s was downtown, and when we arrived, I rushed into the store knowing just exactly where the gloves were kept. Vance’s had a large selection, and the smell of the leather permeated that area of the store. Near the gloves were rows of wooden bats, shelves of cleats and racks of balls.

While I had a good idea of what I wanted, having done some scouting a month earlier with my Dad, I was now confronted with the reality of having to make a choice. It reminded me of my first major league baseball game—coincidently at Candlestick Park—when I was allowed to get one souvenir. I stood there paralyzed by my inability to choose. Finally, the pressure on, I selected a round reflecting Giants’ logo button, still with me today.

I tried on the gloves, each stiff and large. I took a nearby ball and smashed it into the mitts’ pockets. Gloves take “breaking in,” so you accepted that new ones were unpliable, but you still needed the confidence to know that it could happen. I narrowed it down to three gloves. Like my time at Candlestick, I was overwhelmed with indecision.  

A salesman came over and gave his opinion on which I should choose. He was a young guy, maybe 16, and he seemed to know what he was talking about. I asked him if he played ball and he said he did, for Amarillo High where my sister was in school. After he wandered away, I kept at it until my Mom said we were leaving with or without a glove. I finally went with my gut and selected a Wilson, the Ted Sizemore edition with Snap Action and Dual Hinge, model number A2611. It was $15.95.

As soon as we got home, I took a baseball and put it in my glove and placed two rubber bands around it to help shape the pocket. The next day, I took off the rubber bands and hit the pocket with a hammer a bunch of times and played some catch with my brother Danny. I did this for a week or so and slowly my glove became comfortable enough for me to have the confidence to use it on the field. 

Though it was psychological, having that new glove—my own glove and not my brother’s hand-me-down—gave me a lift and I had a great season. In fact, I made the play of a lifetime. I was the second baseman, and it was the bottom of the seventh inning (we only played seven), with a man on third and the game tied with one out. The batter hit a towering pop fly about ten feet behind second base and I raced to it. Reaching back, my Wilson glove doing its magic, I caught the ball. The runner at third broke for home and I threw a perfect strike to our catcher a moment before the runner reached the plate, and in a bang-bang instant, the umpire screamed, “Out!” It was a thrilling moment, and on our next turn at bat, we won the game.

That glove has lasted—through Little League, through college, through having my own children, to today. I’ve had the laces replaced a dozen times and they need replacing yet again. They broke not long ago, and in order to keep the game going, I took some wire and pushed it through the finger holes and tied it off. There is still plenty of action ahead for my Wilson with my ever-growing number of grandchildren soon to be playing catch with me out in the backyard.

Woodside Store

Nestled in between Douglas fir, redwood and oak trees along Tripp Road lies the Woodside Store. A popular field trip for local schools, the restored one-story wooden structure offers a hands-on interactive program and artifacts for discovering California’s rich history. And, with free admission, anyone can visit the site to soak up the atmosphere of Peninsula country life in the 1880s. The original Woodside Store was built by Matthias Alfred Parkhurst and Dr. Robert Orville Tripp, the street’s namesake, to provide supplies to settlers and woodsmen in the area. After the first store burned down in 1854, the business partners built the existing building, which became a public gathering place that the community utilized on a daily basis. In addition to providing essential goods and Dr. Tripp’s dental services, Woodside Store also functioned as a stagecoach stop, a lending library, bank and post office. Parkhurst died in 1863, and Tripp and his family continued to run the store until Tripp’s passing in 1909. The County of San Mateo purchased Woodside Store in 1940 and it was listed as a State Registered Landmark in 1949. In 1994, the County completed the restoration of Woodside Store, returning it to its late 19th-century appearance. For anyone seeking an even more immersive experience, once a year on the first Sunday in May, the site hosts “Old Woodside Store Day,” when visitors participate in old-time activities and craft-making. See parks.smcgov.org/woodside-store for current visiting hours.  

Photography: Courtesy of San Mateo County Historical Association

Listening to the Fabric

A Quilter Translates Beauty into Art

A quilt with a single red rose on a royal blue background brightens the white space above quilt maker Sandi daRoza’s couch in her Hillsborough living room. A few quilts featuring lovely young women line her hallway. The orange one at the far end depicts a girl with big blue eyes, upswept hair and a halter top revealing bare shoulders. Her determined facial expression says, I got this, as a flowering cactus and quilted diamond pattern over the undulating orange background convey radiating desert heat. Upon close inspection, tight, intricate stitches texturize the girl’s skin. In contrast, the light stitching of her blouse allows the fabric there to breathe, creating a sense of fluidity.

Sandi’s quilts don’t feature traditional patchwork squares, and they’re never tucked away inside a linen closet. “I’m a firm believer that quilts should be seen as any other form of art,” she says. “They deserve to be displayed on a mantel or beautiful wall space.” 

Growing up in Vacaville, Sandi remembers her mother always working with her hands, whether she was cooking, sewing or doing needlework. She credits her mom for passing her love for arts and crafts on to her. “I always wanted to be an artist but was afraid for so many years,” says Sandi. Wary of the financial uncertainty of an artistic pursuit, she pursued a career in the medical field of respiratory therapy. But she never lost her creative side.

When her two daughters were young, Sandi was able to stay home with them and found time to rekindle and explore her interests. She made jewelry, clothing and other crafts. Looking back, she’s grateful that she was able to experiment with different techniques and forms. “I think it really trained my eye to be able to do what I do now,” she reflects. 

About four years ago, Sandi was diagnosed with breast cancer, which caused her to reassess and take stock of her life. “It propelled me to my next level,” she acknowledges. “I thought, ‘Okay, I could die tomorrow. What am I afraid of?’” After her treatment and recovery, Sandi made a dramatic shift in her career: “I decided that all I’m going to do for the rest of my life is be an artist and create.”  

“I adhere fabric motif cutouts with Elmer’s glue onto the fabric background piece. Then I add layers onto that, and then I free-motion sew around the pieces. Then it gets quilted. Some of my pieces are sent to a long arm quilter who’s one of my mentors, Jean Impey, but I do all the finishing work like the binding. Sometimes it’s a forever job to finish the quilts. I have stacks of quilts I still need to put the binding on!”

To achieve that goal, Sandi opened her home studio, Rogers Lane Studio, named after the street she grew up on. She immersed herself in different art forms like painting and doll making, but she always came back to sewing. Although Sandi doesn’t enjoy making traditional quilts, she became hooked on the portrait techniques of Freddy Moran, her favorite art quilter. Sandi took a few classes with Moran and developed her own portrait style using realistic flesh tones and facial features. She also incorporates her love of bright and bold colors into her pieces. “I always like to add a lot of whimsy to my quilts because I like my quilts to be very happy,” says Sandi. “I hope when people see one of my quilts that it brings a smile to them.” 

Setting the right mood within her studio helps Sandi communicate that whimsical feeling through her work. Island vibes permeate the creative space. Contemporary Hawaiian and reggae music fills the room, as do stacks of multi-hued and patterned fabrics, spellbinding portraits of women and clusters of colorful flowers. Sandi also plays classic films like vintage Elvis and other feel-good movies from the ’50s and ’60s to help her infuse a sense of nostalgia and good times into her quilts.

When Sandi explored a painting stage, she’d go people-watching in San Francisco with her husband, Tony. She’d take photos of random people, enlarge them, then sketch the faces and paint them. But once she learned the portrait quilt technique, she began interpreting those faces into quilts. “I’m really inspired by the beauty of a woman,” she explains, “and I just really wanted to bring that to life.”

Next to one of her Frida Kahlo portrait quilts, Sandi has pinned up two new quilts she’s working on. One is of a woman at the crossroads of a quilting project. “She’s pondering what to do next in her quilting world,” she shares, “so I threw all sorts of notions into her hair.” The other is of a woman blissfully meditating in nature; flowers adorn her hair and dress and butterflies flit around her. Both women have dreamy beehive hairdos.

“All my life, I had really curly hair, and I hated it,” Sandi confides. “All my other sisters had straight hair. I was the one with the curly hair, and I really never knew how to style it.” However, her sensibilities completely changed with cancer treatment. “After I had my chemo, I lost all my hair,” she recounts. “And I thought, ‘Oh my God, give me back that hair!’” Through her quilts, Sandi channels those conflicted emotions and explores the definition of feminine beauty.

Sandi finds inspiration in many places, from the fabric itself to nature and her friends and family. Sandi’s personal experiences informed the four-quilt series, Save the Tatas, that she designed for Fashion Fights Cancer’s recent fundraising auction. The last quilt up for auction featured a pair of breasts painted onto a teal square bordered by a white quilted floral background. “I want to remind young girls to older women that all women should be getting 3D mammography and doing self-checks,” she says. It wasn’t until Sandi requested a 3D mammogram that her cancer was detected, although she’d had regular mammograms done every year.

Sandi is preparing to share her quilts on a larger stage. “I’m excited about creating more,” she says, “and I’m excited to show more people my art.” She’s “over the moon” to have the chance to do just that as an Artist-in-Residence at the 2022 Empty Spools Seminars held at the Asilomar Conference Grounds. She’ll have the chance to meet renowned fiber arts instructors and share her art quilts with them and other attendees. Looking ahead to the future, Sandi aspires to one day teach at the conference.

In the meantime, she is already making the effort to impart her knowledge to others. Currently, Sandi holds workshops at her studio and teaches at local quilt shops covering raw-edge applique techniques, Frida Kahlo portrait quilts and how to color and stitch Sandi’s very own embroidery patterns. “I like to show people what they can do with their embroidery,” she says. “A lot of times, you embroider something, and you think, ‘What am I going to do with this?’ You could make them into anything but I’ve sampled them as pillows.”

As Sandi references on her Rogers Lane website, “If you listen to the fabric, it will tell you what it wants to be.” Looking at her finished works, it’s clear that she has a well-tuned ear and knows exactly when a creation is complete. “I love putting together the whole image,” she says. “I love the final stage when I finally can say, ‘Okay, this is done.’”

The Open Road is Calling

Three Spectacular Sunday Drives

words by Silas Valentino

The passenger door slams. We start the car, put on our shades, soon to soar along the open road while the radio plays.

For this photo essay with PUNCH photographer Gino De Grandis, the goal was to showcase a few of the best local drives that can help to disrupt our routines and ease our minds. 

We chose to take the back roads, photograph the landmarks so often passed by in a blur and pull over to gaze into the healing vistas of the ever-rolling Pacific. 

The open road was calling.

Gino requests an early morning launch. His gifted eye prefers when the light is off at an angle, not directly above us as it is during the noon hour. 

With the sun at our backs, we turn west, first to Highway 84, then to the 1 before looping back around on Highway 36, appropriately named Skyline Boulevard for how it slices along the crest that borders our mountain ranges and suburban sprawls.

Falling into repetitive pathways is so effortless that it’s easy to forget that there are switchbacks meandering into the Santa Cruz Mountains minutes from our downtowns. Or that old-growth forests neighbor our Peninsula communities. And how by just pulling out of our driveways, the edge of North America awaits just west of Highway 1. 

North –> South

Of our two major highway systems, the 280 is the silent giant. It tends to have less traffic and showcases bucolic hillscapes, the pristine waters of Crystal Springs Reservoir and visuals typically earned from a rural road trip, not a dash between Peninsula cities. 

We pull off the highway onto Skyline Boulevard in search of views. Just after we turn left onto Crystal Springs Road, we find a fresh angle.

Beneath the highway’s bridge that connects a Hillsborough canyon is a new perspective of a road often traveled. Markings of graffiti riddle the bridge’s underbelly while a cacophony of bustling vehicles generates muffled white noise, signaling the constant
motion above. 

Just beyond the shadow of the bridge lies the Crystal Springs Dam where mankind keeps a reservoir at bay to harness its power. Cyclists and runners pass over the dam’s roadway to traverse the Sawyer Camp Trail. We ride parallel to the reservoir along Skyline Boulevard. If the wind is still, and the water on the reservoir remains tranquil, a mirroring Peninsula is reflected in the calm.

East –> West

The curves of the road force us to sway from side to side. We split off from Highway 84 to join the winding roads that hug Pescadero Creek. Weaving through Loma Mar, the middle ground between Pescadero and La Honda nestled within the Santa Cruz Mountains, we catch sight of a blue house through the green foliage with redwoods rising around it. We pause to admire the serenity with anticipation for what lies beyond the curvatures ahead.

Soon, after emerging from the dense forest into more open terrain, our eyes focus upon it. “That’s the oldest Cypress tree in the world,” a nameless neighbor hollers to us after we stop to admire the massive tree trunks that grow out of the earth with such unbreakable resolve. The shade from its prickly green canopy extends well past the black asphalt. For scale, a white truck passes by and is  immediately dwarfed by the tree’s awesome presence. 

North –> South

The dust stops here. Dirt is exchanged for sand before quickly dissolving into the white foam of the sea as the Pacific ingests another gulp with its endless swell. 

The stretch from Pescadero to Pacifica is about 26 miles—or 40 minutes of drivetime that we wish would never end, like the looped backdrop in a Flintstones cartoon. We roll over seaside capes where years of erosion have created glorious shapes to celebrate the junction of the North American and Pacific tectonic plates. Stopping at pullouts along the way, Gino knows the spots to focus his camera lens. Although the sun is somewhat overhead, he doesn’t mind the lack of shadow. The rarity of a clear day with no fog to contend with makes up for the loss of dimension. 

At the north end, the Tom Lantos Tunnel guides us through Devil’s Slide, a rugged area well aware of the earth’s tendency to shatter under the forces of the sea. Emerging from the tunnel’s portal, we meet again the coastal greenery and boundless blue of a sun-drenched Peninsula afternoon. 

Mall Museum

Above the food court and around the corner from the movie theater box office, you’ll find something new at The Shops at Tanforan in San Bruno—not a national retail chain, but a hyper-local, Peninsula-grown museum.

“The Peninsula Museum of Art (PMA) provides shoppers an opportunity to take a few moments away from their busy lives and explore the creativity of our greater Bay Area artists,” says Megan Kamrath, co-executive director. “Whether these moments are stepping into our free admission museum space or just perusing our windows, every artwork we share with visitors is an opportunity to inspire.”

While a museum in a mall may seem unusual, it’s a notion gaining traction. In Los Angeles County, the Cayton Children’s Museum in a Santa Monica shopping center offers 21,000 square feet of discovery-based exhibits for children ages 0-10. Since the COVID-19 pandemic only compounded the impact to brick-and-mortar businesses already set in motion by online shopping, mall operators are seeking nontraditional tenants who might have something different to offer.

‘Stand in Your Truth’ by Demetrius Philp

“Leasing out 5,000- up to 20,000- or 30,000-square-foot spaces is just not as easy as it once was. This definitely gives us reasons to get creative and look for things that have rarely or never been done at a mall before,” notes Eemon Malek-Madani, property specialty leasing manager at Tanforan. “With PMA’s exhibits and events and the new potential shoppers they bring in—from community outreach to maybe even art classes—there is definitely room for art in shopping centers.”

Tanforan operator CBRE has had great success with the arts at a property outside Austin, Texas. “I learned how other properties developed partnerships with local artists and galleries to implement very successful art walks at their locations and this sounded like a great concept to bring to Tanforan,” adds Eemon. “Establishing PMA here would attract a unique philanthropic and art-loving clientele we’ve not attracted before.” As a further enhancement, Eemon plans to rent out working artist studio spaces to complement the museum. 

Tanforan is a welcome landing for PMA, which was forced to leave its former Burlingame location due to the property owner’s plans for redevelopment. Founded in 2003 with private donations wrangled by working artist Ruth Waters, PMA’s first home was in Belmont followed by Burlingame in 2013. Waters retired in June 2020 and the museum moved to Tanforan in spring 2021 under the leadership of co-executive directors Megan Kamrath and Christina Chahal. 

‘Embrace’ by Demetrius Philp

A rarity among local art museums, PMA is free of charge and focused exclusively on art and artists from the greater Bay Area. Without a permanent collection, the museum’s value is in its rotating temporary exhibitions, where viewers can frequently meet and talk to the artists whose work is on the walls. Although small in size, the upside is increased accessibility and a non-intimidating atmosphere.

“Here, we get people in the door who maybe wouldn’t go to museums or busy families who can’t carve the time out. Our whole goal is to interact with the community and provide art that will inspire and engage people,” explains Christina. “It’s a great location with a lot of foot traffic. You can just go to Target or go to a movie and come over and see what we’re up to. It shouldn’t have to be a big deal to go to a museum—it should just be fun.” 

PMA recruits and trains a team of art ambassadors, equipping them with background on each artist and exhibited works. Whether these volunteers discover PMA through volunteermatch.com or while running an errand at the mall, they view the opportunity as a way to connect with new people, art and experiences. “All our volunteers are available to discuss the art even though most are not artists themselves,” says Megan. “They just want to be engaged with the creative art scene we bring to Tanforan.”

‘Trapped Art’ by Studio BLK

As for the art exhibitions themselves, the goal of PMA’s Board is to select art and artists you wouldn’t find elsewhere. “We want to be able to show to our community that we are obviously not a typical art museum but we can still have enticing exhibits to explore and perhaps inspire a new generation of artists to think outside the box,” Megan explains. “If an art museum can be located in a shopping mall, the unexpected and unusual can be achieved.”

The museum’s current show is a prime example. Running through September 19, the whole space is dedicated to a large group show created by Black and African artists focused on the theme of individuality. The show features a special immersive art installation curated by Uni.Verse Studio, a local collaborative of Black creatives celebrating artistry and individuality with paintings, photography, interactive installations, QR codes and designated Instagrammable moments. 

PMA co-executive director Megan Kamrath and Eemon Malek-Madani

Up next? Another group show runs from October through January, this time with an environmental theme in partnership with Oakland-based WEAD, Women Eco Artists Dialog. The exhibition will highlight extraction and renewal on Earth, revealing both the dark and the light side of what’s going on with the planet right now, as expressed through the vision of a variety of artists.

Megan, Christina and Eemon firmly believe that having PMA at Tanforan creates a mutually beneficial and unique experience for anyone who appreciates art on the Peninsula. “I was taught that if you find a good reason and provide a great experience for people,” sums up Eemon, “then they are more likely to come shop at your mall.”

Architecture as Art

Were you to imagine preferred pastimes of a CIA agent, you probably picture clandestine encounters, not family sightseeing excursions. But luckily for LEED-accredited architect Eric Nyhus, who lives with his wife and two daughters in Hillsborough, having a spy for a dad meant not just an international upbringing but also exposure to the world’s great historical sites from a very young age. Today, those early influences, along with an appreciation for modern California living, shine in the high-end residential projects that he brings to life with his Burlingame-based architecture and planning firm Nyhus Design Group. PUNCH talks with Eric about his globetrotting childhood and how it inspired his goal to change lives through architecture. 

With spectacular views of downtown San Francisco, the owners of this hilltop modern home in Hillsborough wanted every room in the main part of the house to have those views, free of obstruction. Steel beams and large bi-folding door systems were used to fully open this inside corner and provide true indoor-outdoor living.

Where did you grow up?  

I was born in Rio de Janeiro, and my parents, three siblings and I hopscotched from Rio to Guatemala to Paris to Brasília to Athens and Madrid, and spent a couple of periods in the U.S., when my mother was ill. She ultimately lost her battle with cancer but was an incredible person, artist and inspiration to me. 

And it turns out your father wasn’t actually a diplomat?

CIA. I didn’t find out until I was 14. My dad was committed to coming home for dinner with the family, but then he’d often disappear after dinner. Of course, when you’re a kid, you don’t know why—you just assume it’s work. But one night I was the only one awake in the house and he told me. It was one of those moments of, “Who is this person?!” But it was terrific. And my mother was a poli-sci major, so she just loved being able to travel.

How did that childhood lead to your love of architecture?

It was the extensive traveling that really did it. I had this rare opportunity to live overseas and experience so many historic achievements in architecture and art, and my parents were totally committed to exposing us to all that. I think that’s probably why I’m more of a traditional architect than anything, but there’s also a great artistic side of modern architecture that’s very sculptural and very experimental with regard to human scale.

Perched high above the street, with views of the entire north Peninsula, this single-story modern home with kids’ lofts in offset geometric forms at the front and rear, provides a very large, 23-foot-high great room composed of a hide-away kitchen, dining room and family room. A large gallery also provides plenty of room to display artwork.

Was there a particular place that inspired you to pursue architecture professionally? 

I think Greece was where it started because there was such a breadth of human history. Of course, I cannot ignore the fact that living in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower for three years and among the centuries-old Beaux Arts architecture in Paris definitely had an  influence on my appreciation for the impact architecture can have on us. As I say on our website, our built environment affects the way we feel, the way we live and the way we interact with one another, because it often sets the boundaries of our experiences. We don’t walk into cubes and boxes and live our lives; we oftentimes walk into works of art, and they can really stay with you. They have with me.

You began your career designing hospitality projects. What led to you launching Nyhus Design Group in 2009?   

Working on boutique hotels and resorts around the world is fantastic, but I love being a father and being a husband, and so I wanted to stay closer to home. Also, I always knew that I would explore my own visions of architecture. At the end of the day, I always maintain that we’re doing this because we love to impact people’s lives. My own was changed when we remodeled our house—we bought a ranch home here in Hillsborough and, in 2014, we remodeled it to a Tudor. Every day, my wife and I walk in and smile with delight. It changes our mood. It’s an amazing transformation. I think what we try to do for people is make those transformations real. 

This Tudor cottage was remodeled from a 1950s ranch-style home and includes vaulted ceilings in the kitchen, a 50-foot-long great room, the guest bedroom suite and the main bedroom suite. This project is an example of traditional detailing and proportions planned and laid out for the way we live today.

Where are your projects? 

Right now, I’ve been very much focused on staying local. I would say 90% of our work is in Hillsborough itself. I sat on the Architecture and Design Review Board for about six years, chairing it for a couple of those. I’m also on the Hillsborough Beautification Foundation Board of Trustees. I love our community and where we live.

What do you love about your work?

The initial conversations are always my favorite part. You get to meet fascinating people who want to do something special for their families. Part of that is building these great homes and living out their dreams of having worked so hard to get to that point. We so enjoy the process of realizing this dream for and with them.

Standing proudly next to the famed Carolands Chateau in Hillsborough, this Cape Cod-style home provides the owners with a balance between traditionally formal spaces at the front of the house and the more open and free-flowing layout along the rear of the house that encourages families to live and be together.

How do you customize your approach?

Every person is different; every family is different. That’s what makes it exciting for us, and somewhat experimental for us as well. Say somebody wants a modern house or a Tudor house. Well, let’s experiment, let’s dive into all the aspects of that style and interpret it in a way that will suit their lives perfectly or as well as possible. I think when you get pegged as an architect who does only one style, the reality is that you end up using a lot of details that you used on previous homes and it becomes sort of a manufactured approach. That said, if you stray too much from the stylings of a traditional home, it can fall apart very quickly, and that’s when it weakens the architecture of the house. So, you try to stick with a lot of those precedents and apply them in different ways. The challenge and the creativity side of this is applying it in the way we live today. 

How do you know you’ve nailed it?

A brother of one client walked into his house, and said, “This is a work of art.” You love to hear that. We pride ourselves on doing great work for great clients, and they’re more than happy to recommend us to other friends and other associates. That’s the biggest compliment we can get. 

This transitional French-inspired home uses key architectural elements to create a sense of balance, symmetry and proportion required of that style. Matching chimneys, smaller-scaled dormer forms flanking a larger, central one, which houses the main entry, and the tall gate piers all contribute to this grander organization.

The Beat On Your Eats

Say hey to the new eats on the culinary block.

Roost & Roast

Palo Alto

How do you differentiate Thai fried chicken from countless variations of the familiar dish? For Brandon Poon, owner of the new Roost & Roast in Town & Country Village, it’s all about keeping it traditional and preparing by hand. Using a mortar and pestle, palm sugar and coriander, Brandon and his crew create Thai-inspired recipes including the popular potato starch-battered hat yai fried chicken that doesn’t skimp on the crunchiness. For a lighter dish, try the veggie tofu stir-fry with Thai basil served over rice and topped with a fried egg. It’s meat-free but packed with plenty of flavor. 855 El Camino Real Suite 161. Open Monday to Saturday from 11AM to 8PM; Sunday from 11AM to 5PM.

Photography: Courtesy of The Mandarin

The Mandarin

Menlo Park

Taking over the former address of Black Pepper, The Mandarin’s menu is deep and eclectic in its commitment to Pan-Asian cuisine. Specialties include the salt and pepper Dungeness crab, boiled whole fish, honey walnut prawns and asparagus triple deluxe; however, great things come to those willing to wait. If you order two days in advance, you can give the delectable eight treasure duck a try, made from a deboned duck stuffed with sticky rice, peanuts, black mushrooms, dried shrimp, scallops and salted egg yolks. It’s a plate well worth the extra planning. 1029 El Camino Real. Open Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday from 11:30AM to 9PM; Friday and Saturday from 11:30AM to 9:30PM; closed on Monday.


San Mateo

Prepare yourself, Peninsula, for the mochi donut revolution. Originally from Hawaii and a combination of American doughnuts and Japanese mochi, these mochinuts are sprouting along the Pacific Rim at a vigorous speed. There are currently more than 20 branches in the U.S. with 90 more on the way, meaning these light-crispy-coated-with-soft-chewy-inside snacks could reach Dunkin Donuts levels of ubiquity. The open secret? Mochi doughnuts are made with rice flour as opposed to yeast or traditional cake. There are dozens of flavors to try—strawberry funnel, churro and peanut butter included—and don’t miss out on the Korean rice flour hotdogs to round out a full meal of yum. 250 South B Street. Open Monday to Thursday and Sunday from 11AM to 8PM; Friday and Saturday from 11AM to 9PM.

Dining at Drake’s

After months of anticipation, a prominent historic building in San Carlos is opening its doors as the new eatery, Drake’s. During its renovation, drivers would call out from their cars at the corner of San Carlos Avenue and El Camino to Drake’s staff outside, asking, “When will you open?” Even the granddaughter of city founder Frederick Drake stopped by to cheer on the new life buzzing in the historic site her grandfather built in the early 1920s. “There’s a bigger picture here,” says Drake’s owner Christian Conte. “It’s something for the city—it’s not just business.”

Born and raised in San Carlos, Christian is not a stranger to the restaurant business, yet his friends scratched their heads when he told them his plan. “I was described as a crazy 29-year-old who started a business during a pandemic,” he laughs. “It’s unique to have the building that was the original city hall owned by ‘The Father of San Carlos.’” Paying homage to the rich Spanish-style exterior architecture, Christian and his team reshaped the interior with an expansive tiled bar, a mezzanine and exposed open ceilings.

The restaurant celebrates its namesake Frederick Drake with his portrait gracing the walls, his elaborate scrapbook displayed and menu items giving a nod to him as well. “The building tells a story,” notes Christian, pointing to holes in the tall exposed brick interior where joists were laid to support a second story. “Drake was a pioneer and visionary,” he adds, crediting the banker turned real estate developer for promoting the growth that led to the city’s incorporation in 1925. “I hope to continue Drake’s legacy, making this a spot for the community where everyone feels welcomed and loved.”

After closely scrutinizing the local restaurant scene, Christian is betting big on traditional breakfast and the popularity of brunch. “My whole concept is that San Carlos is already filled with dinner, so being a breakfast bar brings two things the city needs,” he says. “Brunch is an event and a celebration.” Drake’s carefully curated craft cocktail menu is served from brunch into the evening with offerings such as a mint honey bear mojito to accompany breakfast entrees. 

Drake’s executive chef Tyler Holmes, also a San Carlos native, counts the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and Sharon Heights Country Club in Menlo Park among his former kitchens. Tyler is enthusiastic about returning to his hometown to showcase his culinary expertise and features a menu ranging from corned beef Benedict and avocado toast to red velvet pancakes with cream cheese glaze and whipped butter. Some entrees include a Spanish flair in keeping with the city’s heritage such as huevos rancheros and chilaquiles with chorizo, pico de gallo and guacamole. “My goal is to serve up tasty and satisfying food unlike anything else in San Carlos,” Tyler says. 

Other unique menu items include a bacon flight and a poutine, made from French fries and cheese curds topped with short ribs. Lunch and dinner are also served with a focus on tapas-style offerings in the evening. Honoring the Carlmont High mascot, Drake’s is even offering a Scotsman’s challenge for brave patrons interested in an eating contest.

For over 11 years, Christian worked his way up the food chain at every available job in the restaurant business. “I started as a busboy at 17 and was promoted to host, server and on up until I became a general manager,” he recounts. Christian’s deep local roots include attending San Carlos schools through Carlmont High followed by college at San Jose State. He attributes some of his work ethic to his participation in local team sports. “I grew up playing baseball and football,” he says. “I had the mentality that you had to work harder than the next guy.” This mindset proved indispensable when Christian was putting in 16-hour days with a team of contractors to renovate the restaurant.

As a young entrepreneur, Christian benefitted from the support of his parents Gina and Tony Conte, who grabbed paintbrushes and hammers and collaborated on the restaurant’s vision. When asked about the challenges of making a dream become reality in such uncertain times,
Christian summarizes, “There is always a solution, you just have to work through it.” As an example, rather than chance manufacturing delays, Christian and his father built 12 indoor tabletops from scratch, accented with handmade Moroccan tile and brass trim on the sides. “We were in over our heads,” he laughs in hindsight, “but it was a good time
to bond.”

“The City of Good Living” is the motto Frederick Drake coined for his beloved city of San Carlos. Inscribed on Drake’s windows is a play on that sentiment, “Where Good Living Begins,” inviting people to gather once again. Christian is especially appreciative of the way locals are rallying behind their newest restaurateur, even passing on silver dollar keepsakes to him for good luck. “I hope to build a strong community,” he reflects as his eyes scan across the dream that has come to fruition. “Food brings people together.” 

The Mulberry Guy

words by Sheri Baer

When Kevin and Monica Lynch moved into a Palo Alto midtown fixer-upper in 2003, the adventurous pair looked at the pie-shaped 8,600-square-foot parcel and saw a blank canvas. “We scraped the yard,” Kevin recalls, “and we got out a rare fruit catalog and just planted one of everything.” 

All kinds of “random stuff,” as Kevin describes it—as many as 20 different things: Limes. Nanking cherries. Black Spanish figs. Jujubes. 

And, as with all grand experiments, there was plenty of failure. “We got a loquat that never made a piece of fruit,” laments Kevin, with a clear note of exasperation. “And kiwi, we planted eight kiwi vines and built a whole trellis—and never saw one.” 

Also in the mix: serviceberry, huckleberry and marionberry. And, a single mulberry tree, which they planted in their front yard. According to Kevin, the tree produced “two or three tiny little berries” that first year. 

Which is all it took.

“We’d never tasted mulberries before,” clarifies Kevin, accompanied by a brain-exploding-like gesture. “Monica and I were standing next to each other and we ate half a berry each. It was like, oh my god, it’s so [expletive] good. We’ve got to get another one of these.” 

Actually, they bought three more. And while Monica had hoped to hang onto a bit of open play space for their two young sons, Osy and Halo, she indulged Kevin as he whittled away at their plot of land. “Piece by piece, I started ripping out the lawn and planting a tree in its place,” he says. Kevin gestures to a particularly dense section of the yard: “There are 15 that were planted all at once right back there.”

And while a handful of other fruit trees retained some turf, the mulberry became the officially anointed king of the Lynch garden. The current tally? Now 35 mulberry trees, 20 of which are prolific producers. “When I go in, I go all the way in,” admits Kevin, as he gently plucks a plump ripe berry off a branch. 

According to Kevin, fruit-bearing mulberry trees are uncommon locally, and one look at the heavily stained ground and pavement helps illuminate the hesitancy to plant them. “They used to be a very popular tree,” he says, “but landscapers didn’t like them because they’re a godawful mess.” As a crop, mulberries are also very perishable, which makes them all but impossible to traditionally package and sell. And, then there’s the challenging matter of how mulberries ripen for harvest. 

“The season is stretched out,” Kevin notes, gesturing to a multi-colored cluster on a branch. “See, there’s a ton of green fruit right there, and only one of them is black. It’s like one gets ripe and then two weeks later the next one in the cluster gets ripe and it just goes on like that from about late May to early August.” 

So why would Kevin and Monica go “all in” growing this rather tricky and problematic fruit? First off, there’s that delectable taste. “Pure sweetness,” gushes Kevin. “Every one of these tastes like dessert, tastes absolutely sinful.” The other deciding factor? The mulberry’s weird ripening pattern is actually fortuitous timing for the Lynch family.  

Kevin and Monica are Palo Alto teachers—Kevin teaches seventh grade biology at JLS Middle School and Monica is a second grade teacher at Ohlone School—so they both have nine weeks off every summer, which directly corresponds to peak mulberry season. “We had an accidental run-in with this tree we knew nothing about,” Kevin summarizes, “and it just turned out to be a really serendipitous experience for us.”

In the early years, Kevin and Monica gave away fruit to friends and neighbors, always prompting the same reaction: “Oh, my god, those are amazing!” Before long, they were harvesting more fruit than they could share. That inspired an inquiry to the Downtown Palo Alto Farmers Market, which jumped at the chance to bring in a local exotic fruit vendor. And it was the Farmers Market that also prompted the name of the business. 

“Everyone is referred to as ‘the something’ at the market—there’s the honey guy, the apricot guy, the cheese girl,’” explains Kevin. “So I keep hearing myself being called ‘the mulberry guy,’ and I thought, ‘Why am I fighting this? I should just embrace it.’” 

Kevin and Monica created a logo and branding and launched themulberryguy.com website. Initially focused on selling fresh mulberries, the perishable nature of the berry led them to branch out into other products. “You can’t put them on the shelf, so once you pick them, the clock is running,” observes Kevin. That urgency led to the creation and packaging of mulberry jam, mulberry honey, mulberry lip balm and mulberry tea. 

A regular vendor at the Downtown Palo Alto Farmers Market, The Mulberry Guy pivoted to a more flexible direct-to-customer model to navigate the complexities of 2020—and stayed the same course through 2021. Factor in restaurant clients, which have included the likes of Madera in Menlo Park, Chez TJ  in Mountain View, Quattro at the Four Seasons Silicon Valley and even a brewery in Morgan Hill, and it’s no wonder that Kevin and Monica scramble through the summer to pick an average of 50 pounds of berries each week. “We can be out here a good three to four hours a day,” relays Kevin. “It’s a classic giraffe situation—I’m the ladder guy and then she’ll clean off everything that’s lower.” 

By the end of the summer, the couple concedes that they’re happy to see the last berries ripen. They always wrap up the picking in time for a late summer family vacation, a tradition that’s even more precious with their youngest son about to start college. And while they’ve paid a price in discolored sidewalks, stained fingers and ruined carpets, the Mulberry Guy and the Mulberry Mom (as Monica is known) don’t regret going round and round countless mulberry trees. “It has defined our time,” reflects Kevin. “It contributed a little bit of money, but more importantly, it gave us a purpose every summer and a place in the fabric of Palo Alto.” 

Our Wild Side: Covert Critters

We are not alone. However, with a few squirrely exceptions, wild mammal sightings are relatively uncommon on the Peninsula. Our animal relatives tend to be quite secretive: mostly living underground, inhabiting dense foliage or hiding during the day. Because of this, we often find chance encounters with these covert critters surprising, and if you are like me, delightful. Of course, spotting them is one thing—it’s even more challenging to capture these elusive neighbors with a camera. 

(Photo above)

Coyotes (Canis latrans) are closely related to domestic dogs. Wild coyotes have adapted well to humans and can be found in local parks and open spaces and even wandering through populated suburban areas and cities. Coyotes are active in the day as well as dawn and dusk (diurnal and crepuscular), but they will usually give people a wide margin. This coyote with a pocket gopher in his mouth was photographed near The Knoll on Stanford University campus.

This bobcat (Lynx rufus) is cruising along the open space areas near the coast. On the SF Bay side of the Coast Range, bobcats tend to hang out in wooded areas and are less frequently seen. When they are spotted, they are often mistaken for creatures as small as house cats and as large as mountain lions. Bobcats are usually quite shy, so it is useful to have a telephoto lens handy.

One commonly seen wild mammal, the Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is considered an invader to the Peninsula. This East Coast species can displace the indigenous tree squirrels. They thrive in suburban areas, raiding gardens and fruit trees and bird feeders. This particular fellow has grabbed a flower from the Eleanor Pardee community garden.

The raccoon (Procyon lotor) made a fashion statement long before masks were trendy. Though usually nocturnal, this masked bandit was kicking back in a Palo Alto neighborhood tree. Some of us have woken up to find sections of our lawns neatly rolled up where raccoons have been looking for tasty grubs. Garbage cans may also be overturned in search of leftovers. Traveling as a family unit, raccoons can be seen emerging from or disappearing into storm drains and ditches as they go about their nightly rounds.

The black rat (Rattus rattus) is well-integrated into Peninsula communities. This cute little creature was wandering around Lincoln Street in Palo Alto. During the Age of Discovery, explorers and merchants traveled around the world unwittingly bringing these Old World rodents with them. Historically, black rats were thought to be the scourge of the Middle Ages. With the rats came fleas and with the fleas came the bacteria that caused plague.   

Mephitis is an archaic word referring to a noxious or foul-smelling odor, a stench. Perhaps it is not surprising that the scientific name for the striped skunk is Mephitis mephitis. It is unusual to see a skunk in our Peninsula neighborhoods, particularly in the daytime. But it is not so uncommon to smell one. They are around. I try to get close enough for a good picture but far enough to avoid the skunk’s stinky defense response. 

Discover Los Gatos

Searching for a day’s getaway that offers walking/cycling/boating, a historic winery, good eating and a thriving downtown filled with unique shops? Look no further than Los Gatos, just 30 minutes south from the mid-Peninsula.

Nestled at the base of the Sierra Azules, Los Gatos was originally named “La Rinconada de Los Gatos” or “Cat’s Corner,” in reference to the mountain lions that wandered the creeks and nearby hillside. Los Gatos began with a Mexican government land grant in 1839, and a rail line connecting San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Cruz opened in 1878, making the town an early tourist destination. It remains so today.

The Discover LOST Gatos app offers a series of self-guided historical walking tours focusing on the people, places and events that have shaped the town for over 200 years. Download the app to your digital device—use it on your visit or preview in advance—for a helpful orientation to this picturesque haven in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. 

Photography: Linda Hubbard

Walk, bike, fish, boat—all in a day

Oak Meadow Park, one of 18 parks/open spaces that dot the town’s 15 square miles, features the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad and W.E. “Bill” Mason Carousel. After going round and round on the historic carousel built in 1915, you can go “all aboard” on the 1/3-scale steam and diesel locomotive for a scenic ride through Oak Meadow and Vasona Lake County Park. The attractions are a big hit with youngsters who can also scramble atop an old fire truck and an Air Force jet in the adjacent play area. 

On our recent visit, we used Oak Meadow as a launch point for walking along the dog-friendly Los Gatos Creek Trail to Vasona Lake, which is operated by the County of Santa Clara. You’ll share most of the trail with cyclists and encounter people fishing at the lake, which is stocked with rainbow trout from November through April. The summer fishing appeared to be yielding black bass. 

There’s also boating on the lake—kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, pedal boats, canoes and sailboat rentals. The first three allow your dog to come along within specified weight limits. Call 408.399.5260 to verify operating hours.

Sample Testarossa’s award-winning wines

What began in 1993 as an experiment in Diana and Rob Jensen’s Silicon Valley garage, became a reality a year later with Testarossa Winery’s first release: a 1994 Chardonnay that garnered 91 points from Wine Spectator.

In 1996, the Jensens moved Testarossa to the historic Novitiate Winery in downtown Los Gatos. Built in 1888 and run by Jesuits who made altar wine as well as sweet, fortified wines, it is the Bay Area’s oldest continually operating winery. “A lot of people became Catholics in 1919,” quipped Rob during our tour of the winery.

Photography: Courtesy of Testarossa Winery

Rob talked about going from the peak of record revenues in 2019 and being honored in January 2020 by Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine as “Winery of the Year” to the low in March 2020 of having to shut down all customer-facing tasting rooms, which are now open again.

Walking through the old winery buildings is at times like taking a tour of the Winchester Mystery House. Yes, there are even stairways to nowhere! Rob expects that public tours will resume this summer. He also told us that he used the temporary closure to make upgrades, which will include a commercial kitchen. All the better to host the many events that take place on the property every year.

Spread out over a large patio, Wine Bar 107 is named for its Novitiate Winery predecessor, which was the 107th bonded winery in California. It was bustling on the afternoon of our visit. The cheese plate consisted of three delicious cheeses along with crackers, roasted nuts and fresh fruit. It was accompanied by two Pinot Noirs, the 2018 Rosella’s Vineyard and the 2017 Fogstone Vineyard.

Photography: Courtesy of Testarossa Winery

Alas, our palates were not knowledgeable enough to noticeably taste the difference, but we can say that the two Pinots paired well with the cheeses.

Of note: located adjacent to Testarossa is the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, formerly the Jesuit Novitiate. Now a retirement home for Jesuit priests in the western U.S., the Novitiate was once the place where young men entered the priesthood. That brings the Jesuits’ association with the winery full circle. 

Discover a bustling downtown—and a distinctive house

Downtown Los Gatos—which includes Santa Cruz Avenue, Main Street and University Avenue—is chock-a-block with independent and unique retail stores along with numerous restaurants and a scattering of wine tasting rooms. August brings the last two live music events of the summer on August 5 and 12 with two groups performing each night.

It would be easy to spend hours wandering the streets, if only just window shopping. But Los Gatos is also a bit of a foodie haven. It is home to Manresa, one of only four restaurants in the Bay Area earning three Michelin stars. (The other three—Atelier Crenn, Benu and Quince—are all in San Francisco.) It is open for dinner only, Wednesdays through Sundays, offering a Chef’s Tasting Menu for $350 per person. 

Photography: Robb Most

Can it be worth it? Gushes the Michelin Guidebook about Chef David Kinch’s creations: “The nightly compositions are unknown until they arrive on the table (a souvenir copy of the menu will be handed to you at the end). The food is at once cerebral and luxurious, approachable and thoroughly delicious.”

There are other good locally-owned restaurants. Our Menlo-Atherton High School classmate Donna Dawson Schwarz, who is a realtor in the area, gives high marks to the Wine Cellar Restaurant located in the Old Town Shopping Center.

Final tip on dining downtown: If you’re going for lunch, come on the early or late side as restaurants fill up quickly around noon.

Walk your lunch off on the downtown side streets filled with charming older properties. Donna told us about one very distinctive home—the smallest house on the smallest lot in all of Santa Clara County. Built in 1920 and once home to the mayor of Los Gatos, the one bedroom, one bath cottage is just 574 square feet and sits on a 986-square-foot lot (0.023 acres). 

Let us know if you find something smaller on the Peninsula! 

Photography: Robb Most

Diary of a Dog: Buddy

My name is Buddy and my love language is licking. It’s a good thing Angela and Todd immediately picked up on that when they first met me at Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV). I felt an instant kinship so I slathered them with wet kisses to express my enthusiasm. Angela and Todd understood what I was saying and brought me home to Los Altos, where I also live with Angela’s daughter Lily and my partner-in-fun Maggie, a Tibetan Terrier/Poodle mix also adopted from HSSV. As for me, I’m a mix of miniature Poodle and Bichon, which explains my petite size—just 10 pounds. And no, I didn’t pay for my dramatic ombré-colored ears. It may look like I just came from a salon, but my beauty is all natural. Angela and Todd often work at home during the day, so there’s always lots of company. But Maggie and I love it when Angela goes into the office. She works at Villa Montalvo Arts Center and takes us on hikes behind the villa and we get to run around the property. Lucky us, right? Lily is in high school, so whenever she isn’t home, I jump on her bed and wait for her return—and then greet her with a good licking. I’m often described as fun-loving and fearless but also a bit of a rascal. That’s just because I like to dig in flower beds and eat out of Maggie’s bowl, instead of my own. I also jump into Maggie’s bed first at night, but she thinks it’s funny and just pushes me out. There are advantages to being small. I get to take baths in the kitchen sink, and I love slurping down water while I’m being rinsed. After all, when you’re a licker like me, you’ve got to stay hydrated. 

San Mateo Sensei

After delivering intricate therapeutic treatments—from inserting needles with pinpoint precision to warming and carefully placing suctioning cups—what does a holistic medicine practitioner do to restore himself? If you’re Hide Minami, the director and founder of Holistic Health Center, you surf 30- to 40-foot waves at Mavericks on the San Mateo County coast. “Being in nature, cleansing in the ocean water” is the best way he’s found to replenish his own healing energy.

According to Hide, qi is key in his holistic medicine practice. “I use energy from the natural environment to move the patients’ stagnant energy,” he says. As Hide explains it, the energy that governs people’s physical and mental states needs to flow. From an early age, Hide was taught that if qi is blocked, blood and body fluids don’t flow well and that can lead to pain and illness.

Born to one of the oldest acupuncture families in Japan, Hide is a sixth-generation practitioner, with a family acupuncture lineage dating back 300 years. “A long time ago,” he notes, “we used mugwort leaves—moxa and natural herbs instead of needles—and burnt it on the acupuncture points.”

Working out of both Menlo Park and San Mateo locations, Hide still uses small cones of moxa to heat acupuncture points on the body that correspond to organs, to alleviate ailments such as skin diseases, alopecia and the effects of chemotherapy.

Although Hide received his Japanese national license in acupuncture, he initially fought the expectation to be an acupuncturist. In 1982, he came to the U.S. on a foreign student visa. Speaking no English, he lived with a Mormon bishop in Redwood City, attended ESL classes in Palo Alto and went on to major in hotel management at Cañada College. In perhaps a sign of inevitability, it was his love of big waves that led him back to his family legacy. 

Hide uses his Rakuten professional surfing contract to support Japanese and American world-class surfers.
Photography: Courtesy of Hide Minami

Introduced to surfing by a friend in high school, Hide dreamed of working (and surfing)in Hawaii but he needed a green card. An attorney told him he could use his Japanese acupuncture license to obtain an H1B visa for a specialty occupation. That was the incentive Hide needed to make a pivot to the past—and reclaim a deeply-embedded commitment to healing. 

In addition to the training he received in Japan, Hide attended San Francisco College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. He also studied Chinese herbs with a Chinese doctor for three years and learned about cupping and gua sha, a traditional skin scraping technique. He obtained his state license decades ago, yet he strives to learn more, participating in an international study group for the last 20 years and covering subjects such as Japanese Meridian Therapy as well as Western medicine.

Photography: Courtesy of Hide Minami

To many, Hide is known as “sensei,” which means doctor or teacher. He has a fifth-degree black belt in karate and second degree in kobudo martial arts weapons. In his hometown of San Mateo, he taught at Oshiro Karate Dojo for 30 years and has been teaching PE and Japanese meditation at Odyssey Middle School for 19 years.

Hide’s personal regimen includes free diving, gym workouts, pilates, yoga, strengthening and physical therapy for various injuries. His storied life also includes a professional surfing career. “I’ve almost been killed a couple of times,” Hide admits, but he shows no signs of slowing down. As evidence of that, he keeps 30 surf-boards in his garage. Perhaps most noticeable is the ten-foot six-inch pink board that surfing legend Jeff Clark gave him. They go way back, competing against each other in the 1980s. It was Jeff Clark who turned Hide on to Mavericks. 

Hide started surfing at Mavericks in 1997 and says it took almost ten years of practice before he could catch a wave every time. Sometimes he waits three to four hours to catch the right one, and last January that led to a mishap. It was dark at six o’clock and he was the only person still in the water. Although he was wearing a padded wetsuit, the last wave hit him with a pop and broke a rib. 

Hide cried out when it happened, but smiles now as he talks about it, figuring that he only missed out on five days of surfing this past season. Given his tally of injuries to date—two broken ribs, a labrum tear, about 20 whiplashes and ACL and meniscus tears in both knees—healing has become a way of being. Hide’s advice for anyone involved in dangerous extreme sports like big-wave surfing is to train hard and maintain a healthy lifestyle. “No party, no drink before going to Mavericks,” he says. “Eat well and sleep.” 

Hide credits his wife for making very healthy meals and getting him to embrace another favorite pastime: golf. After six years of practicing almost daily, he experienced the thrill of getting a hole in one, but he only plays occasionally these days because golf takes a lot of time and admittedly, he doesn’t have much. 

With all that he does, Hide still prioritizes his patients, some of whom he has treated for over 35 years. He is a healer to multi-generations of Peninsula families; his oldest client is 104 and he frequently treats infants as well. “I love what I’m doing,” he affirms. “I approve of my ancestors guiding me to this field—it’s very rewarding.”

Hide tries many approaches during sessions and frequently sends patients home with herbal remedies imported from Taiwan and Japan and ground into a powder to be added to hot water. He describes them as “very safe to take every day” and meant to strengthen his patients’ constitutions.

To maintain his own constitution, Hide relies heavily on pilates and meditation. He views the calming, relaxing serenity he achieves as another way to balance out his energy, which allows him to continue on his chosen path. 

Longevity is key to everything Hide hopes to accomplish, and he has his sights set on becoming the oldest surfer in Guinness World Records. The magic age is 92. “I want to beat the record,” he says, “and be living proof of the power of practicing preventative medicine.” 

Perfect Shot: Tilt-a-Swirl

Earlier this summer, the San Mateo County Fair welcomed 16,000 people a day to its fairgrounds for carnival rides, exhibits, music and a little slice of summertime American tradition. Rarely missing the moment and with his camera always within easy reach, Gino De Grandis snapped this month’s Perfect Shot of the Viper amusement ride, elevated off the ground and shooting countless streams of dazzling illumination for all to see. 

Image by Gino De Grandis / luiphotography.com

Arias and a Final Act

words by Silas Valentino

The day’s overture begins with a cup of coffee from Peet’s. Soon after, Khori Dastoor, general director (GD) of Opera San José (OSJ), launches into a meeting with her creative team about who should play the lead in the upcoming performance of Bizet’s Carmen.

As a lifelong performer who has sung on stages throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia, Khori’s network runs deep and she has a particular artist in mind who would be perfect to lead the company’s first show for 2022.

By 10 AM,  she’s on a Zoom call, followed by a meeting with the Friends of Opera San José, the company’s volunteer support group, before wrapping up to sit in on vocal auditions—the first in-person auditions in well over a year. Darting past a seated auditionee by the company’s front door, Khori shoots him a warm “good luck” smile.

Photography: Courtesy of Bob Shomler

Khori concludes her work day with a budget meeting before transitioning to her life outside the opera, which includes her husband, their two daughters and a home in Los Altos.

It’s an active day (only a Tuesday) but her schedule has bustled with hustle ever since Khori assumed the helm of the opera company in 2019, capping off a 14-year relationship with OSJ. Her first season as general director was hampered by social restrictions and cancellations, demanding her stable leadership to navigate the team through months of unknowns and uncertainties.

As OSJ approaches its new season and the return of live audiences, Khori earns a pause amid the flurry of scheduling to reflect and process the feat of safely guiding an opera company through the perils of 2020. “I just had faith that this was coming to me for a reason and that I had something to offer,” she says, before flashing a grin. “If I would have known all the things that were to transpire… I might have made a different choice!”

She lets out a well-deserved laugh. Now that the fraught hardship of keeping a production house afloat through unprecedented trials is over, pure comedy rises above the drama.

“You have to take a leap of faith,” she continues. “Most of us have that feeling, that deep-down fear of imposter syndrome. I realize that I do have a different perspective and a different resume but that is valuable.”

Photography: Courtesy of Chris Hardy

Khori first joined OSJ in 2007 as a singer and part of its resident ensemble of principal artists, a unique 12-month program that provides a salary and housing, giving artists the ability to remain rooted in one area and regularly perform.

She sang lyric soprano in over a dozen productions as a performer for OSJ and the experience shaped both her career and personal life. Following a production of Lucia di Lammermoor, Khori met her now husband at a party. (Coincidentally, she portrayed the titular character who, in the show, murders her own husband.) The two married four years later.

She’d go on to work in the administrative side of the company, first as an artistic advisor to the general director before becoming director of artistic planning, managing casting and artist recruitment. Her selection as the company’s next GD, the person who’s ultimately responsible for all of its artistic and financial aspects, was an obvious choice.

Although there had been a smooth ascent to Khori’s director role, drama unfortunately ensued on cue for the second act.

In the reception room of the OSJ office, there’s a poster for Khori’s inaugural season with Mozart’s The Magic Flute rounding out the calendar, slated for what was to be a doomed April 2020 opening. Khori and her crew were nearly ready for the production when lockdown and quarantine measures prevented the show from going on.

Now a life-like dragon used in the show hangs on wire suspended inside OSJ’s prop warehouse, a token reminder of the first show ever to be canceled in the company’s 37-year history. It was a decision Khori didn’t make lightly but did so with her team’s safety in mind.

Khori as Adina in 2008 OSJ production of ‘The Elixir of Love.’
Photography: Courtesy of Bob Shomler

Even without an audience in seats, Khori didn’t take a day off throughout 2020. She swiftly launched a successful relief fund to help the company’s musicians, artists and theatre staff affected by the loss of work.

By June, she oversaw the development of the Heiman Digital Media Studio, which allowed OSJ to begin broadcasting digital performances. Because of its unique ability to have a fully-equipped stage and a roster of talent on hand, OSJ began producing digital performances for an audience that extended beyond any physical auditorium. Other opera companies began rebroadcasting OSJ’s shows since it was some of the only fresh material available.

“We never had funding to invest in our archive but we had a space and artists who lived in-house,” Khori explains. “We had an opportunity to actively produce. At that time, we didn’t have an endowment so it made sense to make the shows available on a revenue sharing model. I was very certain we wouldn’t give this away for free. I don’t believe in that; these artists are professionals and I wanted to communicate that value to consumers.”

Khori adds that it’s easy to classify OSJ as an artists-first institution and she says this from her own personal experience rising up through the program.

“I was a waitress, a teacher and was getting my doctorate at UCLA when I came to OSJ. My job was to be an opera singer, which is a job that doesn’t really exist in America,” she says.

“The artist’s residency at OSJ is not just about housing and a salary, it’s healthcare and personal relationships. You’re putting down roots in a place. So often in this work we ask people to sacrifice family and their needs. It’s a tremendous gift but it does have cons. We’re not able to be in New York getting seen. But the pandemic shifted the calculus for artists about their priorities.”

Photography: Courtesy of Chris Hardy

Growing up in Pasadena, and for the rest of her life, Khori’s priority was theater and performance. She sang in the L.A. Opera’s children’s chorus and would sometimes join her mom to help on the floats for the annual Rose Parade.

She celebrates the timeless qualities of opera, how jokes written centuries ago still hold up and the shared humanity that persists through the ages.

It’s this passion and proven leadership that caught the attention of the Houston Grand Opera, which selected Khori to become its next general director and CEO, beginning in January 2022. Following 15 years in San José, Khori is bound for Texas. 

It’s the latest challenge and a new act for the lifelong performer, who continues to relish some of her favorite Peninsula traditions: It’s apricot season at the Thursday Farmers Market in Los Altos, a delicious taste of summer to treasure before her final OSJ curtain call.

Fast & Furious

After my freshman year at Claremont McKenna College, I was in Houston for the summer visiting my mother, who had moved there to play in the symphony. My stepfather Bob gave me—and I was grateful for it—the rather onerous job of painting apartment balcony railings in the city’s dreadful heat and humidity. 

My Dad had offered to help me buy my first car, so I was motivated to paint those rails. I had been longing for a Ford Capri II hatchback, and toward the end of the summer, my Mom and Bob took me to a dealer near their home. As if ordained, they had exactly the combination I wanted: a sleek white manual with a tan interior. Better yet, it had a sunroof. 

I truly loved that car, an emotion that came to define my relationships with cars. Once they were mine, I was all in. While I don’t need a lot of possessions, I tend to care mightily for the ones that I have. They become part of me, and I keep them meticulous. 

That car took me through college and graduate school, eventually ending up in Miami, where my wife and I lived for several years while I was the general manager—my first job—at Miami Magazine. Eventually the Capri—its air conditioning not up to the Miami summers and the salt air rusting its underbelly—gave way to me buying a new Volvo 240, white with tan interior. It was a beautiful car and everything worked properly, especially the air conditioning. It felt like a “grown-up” car.

We decided that Miami was not for us, and we traveled in my beloved Volvo to the Peninsula. Once my newly established publishing company was humming along nicely and we had bought a home, had a couple of children and bought a Suburban for the family, I discovered the Infiniti J30. It was shaped a bit like a classic Jaguar, and I was drawn to its elegance and sophistication.

Breaking with my color code, I bought a beautiful British green J30 (although still with tan interior!).  I loved the many glowing dials and switches in the car, and they reminded me of a small jet plane. I felt good driving down the road in this—for me—luxurious car.

I drove this much-adored Infiniti for almost a decade, yet it still looked brand-new inside and out when I sold it and bought a Mercedes 240, white with tan leather interior. I was uneasy, honestly, buying a German car since growing up my father had a strict rule about not buying anything made in Germany because of what he went through as a child there. But my sister had bought one, so I decided it was okay if I did as well. The car had a lot of plush aspects to it and frankly, I felt proud to be behind the wheel of a Mercedes. I guess it was the stage of my life when I needed to demonstrate my success, as modest as it was, though it took a while for me to get comfortable with that notion.

About eight years later, I moved up the ladder to a Mercedes E, again—and always now—in white with a tan leather interior. Its larger size and greater power served me better as I drove around my four teenage children. I relished this car, came to love it and care for it like a baby, but it did not love me back and developed severe problems as it aged—warning lights that could not be fixed, engine issues that were constant and a failing dashboard screen.

I thought long and hard about what I wanted next, and I realized it was time to get a vehicle that at its core was practical and versatile, one that could accommodate the projects and demands on me and my children now that they had their own homes and constantly needed help to move furniture or building materials or children’s “stuff.” I found a Range Rover Sport in white with a tan leather interior (a guy can’t change too much) that I instantly fell in love with, though my daughter Tali told me it was a “woman’s car.” So what? At first it was a challenge for me since it was so large, but it quickly became “me” and it has been enormously helpful on a regular basis.

So, I’ve had six cars in my life. These cars seemed to define who I was at different points in my life, from the sportiness of my youth to the practicality of having young children to a feeling of wanting to drive “success” to, finally, not caring about anything but having a workhorse of a vehicle. But I truly loved each car, bonding with them in what is certainly a ridiculous concept, fastidiously taking care of them and then feeling remorse when letting go of them. 

I know, of course, what my last ride will be and just hope that my family has the good decency to make sure that it is white with a tan interior. And maybe a sunroof.

The Torch is Burning

Three Exceptional Photographers Capture the Iconic Spirit of the Olympic Games

Words by Sheri Baer

During his first assignment to the Olympics—Los Angeles 1984—photojournalist David Burnett took a seat mid-track to cover the women’s 3,000-meter final. He unwittingly found himself in the perfect position to document the infamous collision between American runner Mary Decker and South African Zola Budd.

“I kept seeing this movement of red in a place that did not look like it was supposed to be happening,” Burnett recalls of the limited view through his single-lens reflex camera. “But I couldn’t really tell what it was until all the runners ran by, and I saw Mary lying straight across from us on the track.”

Adrenaline firing, Burnett swapped for his telephoto lens, quickly checked focus, and then, “bing, bing, bing, bing, bing,” he continued to click, ultimately capturing an iconic and heartbreaking Olympic moment. 

Sports photographer David Madison counts the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo as his inaugural trip to the epic global event. He will never forget the sense of awe he felt the first time a ski jumper flew over his head.

Photography: (c)2021 David Burnett/Contact

“When a ski jumper comes off the lip of the jump and disappears over the slope, the thing that is stunning is how much noise comes from their body going through the air,” David marvels. “You just wouldn’t think of it, but it’s like having an airplane zip by you.”

For sports and fine art photographer John Todd, London 2012 was the ticket—and he was there to cover the USA Women’s Soccer team’s run for the gold. “They were so amped up. Some of the best soccer I’ve ever seen in my life was USA versus Japan in that final,” John says, noting that he channeled that same intensity capturing the action. “The Olympics is definitely the pinnacle for a sports photographer—you are covering something at the highest level.”

Through their joint exhibit The Torch Is Burning at Art Ventures Gallery in Menlo Park, David Burnett, David Madison and John Todd capture the spirit and visual wonder of the world’s most legendary sporting event. 

“The Olympics are something that people crave and can hardly wait for,” observes David Burnett. “People are ready to appreciate athletes again.”

Photography: Courtesy (c)2021 Sebastian Wells

David Burnett


Los Angeles 1984 may have been his first, but David Burnett subsequently went on to tally 12 Olympic Games—with plans to make Tokyo his 13th. Named one of the “100 Most Important People in Photography” by American Photo magazine, the award-winning photojournalist first took up a camera during his high school days in Salt Lake City. Choosing the path of a “generalist journalist,” David’s six-decade career rewards him with a wide range of experiences. “One day it’s a business portrait for Fortune magazine,” he says, “and then it’s a congressional hearing for TIME magazine and then a picture of the Boston Red Sox for Sports Illustrated.” In 1976, David co-founded Contact Press Images, a New York-based independent photojournalism agency now in its 45th year. David’s work at the Olympics reflects the agency’s mission to cover major events of the day through lasting images and in-depth photographic essays. With strong local ties (including family Stanford, Palo Alto and Menlo Park connections), David shares his wisdom and insights with the Peninsula through photography workshops ranging from the “Big Game” to an upcoming one on “The Art of the Portrait.” (see iriscreative.org/burnett)

Photography: (c)2021 David Burnett/Contact

Is there any kind of common theme through your coverage of the Olympics? 

For me, it’s about the representation of athleticism. What I really love about the Olympics is that for everybody who’s there, in addition to just having the best time or lifting the most weight, whatever it is, there is something in their expression of athleticism that demands your attention. What I’m always trying to find, what I’m always trying to get it honed down to, is that little moment when you see how amazing somebody can be. I rarely have the winners because I’m much more interested in finding something that is an expression of that athleticism, that energy, and some artistic way of interpreting it. 

Photography: (c)2021 David Burnett/Contact

What goes into capturing a good sports photograph? 

You want to end up with something that is striking, as the way any good photograph has that ability to speak to you without words. So much of it is about anticipation. You have to be very nimble and able to react quickly and understand what’s coming next. The thing about sports is that there’s very seldom, if ever, a second chance. The best stuff is more often a surprise than the thing that you thought was going to happen in the first place, but you have to be ready for it. You have to be able to change direction and to change look in a heartbeat because in sports, things can change so quickly. You’re looking for your pictures to land some great moment or to see something that nobody else saw—and occasionally, it happens.

Photography: (c)2021 David Burnett/Contact

Who have been your favorite athletes to photograph? 

I’ll say this about Usain Bolt: He is a perfect showman, which kind of matched his running talent. It was just always a joy to see him live up to himself. He was always great and fun to watch. Carl Lewis was a little like that in 1984 when he was doing long jump and the 100 meters and the relay team and won four medals that year. The gymnasts are amazing. Oh my God, I mean look at what they do and how they do it, and all I’m trying to do is get a picture of what they’re doing. So it’s really fun to watch and a joy to try to keep up with them.

Photography: David Madison

David Madison


David Madison moved to the Peninsula in the late ’60s in time to attend Gunn High School. After attending Stanford and living mostly in Palo Alto, he moved to Portola Valley in 1993. For David, photography started out as a hobby in junior high, which had nothing to do with sports. “I fell into the sports thing in college when I started shooting Stanford football,” he says, “and it just kind of snowballed from there.” Through Stanford connections, David secured an assignment to cover Sarajevo 1984, which led to a total of 11 Olympic Games, culminating in Salt Lake City in 2002. David worked with sports photo agencies that pool clients and images, and his Olympic images have appeared in magazines like Newsweek and Sports Illustrated and have been used by Olympic sponsors including Levi Strauss, Kodak, IBM and the U.S. Postal Service. In a continuing career now spanning five decades of worldwide sports events, David is also commemorating 50 years of photographing Stanford football. 

Photography: David Madison

What do you think distinguishes your style from other sports photographers?

I came into it as more of an outsider: What’s visually interesting to me here? Sometimes, I think I didn’t become a superb action photographer because I was more interested in non-action points of view and images from sports. Hard action is kind of the classic element of sports photography but there’s a whole slew of that world that is not hard action—whether it’s a scene that’s in-between moments or before a game or after a game. My images tend to be more symbolic of a sport, more of an iconic view or slightly more abstracted view, as opposed to documenting a certain play or a certain moment. 

Photography: David Madison

How would you describe the physical toll of photographing the Olympic Games? 

I always looked at the Olympics like an all-you-can-eat menu and I wanted to just grab as much of it as I could. It’s very tiring. If I were to photograph a baseball game here, that would be a three-, four- or five-hour event. The Olympics is like doing that three times a day for almost three weeks. It’s a real challenge in terms of trying to keep your energy up, trying to sleep. By the end of the first week, you get on the bus and everybody’s instantly asleep for the half-hour it takes to go back to the media center. 

Photography: David Madison

What sports have you enjoyed shooting most at the Olympics? 

I love track. It’s been something that I’ve followed intensely for a long time. To be in an Olympic stadium for the 100-meter dash final with 100,000 people watching, that is an incredible moment, an incredible focus of human energy in an arena, and it’s a privilege to be a part of it. It’s also terrifying because you’re nervous about what you’re going to try to capture and it’s over in 10 seconds. Weightlifting is the other sport that pops to mind. You think, ‘Weightlifting, how interesting can this be?’ But weightlifting at the Olympics is usually staged in a theater, so it has this formal ceremonial aspect to it. And when you see a lifter trying to complete their lift and either doing it or not, somehow this very basic core human emotion comes out. It’s a pure goal: ‘Can I lift this weight?’

Photography: John Todd

John Todd 


Growing up in Palo Alto, the Olympics always held a wondrous quality for John Todd, which his mother, Anne Cribbs, undoubtedly helped foster. As the American record holder and fastest American breastroker on the 1960 Olympic team, 15-year-old Anne swam in the preliminary round of the medley relay, which helped position the team for its gold medal win. “I think the Olympics always just had this mystique in our household because my mom had gone at such an early age and would talk about it,” John reflects. The former Gunn High School football player, wrestler and diver launched his career answering an ad for a sports photographer in Connecticut. After moving back to Palo Alto in the early ‘90s, John’s career took off, taking him from AP stringer to owner of International Sports Images (ISI Photos), the official photography supplier to U.S. Soccer, Stanford Athletics and the San Jose Earthquakes. A professional sports and fine art photographer for over 25 years now, John also teaches regularly in Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program. After covering the 2012 London Olympics, he now has his sights set on Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028. 

Photography: John Todd

How did you approach your coverage of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team at the London Olympics?

You don’t get to see the team until they’re on the field, and so it’s really just trying to capture those moments on the field that were important to their victory run—the drama, the celebration, the intensity of the physical play and the passion they exhibit. Also, I was lucky enough to have an all sports credential, so I tried to cover as many other sports as possible. I photographed Usain Bolt in his 100 meters, which was incredible. One of the most fun things for me to shoot was equestrian because of the colors and the pageantry. Photographing all-around gymnastics was an incredible moment as well. 

Photography: John Todd

How would you describe the pressure on photographers at the Olympics? 

The athletes are competing on the field but all the photographers are competing against each other. So it’s really a photography competition that you enter when you go to the Olympics because you’re trying to outshoot everybody next to you. You’re trying to find a different angle in a constrained environment. That’s where you really have to elevate your own game as a photographer because you’re trying to get your own gold. 

How meaningful is it to partner with David Burnett and David Madison on this exhibit?  

David Madison has been a mentor to me since I moved back to the Bay Area in 1991. I took David out to lunch and he gave me some advice and over the years has always been there for the smart word, kind of steering me with career advice. He’s just been a fantastic person in the photographic community and very supportive. And David Burnett is one of my heroes. They say that you shouldn’t meet your heroes, and I say, well, you haven’t met David Burnett yet. And I couldn’t be more excited about The Torch Is Burning theme. Yes, the Olympics are the pinnacle but the important part of sports is the competition and that extraordinary drive that athletes have in them.

10 Reasons Why We Love The Peninsula

1. one highway to rule them all 

State Route 1 runs along most of the Pacific coastline for a total of just over 656 miles and the Peninsula is home to 50 of those gorgeous miles. Highway 1 is the longest state route in California and since its construction in 1934, the road has attracted worldwide attention due to its nonstop wonderland of scenic vistas. We get to trace it from the notorious stretch of Devil’s Slide, through the beach town sideshow of Half Moon Bay and past the pastoral landscapes of Pescadero before reaching the marine mammals lounging throughout Año Nuevo State Park.

Photography: Annie Barnett

2. art in abundance 

We’re so flush with priceless art that Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center is flanked by its Rodin sculpture garden on one side and the Anderson Collection, a world-class contemporary gallery, in its other wing. Home to more than 38,000 works of art that span 5,000 years, Cantor is open to the public for free viewing of its 24 galleries with more than 15 special exhibitions each year. And the Gates of Hell always await, just one of the many masterpieces in the largest collection of Rodin sculptures in an American museum. The Anderson Collection features an outstanding private assembly of modern and contemporary American art. Currently closed for building maintenance, the Anderson Collection will reopen in fall 2021 to welcome us back to its cultural riches.  

“We are a stone’s throw from Stanford University, which I think of as the mothership. Even if you didn’t go there, you can enjoy so many things on campus—concerts, museums, sports, classes.”    —Jennifer Gill Roberts, Menlo Park

Photography: Irene Searles

3. into the woods

Click on the link openspacetrust.org/hikes and your screen will erupt with a jam-packed map of little blue markers. Pick a spot at random, for instance the Canyon Rim Route in Butano State Park, and you quickly learn that the trail is closed to dogs (horses okay) and to watch for sticky monkey flower, coast live oak and some expansive views. The Peninsula Open Space Trust is just one rich resource for trail information and ideas. The San Mateo County Parks Department is always finding new ways to inspire a trailhead visit, such as the popular Take a Hike Challenge that highlights seven routes worth filling your canteen and visiting.

“My perfect Peninsula day: lunch at Alpine Inn, hiking in Foothills Park, then driving out to the coast—San Gregorio market for coffee, Pescadero for fresh-baked artichoke bread and exploring Main Street in Half Moon Bay.”

      —Paula Meier, Redwood Shores

Photography: Courtesy of Mary Fischer

4. bask in the baylands 

From the rolling hills of Blair Island to the salt ponds of the Don Edwards National Refuge, the Peninsula has miles of Baylands to explore and appreciate. Birders rejoice with the ever-flowing migratory patterns in the Pacific Flyway while bicyclists peddle the Baylands Preserve, 15 miles of multi-use trails spanning Mountain View and East Palo Alto. A unique mixture of tidal and freshwater habitats, the Baylands is a one-of-a-kind park with bbq pits and picnic tables awaiting your summer gathering.

“On a brisk morning, Sawyer Camp Trail followed by a brunch at one of my favorite spots, Sun of Wolf in Palo Alto, is always a treat.”

      —Emma Elfving, Burlingame

Photography: Robb Most

5. all aboard caltrain

Since 1863, the railway has united the Peninsula but our red and white baby bullet began as Caltrain in 1985. It has since become a staple of Peninsula living for commuters, ballgame attendees and weekend warriors who want to travel between towns without getting behind the wheel. The electrification project will arrive in 2024 thus ending its long run as a diesel train, but the power of the train remains. The hourly blasts of a train horn are a reminder that we’re all connected here, one station at a time.

“Our SFO airport has had some incredible exhibits along with fantastic art in some of the different areas that are accessible without having a departing ticket. Then there is Filoli, which is an incredible visit, especially in the spring when the foliage pops out.” —Nancy Woods, San Mateo

6. seeing the future

If what they say is true (how California is 15 years ahead of most of the rest of the country), then helping to prove this point is the casual tech advancements we see every day on the Peninsula. The future of the digital roads is nurtured here with Tesla and Google’s Waymo vehicles out in full force, mapping every road and detail for a safe and inevitable driverless reality. No other community is likely as digitally mapped as ours. We’re the guinea pigs for tomorrow, each success and Google Glass failure at a time.

“The best part of the Peninsula is that we are centered between all these areas like Menlo Park, SF and Half Moon Bay. It helps for commuting and visiting friends.” 
—Ashley Canty, Hillsborough

7. up, up and away

Don’t ever take this one for granted. Two major international airports bookend the Peninsula, meaning that picking up visitors is never a chore and nonstop flights are always within reach. Your portal to the world, SFO offers a convenient escape to destinations like Hawaii with several hundred flights to Kahului and Honolulu every month. San Jose offers direct flights to New York City with multiple fast passes to Mexico. Each airport makes it easy for curbside pick-up and drop-off and goes the extra mile to make the hours awaiting your flight enjoyable at the airport. Check out the rotating art exhibits at SFO that are better than a free hour of wifi.

8. dining al fresco 

More often than not, when the host asks “inside or out” upon arriving at a restaurant, the answer is clear. Outdoor dining reaches its peak during a balmy Peninsula day when the sunglasses are on and the troubles are out. With the recent addition of parklets, even more eateries can capitalize on our idyllic outdoor dining conditions. Everyone has their go-to spot and at PUNCH, a few recent favorites have been Mykonos in Burlingame, Town in San Carlos and Zareen’s (Redwood City and Palo Alto). Just a sampling of restaurants where the sunshine is always welcome.

“There is so much I love about living on the Peninsula. We have great weather, sunny skies and pleasant temperatures. I especially love taking in the beauty and scenery driving south on Highway 280 as the highway follows the curves and the contours of the rolling hills.”
—Neal Tandowsky, San Mateo 

Photography: Courtesy of Redwood City Events

9. music in the air

As we get back to normal, nothing signals a community in celebration quite like live music. Anticipating that return, we pay homage to Peninsula summers that typically mean eight stages of free live music each week—whether it’s shows at Menlo Park’s Fremont Park or Redwood City shutting down its courthouse square for an active roster of local bands through its Music on the Square series. As for traditional venues, Club Fox across from the square draws in national touring acts while Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater frequently books the largest shows of the season. 

“Attending an old movie at the Stanford Theatre, shopping at East West Bookshop, hanging out on a blanket reading a book at Lincoln Park, listening to music from the Big Band era on local station KCEA, indulging myself with a gluten-free Gingersnapperdoodle cookie from Sweet Diplomacy.” 

—Diane Holcomb, Los Altos

10. you can always go—downtown

Petula Clark may as well have been a Peninsulan when she celebrated the sparkling allure of downtowns. From the crisp sidewalks of Burlingame to the semicircle stroll through downtown Los Altos, the Peninsula is home to a rolling sequence of city blocks worth the walk. Often featuring architecture from bygone centuries, a downtown on the Peninsula hits all the essentials (cafés, bars, restaurants and shops) with special character in each one. Redwood City keeps the tempo more active with its theaters while Laurel Street in San Carlos has a buzzing eatery and bar scene. Raise your spirits by going downtown.

Half Moon Bay Jail

Coastside saloon patrons who over-imbibed on the whiskey might have found themselves sleeping it off in the Half Moon Bay Jail. Up until the late 1870s, Thomas Johnston ran a freight company on this site. John Higgins bought the land from Johnston’s estate and built a barn for the horses and wagons of his own freight line. In 1919, Higgins sold the property to San Mateo County, and the Board of Supervisors approved the location for a jail. The 500-square-foot concrete structure that was built served as a sheriff’s substation with two small holding cells. For most, the Johnston Street pokey was a short-term stay; serious offenders were transferred to the main courthouse in Redwood City. The last prisoners came through in the late ’60s and Half Moon Bay Jail locked up for good in 1967. San Mateo County transferred the property to the City of Half Moon Bay in 1986 to be used for historical purposes. In 2018, the Half Moon Bay History Association opened a small musuem in the jail to exhibit artifacts and educational materials about life in early Spanishtown/Half Moon Bay. The Association secured a 25-year lease and plans are now underway for the construction of a new museum in the historic Johnston garage (“barn”) structure behind the jail. By 2022, visitors can expect to find even more Coastside historical exhibits and displays. For additional details, check out halfmoonbayhistory.org 

Oh, What a Pickleball!

Words by Sheri Baer

First off, pickles have nothing to do with it.

“It’s a silly name but it’s a fantastic game that everyone can play,” says Monica Engel Williams, a self-proclaimed pickleball addict and official ambassador for the fastest growing sport in the U.S. 

A mash-up of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, all pickleball requires is a paddle and a plastic whiffle-like ball. Played as singles and more commonly doubles on a 20’ x 44’ court—the same size as badminton, with a net in the middle—four pickleball courts can fit into the space of a tennis court.  

What’s with the giggle-inducing nomenclature? As pickleball lore tells it, the game was invented in the summer of 1965 by three dads on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, as a way to entertain their collective gaggle of bored children. Apparently, a family pet factored into the mix—a dog named Pickles, who would chase the ball and run off with it. As the game evolved and required a name, “What the hell, let’s just call it pickleball,” was reportedly the winning sentiment. 

On a Tuesday morning at Mitchell Park in Palo Alto, Mark Sue is grateful he has nearby pickleball courts to divert his own three children, ages 14, 10 and 6. Mark discovered pickleball a year ago and now counts regular games as part of the family’s routine. “Anyone at any level can get started and have fun,” comments Mark, as he packs up paddles and balls. “It’s a very active sport, which is good when you have three crazy kids at home.”

As Mark dashes off with his young crew, Bob Morgan from Los Altos Hills is just arriving, flanked by Kona, a Lab-mix who sports a “Pickleball Support Dog” harness. In his early 80s, Bob warmly greets the slew of players mingling and warming up, who grin at the sight of his graphic t-shirt. “If it wasn’t for pickleball,” it reads, “I wouldn’t have met you and you and you and you and you and you.” 

For nearly everyone playing at Mitchell Park, the first “you” in that statement is a nod to Monica, the universally acknowledged Peninsula pickleball queen. “Pickleball is low-impact, easy to learn and very social,” Monica says. “My purpose in life now is getting as many people playing pickleball as possible.” 

Originally from near Manchester, England, Monica arrived in the Bay Area as an au pair in the ’60s—and later worked in PR, banking and real estate. A lifelong athlete, starting with track and including 50 years of tennis, Monica discovered pickleball in 2013, while she and her husband were visiting another couple in Arizona. “Oh my gosh, I couldn’t get off the court,” she gushes. “I loved it so much.” 

When Monica returned home to the Peninsula, she immediately looked for local places to play. When she couldn’t find a pickleball court, she found a new mission.  

After learning about the USA Pickleball Ambassador Program, Monica signed on as a tireless local promoter of the burgeoning sport. She connected with a group of former paddle tennis players and started playing pickleball on Mitchell Park’s two paddle tennis courts. “People would walk past and ask, ‘What’s this?’ and I’d say, ‘Here’s a paddle. Come and try it,’” she recounts. “More and more people came and eventually we had 50 people.” 

Initially resorting to taping lines on unused tennis courts, Monica helped found the Palo Alto Pickleball Club (PAPC). Now tallying around 600 members, PAPC offers pickleball play (for both club members and the general public) at Mitchell Park seven days a week on 15 outdoor courts. Through email campaigns, city council presentations and relentless advocacy, Monica continues to vocalize the need for pickleball courts in every Peninsula community. 

“Pickleball became my life,” she says. “I used to play three and a half hours of duplicate bridge a day, so I went from three and a half hours of sitting to three and a half hours of pickleball.” Do the math, and it’s actually quite a bit more than that. As Monica describes it, she starts her day giving complimentary lessons to new club members, plays until noon and then heads home to have lunch with her husband before returning together for more pickleball in the afternoon. 

For Monica, spreading the gospel of pickleball—one new player at a time—is a joyful calling. “The main thing is safety,” she instructs first-timers on the court. “Don’t move your feet back or shuffle back because it’s easy to stumble. And when you’re learning, don’t lunge for a ball that’s out of reach. Just let it go—it doesn’t matter.” 

When she’s giving lessons (“I’ve taught ages 5 to 93!”), Monica runs through the pickleball basics—rules, strokes, scoring and serving, which entails a below-the-waist underhanded arc. However, Monica is especially enthusiastic about a newly-introduced drop technique. “It’s a brand-new serve,” she shares. “It’s just a trial for now, but I think it’s a lot easier for players to learn.” 

Monica emphasizes two unique features of the game: the two-bounce rule and the non-volley zone, also known as “the kitchen,” which extends seven feet from the net. “There’s a pickleball saying, ‘Stay out of the kitchen,’” explains Monica. “Actually, you may step into the kitchen, but you can’t volley the ball when you are in the kitchen—the ball has to bounce there first.”

Demonstrating her preferred grip—holding the paddle like a hammer or a handshake—Monica also talks through the importance of a good “dink” shot. “It’s just a soft touch, a push or a lift,” she motions. “In pickleball, a soft shot is more powerful than the power shot. Pickleball is more about placement than power—it’s a game of finesse.”

Once the essentials are outlined, it’s time for a game. “The quickest way to learn is just to play,” Monica firmly believes. And playing games also fuels the social aspect of the sport. “Pickleball is so popular because you don’t have to make arrangements ahead of time,” she says. “You just come to the court and rotate into a game. Everybody is welcoming. It’s the pickleball way to be inclusive.”  

At 79 years old, Monica says she has a hard time comprehending the impact of such a silly-sounding sport. “Life for me, started with pickleball,” she reflects. “I wake up every morning and feel like it’s my birthday. I have a pickleball game—it’s like always having friends waiting on the playground for you.” 

During a break from the action, she sits on a park bench situated just outside the courts. ”MONICA WILLIAMS THANK YOU FOR CREATING A PICKLEBALL COMMUNITY IN PALO ALTO” reads the 2019 honorary plaque affixed to the back of the seat. Chuckling, Monica glances at the tribute and quips, “And I’m not even dead!”

As if to prove her point, Monica reaches into her bag and pulls out the silver medal she won at the Pickleball Nationals at Indian Wells in 2018. “I’m so proud of this,” she beams, before lamenting that she was beaten by… an 80-year-old. “I can’t wait to go back,” she says, with a determined gleam of gold in her eye. 

How Sparks Fly

Words by Silas Valentino

The interior of Kurt Smith’s office is a balance between work and play. Draped over a pair of stadium seats from the bygone Candlestick Park are several large blueprints, each with detailed notes for the various projects he’s working on through his company, Handcrafted Metals.

On the wall behind the desk is a trio of framed San Francisco Chronicle front pages celebrating the Golden State Warriors championship victories adjacent to a whiteboard that’s titled “Things to Finish” (there’s a stair railing job in Burlingame due soon as well as an installation project for some gates).

The largest tool in the office is a Canon image PROGRAF printer that Kurt utilizes to scan plans and send them to designers and architects as they work in tandem. Nearby, a Barry Bonds signature from the night he surpassed Hank Aaron’s home run record is sealed in a case. The blend of work and play marked a high point that night in 2007 when Kurt treated his team to box seats to witness the baseball milestone together. 

Talking about his work, Kurt can’t help but chuckle. Growing up, his dad insisted he become an architect instead of pursuing a blue-collar career.  

“My dad was a machinist in the shipyard and knew how hard it was to make it as a wrench,” he says. To appease him, Kurt attended College of San Mateo to study architecture but dropped out by the first Thanksgiving. He found work at an auto body shop in San Francisco, wielding a wrench and defying his dad like so many young sons can’t help but do.

But today, seeing his office stacked with blueprints for a business he founded that specializes in architectural metal products, Kurt lets out an effusive laugh. In the end, his dad more or less got what he always wanted.

 Kurt established Handcrafted Metals in 2002 in a warehouse along Industrial Road in San Carlos. The shop features a full range of metalworking equipment along with a high-capacity paint booth and waterjet cutting services. They specialize in driveway gates, railings, fencing, wall cladding and countertops. The shop earned a reputation for taking on daunting tasks. Have a project that sends your architect into a tizzy? Call Kurt. He and his team have a way of whispering to metal.

They deal in steel, zinc and aluminum but the alloy that Kurt says is often requested nowadays is silicon bronze, a pricier but everlasting metal. Their process follows an assembly line of sorts through the large, airy warehouse. About a dozen workstations are scattered about where each welder and fabricator has tools that are color-coordinated to ensure they’re returned to the proper bench after cleaning. 

Designs are ironed out in the office before the plans are sent to a fabricator who cuts and bends the pieces. For precision cutting on these sheets of heavy metals, fabricators use a waterjet machine that can cut up to seven inches into a piece of steel using pressure reaching as high as 66,000 psi. Once the gate, railing or staircase is cut to the design, a welder melds the pieces together before it’s covered in a powder coating or patina, depending on the project. 

A majority of the projects are residential; however, they occasionally pick up a commercial or public design. Handcrafted Metals helped make the parklets for several local restaurants including Town in San Carlos and they designed gates and display cases for CalTrain.

Some of the trophy projects in the portfolio include a glass railing built with hydraulic posts that rise and fall depending on which way the wind blows upon a Capitola house. When he revealed the unique plans to the project’s architects for approval, Kurt says the response was, “Oh my gosh, did MacGyver design this?” For a house in San Francisco, he designed an 8-by-8-foot glass wine cellar that looks like something out of a Kubrick space odyssey; he topped it off with a wine tasting table that lifts up from underneath the polished floor.

“We never say no,” Kurt says, before explaining how they embrace evolution. “We started doing gates early on. After we installed them, we had to use a gate automatization company. We figured out how to do it ourselves and now we automate all our own gates. It doesn’t make sense to give any part of the job away.”

Kurt is a Peninsula native who graduated from El Camino High School in South San Francisco in 1978. He married his first wife, Teri, in 1984 who played a key role in helping Kurt find his professional calling.

After Teri was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1989, the couple regularly traveled  to Southern California for appointments using hyperbaric oxygen therapy. When the cost for using the hyperbaric chamber became too strenuous, Kurt began looking for solutions.

“I couldn’t afford to buy one but I read about a guy in North Carolina who built his own chamber,” he recalls. “I went to Fable Inc. in San Carlos and asked if I could use the shop. I came down here on nights and weekends and became a certified welder. When I finished, we put the chamber in our house in Foster City and it treated my wife for 25 years, slowing her progression.”

 Kurt and Teri raised their two children in Foster City. Until Teri’s passing a few years ago, the couple traveled on trips to Japan and France. 

After he built the complex chamber, the owner of Fable Inc. asked Kurt if he’d come work for him as his shop foreman. At first, Kurt hesitated but his talents for design were undeniable and it sparked the rest of his career.

“I told him, ‘I don’t know anything about building.’” Kurt remembers saying. “But he said, ‘Are you kidding me? You just built a hyperbaric chamber. You can build anything.’” 

Function + Beauty

Despite what you might see on HGTV, running an interior design firm entails a lot more than plumping pillows and adding “pops of color.” To be truly successful, you need business acumen, a well-trained eye, plus two harder-to-teach but fundamental qualities: a knack for connecting with people and a desire to help them thrive. Kendra Nash imbues all of the above with intention and style, and the result is a burgeoning business that aims to create a positive ripple effect throughout the Peninsula. 

As principal of San Carlos-based Nash Design Group (NDG), Kendra oversees as many as 30 projects at a time from San Diego to Colorado, but her focus and heart are on the Peninsula. Born and raised in Atherton, Kendra says her family might’ve foreseen her path—“My mom would have told you I was going to be a designer since I was nine years old because I used to redo my room all the time”—but Kendra was slower to discover it. In fact, as an undergrad at UCLA, she planned to pursue law. But during what was supposed to be a quick detour in Tahoe, she met her now-husband, Jared, a professional chef, and with his help, she tapped into her artistic side.

In 2008, Kendra returned to the Peninsula to put her talents to work helping her sister, a local realtor, prepare homes for the market. Kendra’s flair for staging emboldened her to launch Parc Interiors, and soon clients were asking for help designing their homes too. So, after earning an architectural interior design degree at FIDM, Kendra began running staging and design companies under the same roof. She juggled both successfully through this past January, when she and Jared decided to sell the former and focus on the latter (rebranded in 2013 as Nash Design Group), which is growing at a steady clip.

Kendra has a simple take on the group’s approach: “When we design, it’s really about you, the client, not us.” As Kendra explains it, she and her team want to understand not just how the light in a client’s home changes from season to season, but also whether they plan to downsize in three years and, if they celebrate Christmas, where they’re going to plug in the tree.

For a Menlo Park remodel, our first aim with the kitchen was to expand the space and create an open, light-filled room. We added the soft white cabinetry and an island with a stunning Calacatta marble top. My client also has an eye for industrial so the Rejuvenation pendants and brass stools were the perfect accents.

Consequently, NDG considers its signature to be “beauty paired with function” rather than any single aesthetic. Modern farmhouses, bungalows, Italianate villas—“We’ve done all of it,” Kendra says. “If you’re a really good designer, you can design anything.” The proof that their approach is working? They’ve grown almost completely through client recommendations.

In addition to helping her clients meet their goals, Kendra tries to leverage her platform as a business owner to benefit the community. For example, the Nash Design Group team seeks out creators of color, like renowned artist Xenobia Bailey, and focuses on working with underrepresented minority-owned businesses on their projects. When possible, they tap local artisans and vendors, such as Lino Rail at Top Metal Designs, who has created their spectacular staircases and other bespoke metal pieces since Kendra’s very first project. She’s also happy to share the names of her prized vendors with others in the field. That’s rare in the competitive design business, but Kendra only sees it as a win-win. “There’s enough business for everybody,” Kendra says, “and any time we can help elevate a voice that hasn’t had the same opportunity we’ve had, we are going to do that.”

The family room had to be both comfortable and kid-friendly, so we chose a durable European-style sectional and layered it over a tonal wool and hemp carpet. My client instantly fell for this pair of custom Coup d’Etat chairs upholstered in Holland & Sherry wool plaid.

Chat with Kendra about her design work, and you’ll hear “we” far more often than “I”: evidence of the strong bond between the nine women who comprise NDG. As Kendra describes it, their mutual support is really the company’s special sauce. Whether she’s giving employees the freedom to choose which projects they want to undertake, mentoring the younger designers so that they can flourish or just making time for having fun together, Kendra leads her team with the same desire to uplift and empower that she applies to her design projects. Of course, that approach benefits the client and the business in return: “If you get to do what you want to do every day, you’re going to do your best,” observes Kendra.

Kendra seems to embrace that maxim for herself too. After selling their staging company, she and Jared moved NDG’s office four blocks from their home and just down the street from the school that their kids will attend in the fall. It’s a shift that creates time for snowboarding in Tahoe, hosting big family dinners and looking for a space for Jared’s forthcoming café. And for Kendra, it means being able to dive more deeply into the details of her design work and be really present for her staff and clients. 

“I feel like the better I do, the better everyone else can do, and it’s important for us all to do well,” she reflects. “That’s the energy behind it.” 

Ahoy! Angel Island

Words by Silas Valentino

At 1PM sharp, with fog evaporating around the Golden Gate at a gradual pace fit for a Sunday, the ferry captain calls out a warning before sounding a lone bellow signaling our departure for Angel Island.

It’s a sold-out shuttle and there isn’t an open bench seat anywhere on the open-air upper level deck as locals and tourists alike admire intimate views of the Bay and its surrounding shores. There’s a buzz of anticipation amid the sea of tennis shoes; sans one European traveler unfortunately shod in leather penny loafers, a severe oversight for the miles of recreation to come. 

Dock to dock from Tiburon is less than 30 minutes and since 1775, when the first ship anchored at Ayala Cove, Angel Island has summoned adventurers with its ageless allure.

The grassy and woodland-covered sanctuary situated in the middle of San Francisco Bay provided centuries of service to its surrounding landforms. Initially, the untouched territory was a timber trove for the bustling city six miles to the south. Following the Gold Rush, the 1.2-square-mile island was transformed into a military base where brick-built structures arose that still stand today.

Soon after, Ayala Cove earned the nickname “Hospital Cove” for its designation as a quarantine station for foreign travelers and trade ships. At the onset of the 20th century, the island served its final duty as an immigration station, processing nearly a million immigrants over three decades. A comparison to Ellis Island is often erroneously made. On the East Coast, Ellis symbolized welcome whereas during the age of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Angel Island represented enforcement.

In 1955, the island entered retirement as a California State Park and has since become a destination for hikers, bikers and history seekers who ferry to the island every weekend for breathtaking vistas and a stroll through the past 150 years.

Set Sail from Tiburon

Although you can hail a ferry from Pier 41 in San Francisco, the shorter and more convenient ride is found in Tiburon with the Angel Island – Tiburon Ferry. Located where Main Street hugs the shoreline, the ferry currently runs a few times a day on weekends. It’s well advised to buy tickets ahead of time online—although a wait list does exist and will occasionally deliver a seat. You’re immediately provided with your return ticket stub and a reminder that the last ferry of the day to return to Marin is at 4:20PM. If you miss it, you might try your luck befriending a captain of one of the several private boats buoyed off the shore.

Angel Island has a cafe that offers salads and sandwiches; however, for a more replete picnic, it’s best to pack a bag while in Tiburon. The Woodlands Market is a grocery on par with Draeger’s with a deli full of housemade specialty sandos such as a chicken chipotle or a classic turkey sub. A few doors down is a Rustic Bakery outpost with fresh breads and pastries for the early morning start. Once you’re on the island, good luck choosing just one bench worthy of your picnic because fetching vistas are in abundance.

Photography: Courtesy of Albert Law

If you prefer to dine on the mainland before or after your excursion, Sam’s Anchor Café is a seafood and cocktail mainstay with its famous outdoor deck that’s typically buzzing with music and laughter. Tie up to Sam’s pier and bask in the ocean spray with an order of oysters or a fresh lobster roll. And to help with your sea legs, order the house special: a Ramos Fizz with Tanqueray gin and prepared using Sam’s 100-year-old recipe. Justify a second round as an attempt to suss out the venerable ingredients.

State Park and Recreation

If traversing the island by foot, you have 13 miles of interweaving trails and roadways to navigate. The tallest point is the flat peak at Mt. Livermore, a 788-foot climb through oak tree-forested trails and grasslands. It’s named after Caroline Livermore, a dedicated conservationist who spearheaded the campaign to create the State Park. You’ll find a few different routes for reaching the top; the Sunset Trail is a moderate loop stretching 4.6 miles and keeps you facing westward for ultimate sun appeal.

Keep your eyes on the trail to spot the island’s most famous inhabitant: the Angel Island Mole, or scapanus latimanus insularis, a broad-footed fur ball that’s endemic to the island. Wildlife is plentiful from the sea lions and harbor seals lounging down by the coves to the blue herons, egrets and brown pelicans flying overhead. Not to mention the fluttering wings of hummingbirds and the blue-rump scrub jays.

You can stow a bicycle on the ferry (or choose to rent your wheels once you land), which opens the island up for a breezy loop around the beltline. The Perimeter Loop is just shy of six miles and is mostly paved, creating a smooth ride with a fair share of up- and downhill peddling. Opting to bicycle ensures that you have enough time to wander through the outspread relics from the island’s bygone military presence including the Nike Missile Site, Fort McDowell and Camp Reynolds.

In an effort to remain accessible to all, guided tram rides are available to circle the island in the backseat of what’s essentially a golf cart limousine. For those who prefer to glide around the Island, Segway tours are a fun and informative way to go.

Chiseled in Hope

Although the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, more than 175,000 Chinese arrived on Angel Island between 1910 and 1940 with the hope of immigrating to the U.S. Many were detained for weeks, months or even up to two years in crowded barracks as their applications were processed.

At the eastern end of the island, history and poetry are incised together at the U.S. Immigration Station, where a multitude of Chinese carvings endure on the interior walls of the detention barracks. Some of the poems were carved into the wood using a classical Cantonese technique; others captured the voices of Japanese civilians interned here during WWII.

Photography: Courtesy of California State Parks. All Rights Reserved

Over 200 poems remain today and the personal testimonies often reflect the detainee’s aspiration for a new world that was only miles away—yet still out of reach. Poem 7 concludes with the sentiment: “I only wish I can land in San Francisco soon/Thus sparing me this additional sorrow here.”

The island’s complex history lingers in the mind as you return to Ayala Cove to catch the last ferry out, a departure signaled yet again by a sonorous bellow. Not long after the island shores fade from view, recollections of the day’s adventure mix with the stern’s white wake and dissipate into lasting memories.

Photography: Courtesy of California State Parks. All Rights Reserved

The Beat On Your Eats

A restaurant reopening is like seeing the familiar face of a friend again. 

Menlo Tavern

Menlo Park

A not-so-hidden gem on the Peninsula, the patio at the Menlo Tavern once again offers al fresco dining in a garden setting with creative cocktails and live music entertainment. The scene was cultivated to ease you into that summer feeling with ambient lighting and cozy, warm fire pits. Live music is billed Monday through Friday nights and weekend acts include guitarist Brian Wachhorst and Stanford surgeon Dr. Matais Bruzoni, who moonlights as a feel-good guitar player. The menu, with elevated takes on American classics including brie and arugula flatbread and a tavern burger, is topped with a seasonal cocktail list. Order up a That’s My Jam (bourbon, apricot jam, sarsaparilla, pilsner) to help with that summer state of mind. 100 El Camino Real. Patio is open daily from 5PM to 9PM.

Photography: Courtesy of Croissantandcaviar

The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse

Palo Alto

Delicious eats from the ranch and the sea unite over white tablecloths at The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse, which has opened its doors to welcome us back. Elegance and a hungry appetite are no stranger to the restaurant, which specializes in tender Wagyu beef entrees and scallops or lobster freshly sourced from the bountiful waters of Maine. Chef Yu Min Lin finds the balance between traditional Japanese and contemporary cuisine through entrees that hit all the notes for tasteful pleasure. Don’t miss the five-course whiskey lunch, a ticketed and occasional event that explores how a whiskey pairing can enhance any meal. 4269 West El Camino Real. Open Tuesday to Thursday from 5:30PM to 8:30PM; Friday from 5:30PM to 9PM; Saturday from 11:30AM to 1PM for lunch and 4:30PM to 9PM for dinner; Sunday from 11:30AM to 1PM for lunch and 4:30PM to 8:30PM for dinner; closed Monday.

Photography: Courtesy of Four Seasons Silicon Valley

Quattro Restaurant

Palo Alto

Striking, modern design. Soaring floor-to-ceiling windows. A chic outdoor terrace enclosed by California palm trees. If you’ve missed the ambiance at Quattro Restaurant at Four Seasons Silicon Valley, rustic lunch and dinner menus featuring dry-aged meats, grilled dishes and fresh pastas are awaiting your return. Quattro’s culinary experience is influenced by executive chef Martin Morelli’s Italian heritage and his passion for grilling. Small, flavor-heightening details go into every dish, whether it’s the tender bone-in ribeye, pan-roasted whole branzino or house-made pasta with wild mushrooms and pancetta. The magic touch extends to Quattro’s fresh pizzas, crafted with Italian 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes and Sicilian oregano, made with a hand-crank food mill. 2050 University Avenue. Open Wednesday to Saturday from Noon-8:30PM and Sunday from 11AM to 6PM; closed Monday and Tuesday. 

Gulino Gelato

A few steps off Main Street in Half Moon Bay, a brightly colored chalkboard catches the eye—drawing customers into the old-world charm of Gulino Gelato. Here, proprietor Jean Paul Gulino crafts gelato from scratch daily. 

Flavors like dulce de leche, fior di latte, pistachio gelato and blackberry sorbet entice customers as they wait patiently in line. Swirling in locally-sourced ingredients, Jean Paul identifies hand-selected fruit from a farm nearby as the key for today’s signature special: strawberry basil gelato. “It came out fantastic,” he confirms with a taste. “It’s the hint of basil that brings out the flavor of the organic strawberries.”

Dressed in a crisp chef’s uniform, Jean Paul takes his culinary art seriously, having honed his skills in Italy. A dual citizen of France and Italy and a professed foodie, he appreciates the food culture of Half Moon Bay and the caliber of nearby restaurants. “Growing up in France, there is a strong culinary focus that helps develop a palate and passion for food,” he explains. “I then trained to make gelato with Italian masters in Bologna, Italy.” 

Jean Paul’s focus on flavor and quality has garnered local attention, and with every batch made fresh daily, the lines can wrap around the building. “It is very rare to find gelato made from scratch,” he emphasizes. “You would be surprised how few gelaterias make their own gelato paste.” 

In the fall, Jean Paul creates pumpkin spice gelato, mixing in freshly baked local pumpkin pie. Even his homemade chocolate sauce is sourced nearby using 64% cacao from Guittard Chocolate Company in Burlingame. Gulino Gelato’s menu also includes a selection of dairy-free and fat-free sorbets such as red tart cherry. “More than half of what you are eating is the cherries,” he points out. “And I make my own simple syrup.”

Jean Paul’s love for gelato started in his youth in France on family trips to find the perfect blend. “We would drive 40 minutes to Italian border towns such as Ventimiglia with my grandfather Mario to get gelato,” he reminisces. “When I moved to the U.S., I couldn’t find gelato very easily and nothing very authentic.” Jean Paul longed for the taste and texture of real gelato. 

His pilgrimages to find the most palate-pleasing flavors with his family in Italy were brought full circle when the dream of creating his own gelateria took form. “My father inspired me and always encouraged me to be my own boss,” he says.

Recognizing the need for genuine Italian gelato locally, Jean Paul seized on the opportunity. “I realized I could learn to make a really good product quickly,” he says of his decision to make a mid-life career change. “A board on a building in Half Moon Bay said 100 square feet and I thought to myself, ‘That would fit my budget,’” he laughs. “I opened my massive gelateria. At first I was worried if I would get enough customers to pay rent.” 

Soon, customers showed up in droves, motivating him to open a second gelateria at 330 Main Street in Half Moon Bay this month, adding sufficient space for enhanced offerings like homemade waffle cones and whipped cream. He has also expanded to cater events with an Italian ice cream cart at locations such as the Ritz-Carlton.

Before opening Gulino Gelato, however, Jean Paul had to give up a long-standing career as a tennis coach on the Peninsula. “It is not easy to change careers,” he reflects. “But in the end it was easier to change than to stay in tennis.” His storied tennis past began in his late teens and early 20s competing in tournaments as a professional tennis player in France before coming to the U.S. on a college tennis scholarship. At Northwood University in West Palm Beach in 2004, Jean Paul was number one in the nation in NAIA men’s doubles. 

He eventually moved to the Bay Area as the tennis pro at Peninsula Tennis Club in Burlingame and became a sought-after local instructor. “All those years of being a tennis coach definitely helped me with being a retail merchant,” he observes. He also draws parallels between his roles as a professional tennis player and a business owner. “You are on your own when you are a professional tennis player—no one is going to do your drills for you,” he says. “Here, I am on my own and there is no one above my shoulders saying you should do this, so I better just do it.”

Half Moon Bay’s small-town vibe resonates with Jean Paul and reminds him of quaint villages in France. “I find a bit of a European spirit here,” he notes. “The support in Half Moon Bay is something you wouldn’t have in many places.” He illustrates the point with a synergistic example: “The Girl Scouts come by and deliver cookies, and then the next day they come back to try the Thin Mint cookie gelato I make.” 

During the past year, Jean Paul withstood business shutdowns and power outages that threatened his refrigeration, but the town of Half Moon Bay rallied around him. When high winds took out the power for an extended time, a local resident passed out $100 bills to some businesses, which Jean Paul politely declined but the customer insisted. “These are the kinds of people you are going to find in Half Moon Bay,” he gratefully acknowledges. His customers also supported him when he made a pivot during 2020 to try gelato delivery modeled after the success he saw with pizza delivery places. The new business idea was met by an enthusiastic response and steady demand.

“It is important to me to make this business grow,” he says. As a husband and father of a toddler, he takes pride in his European roots, which he views as playing a pivotal role in his success. “Wherever you are born you are influenced by the environment,” he explains. “Experiencing great Italian gelato in my youth gives me an advantage in crafting an authentic gelato today.”

Sushi Shin

Real” is a word that Jason Zhan, chef-owner of Sushi Shin in Redwood City, uses often. The philosophy of authenticity in his work is so important to him that it’s reflected in the name of his restaurant. “Shin has three different meanings in one word: real, new and heart. That’s why I chose it,” he explains. “I wanted to make real sushi, based on the Edomae style, but not too fancy. At the same time, I want to add my new ideas, my own style.” 

Growing up in Shanghai, China, Jason always loved food. He knew at age 16 that cooking professionally was his calling, and three years later, he left Shanghai for New York City to attend culinary school. To support himself, he took a job washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant. Within six months, he was spending more time at work than in the classroom, so he left school to focus on building his culinary career the old-fashioned way. “We believe that a true chef always studies at the restaurant, starting in a basic job, like dishwasher,” he says. “If you want to learn the real skill, you have to be tough.”

Wanting to try his hand at other types of cuisines, he moved on to a Japanese restaurant, again starting as a dishwasher. “I didn’t really know sushi,” he reveals, but the light and healthy style appealed to him, as did the interaction between sushi chef and customer. The restaurant served what he calls American-style sushi—California rolls, dragon rolls—but once Jason learned about Edomae style, he committed himself to learning the traditional methods.

Edomae sushi, a style developed in the 19th century, has become the gold standard for sushi purists and aficionados in the 21st century. Lacking refrigeration for their catches, Tokyo Bay fishermen relied on classic food preservation techniques—curing in salt or marinating in vinegar or soy sauce—to preserve their hauls. Savvy food-stall vendors paired the fish with a ball of rice and dab of wasabi, selling it as fast food for working people. 

The next step for Jason was to find a teacher—a sushi master. His research led him to Hideo Kuribara, well-known for traditional Edomae-style sushi at New York City’s Ushiwakamuru restaurant. Their first meeting didn’t go well. “Kuribara-san kicked me out,” Jason recounts. “He thought I wasn’t serious.” 

Jason returned to the restaurant every day for weeks, and every day Chef Kuribara turned him away. Eventually, Jason’s tenacity paid off: the master offered Jason the opportunity to attend a free sushi class, which led to a dishwasher position at the restaurant. It was a pivotal opportunity that set the course for Jason’s future.

With a goal to master his craft and eventually open his own place, Jason set himself up for a rigorous education, working in several of New York City’s top sushi restaurants between 2011 and 2016, learning about customer service and other sushi techniques, before finally returning to Ushiwakamuru in 2016. 

But after a decade or so in New York, Jason’s wife, Betsy Cheng (the two had met while working together at a restaurant), had had enough of cold winters and wanted to move to a warmer climate. After Jason connected with a cousin living in San Francisco, the couple relocated in 2017. Once settled, Jason started the search for a space to open his own restaurant. Finding the don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it space on Broadway Street was a perfect fit.

Jason planned and oversaw the space’s interior design, including the custom-made, U-shaped cypress sushi bar that fills the dining space. Comfortable and intimate, the restaurant seats a maximum of nine guests and offers two seatings for Omakase dinner service only. The small space allows Jason to create the type of chef’s table dining experience that drew him to Japanese cuisine in the first place. 

Sushi Shin opened in January 2020 and quickly developed a loyal customer base, becoming a hard-to-book dining experience with excellent word-of-mouth reviews. “We were booked three months ahead,” Betsy recalls. Two months later, that all came to a halt with the pandemic, but the unplanned break had a positive twist for the couple. “We had a newborn, so we were very busy. It was good for us to stay home,” she says. 

Omakase, translated loosely as “I’ll leave it to you,” is a chef’s choice dining experience of 18 small plates or dishes that highlight fresh seafood, most of which is seasonal and comes directly from Toyosu Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan. There’s no menu, and Jason describes each course as he presents it to guests. Betsy manages service on the diners’ side of the sushi bar. 

“We try to let the customers experience all different cooking skills, not just raw fish,” Jason says of the variety of courses. One-bite dishes include luscious, melt-in-your-mouth Blue Fin otoro, as well as Jason’s signature items, like the sweet Tasmanian trout marinated in house-made smoky soy sauce. Non-sushi courses could include his new creation, a silky egg custard (chawanmushi) with Maine lobster prepared two ways, or miso-shrimp soup. 

Attention to detail is evident in every course, from the gentle brush of salty soy sauce that tempers the creaminess of Canadian spotted shrimp to the house-toasted nori that complements the plump, seawater-fresh uni from Japan. A house-made milk pudding with black sugar syrup provides a light and satisfying end to the meal.

Diners are offered alkaline water (pH 9.5), chosen for its healthful properties, and tea at the beginning of the meal. The beer list includes seven beers, ranging from light Asahi to a fuller-bodied Echigo Stout. Sushi Shin’s sake menu, organized by style, is designed to complement the season’s seafood options. There are also always a few special, limited-edition bottles available. 

In the future, Jason envisions sharing his skills with motivated students who are passionate about sushi and understand the importance of that third meaning of “shin.” “When you start training, it’s not training for the skills, it’s training for the heart,” he explains. “If you have a good heart, a strong heart, and don’t give up easily, people will teach you the skills, the techniques.” 

But for now, with reservations filling up quickly, he and Betsy are completely focused on their customers—and creating exquisite Omakase dinners. “My happiness,” he summarizes simply, “is to create something people like.”

Dairy of a Dog: Jake

Confused you are?  Hrmmm. I may look like Yoda but I’m actually a dog. Even though Geoff and Verity immediately noticed that my ears resemble those of a wise and powerful Jedi master, they opted to name me Jake instead. I’m frequently mistaken for a German Shepherd puppy, but I’m actually part mini-Pinscher, German Shepherd and Lab—and eight years old! You can see a little gray on my muzzle, which makes me look even more dignified. I’m originally from the Central Valley but I was brought to Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) for treatment and care. I didn’t have a family before then and I was very fearful and nervous. Thankfully, I got the help I needed at HSSV, which allowed Geoff and Verity to bring me home to Atherton. Having my own family really boosted my confidence, especially after they brought home a playmate for me, another HSSV rescue named Stella, who is super sweet and mellow. Stella and I have done a great job of training Geoff and Verity. When we sit or do tricks, we’ve taught them to reward us with yummy treats. They also appreciate our terrific teamwork in patrolling the fenceline for squirrels. Our proven technique includes a warning bark—followed by a chase. Although Stella has short legs and waddles a bit, she moves surprisingly quickly. Geoff and Verity occasionally need to do something without us, but we don’t mind. We take it as our signal to fully relax and catch some Zs. We stake out the door and snooze away until they return. Stella and I are both so grateful to have so much joy in our lives, which brings me to the other trait that I share with Yoda. I’ve come so far from the stray I once was and it’s because I draw power from the positive, loving “force” of my pack.

Heart of the Community

Working in an office is not everyone’s idea of a dream job, but for Heather Cleary, CEO of Peninsula Family Service (PFS), it definitely was. Heather grew up in the East Bay town of Orinda and, as a teenager, loved spending time at her father’s computer rental and service business doing accounting and data entry. She recognized that people in nearby communities were less fortunate than herself and, over time, found ways to use her interest in business for the public good.

“I enjoy numbers. I always have,” professes Heather. “I really appreciate how they tell a story, through what I call the language of accounting, about an organization.” Heather attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where she earned her BS in business administration. She went on to work at Arthur Andersen and became a certified public accountant. 

After Arthur Andersen, Heather briefly worked in the dot-com industry before purposefully shifting course in 2001 into the nonprofit sector, which she says is one of the best professional moves she’s ever made. “I found it so much more rewarding to support a team that’s working on community needs rather than earning money for somebody else,” she says. “Once I started in the nonprofit world, I knew I would never go back to the corporate world again.”

Heather began her tenure at Peninsula Family Service as chief financial officer in 2010. As a mother of two living in San Mateo, she says the organization’s support of children and parents resonated with her, and as a CPA, she identified with PFS’ mission to support adult financial literacy. “One of the things that I love most about PFS,” she says, “is the potential to grow and adapt and do the work of the community in the community.”

Founded in 1950, PFS was created to support returning GIs and their families after WWII. Since then, PFS has been providing community-based programs to secure wellness and stability in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. Services offered change over time in response to community needs. Currently, PFS is focused on early learning, adult financial empowerment and older adult services.

As an example, Heather explains that a new community need arose during the stay-at-home orders when older adults could not access the internet and stay connected with their support system. “The digital divide became very real, very quickly,” observes Heather. “That’s an easy, somewhat low-hanging fruit to give them a tablet—they’re not that expensive—and give them training, as well as a place to come back for more training.”

In turn, PFS services often deliver a ripple effect. Older adults who have gone through the Second Careers and Mature Workers programs have found opportunities to work at PFS and can give back to their community through their jobs. Another way PFS directly impacts the community is through grant funding—such as a family of five using an ice cooler to keep their food cold receiving a grant to buy a refrigerator. PFS also helps people struggling with homelessness to rebuild their credit so they can eventually rent an apartment.

As CFO, Heather focused on strengthening the back office. “Understanding the finances of this organization has been a huge asset,” she says. “All the funding sources for each program have different requirements and restrictions, and we run a significant number of programs.”

In 2015, Heather stepped in as interim director of early learning and began moving into the management side of the organization. She decided to go back to school and earn a Master of Public Administration degree. Heather learned the skills of evaluating program success, community and government advocacy and obtaining public funding. This education and experience prepared Heather to take on the role of CEO in 2017.

“I see my work here as an opportunity to give back to the community that I’ve lived in and appreciated for more than 20 years now,” says Heather, who first moved to the Peninsula in 1999. As CEO, she’s grown PFS in both revenue and services and has added new programs like Got Wheels, providing on-demand rides for older adults, and Help@Hand, a calming activities app. 

The biggest challenge PFS faces is finding qualified teachers for its early learning program. “There just aren’t enough early educators,” says Heather. “The pay is so low there’s not a pipeline of new people going into the field.” Although the average wage at PFS has more than doubled since Heather became CEO, she acknowledges that it is still too low. As chair of the workforce committee with the San Mateo Child Care Partnership Council, Heather goes to Sacramento to advocate for PFS teachers—and ensures that their needs and voices are represented during meetings.

Outside of PFS, Heather volunteers with several community organizations and encourages her two teenage sons to give back as well. “What’s really important to me is to show my children that they need to participate and volunteer in the community that they want to live in,” she says. Her son’s teachers shared how he has been supporting a student who’s been struggling in class. “That’s really the culture I’m trying to create,” she confirms. “It doesn’t always have to be a formal volunteer thing, but just help out your neighbor.”

Heather loves the dynamic lifestyle the Peninsula offers, with plenty of things to do and employment opportunities for her children. Still, she recognizes that the high cost of living has led to increased rates of homelessness within the community. “In this area, we have the resources, and we have the talent to improve the shared experience,” she says. 

Getting involved is a simple step—and as Heather points out, opportunities are everywhere. Just at PFS, for example, numerous programs and special projects rely on volunteers—whether it’s individuals, families or teens seeking community service hours.

Like PFS’s logo of a heart supported by a hand, Heather believes Peninsula communities can express love for their neighbors by holding each other up. “If we respect everyone in our community, know that everyone goes through difficulties at times and have excellent programs to provide a helping hand when people need it,” she says, “our community grows stronger, and everyone benefits.”

Perfect Shot: A Hawk’s Dilemma

Photographer Robert David Siegel captured this dramatic Perfect Shot of a red-tail hawk in a colorful field of Clarkia along Gerona Avenue at Stanford. What you can’t see in the image is the large rabbit trapped in the raptor’s talons, which was apparently too big to carry away in flight. “The hawk’s dilemma worked in my favor,” says Bob. “It was a moment of great exhilaration and luck to have my camera for this chance encounter.” 

Image by Robert David Siegel

Swirl of Creativity

It’s hard to separate the maker from the learner when talking with Kori Shaw. Not only are her interests wide-ranging, but new ideas are also constantly percolating in her head.

As a child growing up in New Jersey, Kori watched as her immigrant father built things. “His toys were scientific equipment,” she remembers. “He came to the U.S. for college in the ’60s. He was a physics major and also taught chemistry and math in Belize. I used to play with his copper wire and soldering iron. I helped him take things apart and was never afraid to break things.”

Kori’s mother was born in Spanish Harlem (New York City) to parents of Dominican and Cruzan (St. Croix) heritage. “Her family prioritized education, too,” notes Kori. “She majored in biology in college and was a nurse in interventional radiology for 30-plus years.”

As a young adult, Kori majored in mechanical engineering at MIT with a specialty in manufacturing. “At the time, I wanted to be an astronaut,” she says. “I wanted to know everything I could about space and what was out there.” In 1999, she received her MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

All of that education—and using her hands to make things—came into play when Kori found out that there was a vacancy at the Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park. She jumped at the chance to sign the lease and open—well, actually, she wasn’t quite sure what. That was in February 2020. 

“Something was buzzing around in the back of my head,” she recalls. “I’d have friends come over to my house and we’d do little making sessions. I have a 1960s Vandercook proof press in my home studio and love the feel of high-quality paper and letterpress.”

Fast-forward a year and a half later, and Swirl Works now fills the space at the Allied Arts. “What started as a place for learning and exploration has evolved into more,” Kori observes. “As we come out of the pandemic, we need a place to rebuild community, connect and heal.”

Swirl Works offers a variety of creative workshops in subjects such as painting, pen and paper, flower arranging and jewelry making. Situated in the back courtyard near The Barn, the garden setting lends itself perfectly to creative play and escape. A beginner Cloisonné workshop offers the chance to learn about mixing color and layering enamel while a watercolor class covers paint types, basic strokes and the opportunity to create landscapes and handmade cards. Classes are taught by subject matter experts, and all materials are supplied.

Kori stresses that Swirl Works isn’t an art academy: “It’s an experience where we come together without judgement or perfectionism but with self-compassion and humor—and give ourselves permission to play and try and fail and laugh.” She also acknowledges, “That’s a tall order for people who live in this area!”

For Kori, “swirl” has more than one meaning: Fingerprints left behind on handmade items. Constant change and creation. Fluidity and movement. Mixing things up.

Other experiences have shaped Kori’s world view. The summer after her junior year, she headed to Peru to undertake a photographic exploration of weaving styles and later staged an exhibit at MIT. “I lived with a local family and master weaver who helped me appreciate the technology of weaving and cultural significance and story inherent in each textile,” she explains.

Kori’s interest in culture and language led her to minor in anthropology along with studying Chinese and Spanish, which she speaks fluently. “I wasn’t able to pick up Korean,” she says. “What a difficult and nuanced language. The guys in my graduate lab were all Korean so I tried to learn. No deal.”

The summer after her sophomore year, Kori had an internship at GE Nuclear in San Jose. She was out with friends one night and had a fateful meeting with David Shaw, currently Stanford’s head football coach, who was also out with friends. “He had just graduated from Stanford,” she says. “There was an instant connection.”

On their first date, they saw Apollo 13 at Shoreline and then went to Jack in the Box for a bite to eat. “He wanted to show me his school, so we had an impromptu picnic next to Memorial Church on the Stanford campus,” she recalls.

They got married at the church in 2001, and today are a family of five with an 18-year-old daughter and two boys, ages 16 and 11. 

“Until I met David, sports weren’t my thing,” she says. “My dad grew up playing cricket in Belize, and my mom didn’t have access to sports growing up in Manhattan. Now our whole family loves football and enjoys watching games. As a coach’s wife I’m not necessarily a fan, but I watch each game with the intensity of one and cheer for all the players.”

Kori is passing on her love of building and creating to her children. As an example, she builds BattleBots with her youngest son, who competes in the one-pound weight class—versus the 250-pound bots seen on the robotic combat TV series. “Watching everyone cheer as the remote-controlled robots try to destroy each other in the arena makes me happy,” she smiles. “It’s the perfect nerd sport.”

For Kori, everything maps to an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. “The common theme is curiosity and not being afraid to step into a new territory and possibly fail,” she reflects. “It’s the best way to learn.” 

From Russia with Love

There is increased angry rhetoric between the United States and Russia, reminiscent of the era that we called the Cold War. It reminds me of my childhood and one of my favorite TV shows called The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a fictionalized spy show that featured two men (Robert Vaughn and David McCallum) who worked for the multi-national secret intelligence agency, United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. Week in and week out the pair battled evil, mostly in the form of the organization’s main adversary, THRUSH.

I decided that we needed to form our own spy agency in Amarillo and recruited a few of my neighborhood pals to join in. Before you knew it, we had created C.H.E.S.S., Command Helping Enforcement for the Secret Service. This spy business was important stuff and there were a few things we needed to become effective agents.

First on our list was a headquarters, as no good spy agency can be successful without a place to plan espionage and counter-espionage and other cool stuff like that. I was a project guy and so I carefully designed exactly what that building would look like and managed to convince my Mom to buy all the lumber required and have it delivered. Mostly it was sheets of plywood and 2x4s and 4x4s. 

Since I was always working on something that needed building, I was comfortable taking the lead. My Dad was not the type to help with a project like this, and since I didn’t know any better, I just assumed I could get it done. We built the building in the back right corner of our backyard, so the fence line provided two good walls to start. I remember the sweet smell of that fresh lumber and the excitement of watching our headquarters go up. C.H.E.S.S. HQ eventually had two small rooms, each big enough for about three grade school kids and one room had a “secret” room below with access only through a hidden trap door. 

It took a few weeks to finish the headquarters, and I had several bloody moments along the way: a smashed thumb, a torn-up knee and so on. But what pride we had in our new space when it was completed. I talked my Mom into buying a rope ladder so that when we were in there—planning missions or having lunch—we could pull up the ladder and prevent anyone from gaining entrance.

Being a useful auxiliary to the men from U.N.C.L.E. demanded special accessories, chief among them a few “Sixfingers.” A Sixfinger (advertised on TV as “Sixfinger, Sixfinger, Man Alive! How Did I Ever Get Along with Five?) was a finger-looking plastic device that you held between your thumb and your index finger that concealed a cap-loaded grenade launcher, a pen to write the coded messages that would travel via a tiny “S-O-S missile,” a signaling device, a “secret bullet” for tight spots and a fragmentation bomb. A la James Bond, it was the perfect hidden device—who’s counting your fingers, after all?

All good spies need to be able to record the activity of their adversaries, and so we set our sights on the subminiature mini-Arrow spy cameras that came with “real” film. These tiny things, just over 2” in length, actually took genuine photos and were straight from the days when everything was made in Hong Kong. We felt that each C.H.E.S.S. member should have his own.

Both the Sixfinger and the spy cameras were available at our local TG&Y. Fortunately, we had enough cash from the dues of our organization to cover the cost of our equipment. We rode our Schwinn Banana bikes down the brick streets of Amarillo all the way to the store at Wolflin Village to carefully evaluate all the espionage-related gadgets. Because we were a spy organization, we decided that guns were not necessary and besides, the Sixfinger had a grenade launcher, and that was certainly enough firepower for us.

Before our meetings, we would head to our local 7/11 and buy some Slurpees and cinnamon toothpicks (which we deemed cool to chew on) and then go back to our headquarters to plan our activities. Our most important work, as it turned out, was to spy on our siblings and try to catch them when they weren’t looking. We would take pictures of them with our spy cameras and shoot them with our Sixfingers. It was the best we could do, given, as it turned out, the low level of Russian influence in Amarillo.

Perhaps the current state of relations between the U.S. and Russia (and China for that matter) presents just the right time to reconstitute C.H.E.S.S. and go on eBay and pick up some Sixfingers and micro-cameras. I’m thinking the Secret Service might just need some Command Helping Enforcement, or, well, something like that.

Holbrook Palmer Park

Once known for dozens of grand country estates, Atherton still provides a rare glimpse back at 19th-century rural life. Most of Atherton’s larger landholdings were sold and subdivided in the 20th century with the exception of the Holbrook Palmer Estate, which was converted into a public park. Originally called “Elmwood,” the property was developed as a summer home for wealthy hardware and mining supply store owner Charles C. Holbrook in the 1880s. Designed and constructed by architect Henry C. Macy, the buildings included a Second Empire-style main house, a similarly styled three-story Water Tower and a Colonial Revival-style Carriage House. Situated approximately 75 feet apart, the Water Tower and Carriage House are recognized today as rare surviving agricultural outbuildings in Atherton—uniquely designed in recognizable architectural styles rather than just for functional utility. Charles Holbrook and his family enjoyed the Elmwood estate for many years. In 1926, Olive Holbrook Palmer inherited the property, which continued to operate as a farm until the mid-1950s. When Holbrook Palmer passed away in 1958, she willed the estate to the city of Atherton for recreational use. In addition to appreciating the still-standing historic structures, Holbrook Palmer Park visitors also enjoy the use of sports fields, playgrounds, gardens, bocce ball courts, fountains, tennis courts and a pavilion. 

Oz, Sherlock & Stanford

The Collecting Legacy of a Father and Son 

Jim Rutter focuses intently from the stands at a Stanford football game, where he’s occupied a seat for nearly every football season of his life. Over the loudspeaker, he hears the call to action: “Let’s verify whether that play is a record with our sports archivist Jim Rutter.

Over decades, Jim has rigorously documented Stanford football, basketball and baseball statistics, along with archiving Stanford sports souvenirs including Big Game programs from the late 1800s. As a fourth-generation Stanford graduate, collecting Stanford memorabilia is practically in his genes but his passion for preserving is a family affair that extends far beyond Stanford.

Jim’s father Dr. Richard Rutter is an avid collector with one of the largest collections of Wizard of Oz literature and memorabilia worldwide. Together, the father and son duo also combine their enthusiasm to compile a substantial array of Sherlock Holmes literature and memorabilia.

“Marie Kondo would want items to spark joy,” acknowledges Jim. “The problem is that everything sparks joy for us. If you bring us some John Grisham novels from 1988 or a book on military history, we are interested. It is a blessing and a curse.” 

Longtime Peninsula residents, the father and son collecting team live near one another in Redwood City, affording them the opportunity to frequently check in and discuss their finds. “Our collecting isn’t as much for value,” clarifies Jim. “It is more the unbridled interest in all things.”

The Wonders of Oz 

Richard’s fondness for the Wizard of Oz began as a child enjoying Frank L. Baum’s 14 stories and later reading them to his own children. “My mother had a first edition and my cousin had another. Together, they were a bit of a collection,” he shares, before offering some additional context. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is only the tip of the iceberg. It is only one book in Baum’s original canon of 14. Then Ruth Plumly Thompson added 19 more Oz novels to the original canon.” Richard is such a committed Oz fan that he occasionally directs mail to be addressed to him at Emerald City, rather than the Emerald Hills neighborhood where he lives. Luckily, the postal carrier plays along with his whimsy.

One summer, nearly 50 years ago, Richard decided to indulge his interest in the Wizard of Oz by attending the Winkies Western Region Wizard of Oz meeting with his young son, Jim, and daughter, Karen. “Despite their cries, I dragged the kids up to Yosemite,” recounts Richard. “It opened a whole new world for me. Here were a bunch of people at the beautiful Wawona Lodge who were madly involved with Oz.”

A retired orthodontist and former professor at University of Pacific Dental School in San Francisco, Richard adopts alter egos to channel his enthusiasm for all things Oz. For over 10 years in a row, he won the costume contest at the annual Oz Convention. “It was the costume contest equivalent of the arms race,” observes Jim wryly. 

Richard’s costumes ranged from the Tin Man made from a silver-painted pool cover to Baum’s fictional elk-like creature the Gump, in which he cocooned himself inside of two sofas tied together with a deer head on wheels. “My father was careening down a pathway at considerable personal peril and crashed at high speed,” recalls Jim with a groan. As Richard is quick to point out, “I crashed, but there were no major injuries.” 

Richard’s zeal for costuming culminated in his impersonation of the “Great and Terrible Oz” himself while soaring over Indiana University in a hot air balloon for the 100th anniversary of the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz publication. “I felt a little bit closer to Oz,” he fondly remembers. Sporting his great-grandfather’s top hat and elaborate tails, Richard was subsequently featured in a New York Times front page story. “He is a bit of a reserved person,” notes Jim. “But when he would go into his costumes, his inner extrovert would emerge in the presence of glory.” 

Richard scours the globe to feed his insatiable Oz enthusiasm, securing copies of the book in 62 languages and nearly 1,700 Oz-related titles. The state library of North Macedonia even donated one of only two books in the country to his collection. At his home, Richard leads guests down a yellow brick road he built himself in his dedicated Oz room, where Oz literature, memorabilia and mint-condition collectibles are housed. Crystal Emerald Cities, rare cut-out Oz Waddle collectibles dating back to 1934 and colorful advertising materials are carefully exhibited amongst the wall-to-wall bookshelves and display cases. In 2019, Richard’s journey with Oz came full circle when he attended a showing of The Wizard of Oz at the Stanford theater 80 years after he first watched the movie in a theater as a child in 1939.

Stanford Superfan

On the fourth floor of the Stanford press box, Jim diligently preserves Stanford sports history by procuring everything from tickets, programs and newspaper clippings to fan buttons and game-winning footballs. He manages much of the collection on behalf of Stanford and works to acquire direct donations. This particular collectible calling is a deep-rooted passion: Jim can trace his great-grandfather back to Stanford’s very first “pioneer” class of 1895. “I have been going to Stanford games since I was four years old and traveling to Bowl games,” he relays. “Watching Jim Plunkett quarterback the team to win the Rose Bowl 50 years ago makes a strong impression on a six-year-old sports fanatic.” 

When he’s not at his day job running his social platform company Vitae (formerly YourSports), Jim has his Stanford archivist hat on, searching for hidden gems. “We have a copy of Stanford’s opening day ceremony program from 1891,” he says with pride. Jim also maintains a personal collection, although he laments that it could take a lifetime to track down certain elusive items. He even has a copy of the first yearbook, The Stanford Quad, from 1894. “I took my father’s collection to a completely different level of obsession,” he admits. “I have so much, you can barely get into the door of my home office.” 

And this begs the question— what is his spouse’s take on his uber-collecting tendencies? “My wife Cindy is clutter-averse,” he confides, “but she has a saint-like tolerance.” 

As for Jim’s favorite Stanford sports memorabilia item, it always comes back to family. Unquestionably, he says, “My great-grandfather’s 1894 fencing medal from a competition against U.C. Berkeley.” 

In Search of Sherlock Holmes 

When it comes to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective, the father and son investigators hunt down treasures for their joint collection. Richard and Jim focus on acquiring the body of Sherlock Holmes literature, which consists of 56 stories in the original canon and four novels. Along with the detective’s printed adventures and literary criticisms, their sizable collection includes many of Sherlock’s deerstalker caps, signature pipes and every imaginable kind of Sherlockiana. “It has been one of the great shared experiences we have as father and son,” reveals Jim. 

Richard remembers how the Sherlock obsession first started. “I was given Sherlock Holmes stories by my grandparents,” he says, “and I enjoyed seeing Holmes movies as a child during the war.” Nodding, Jim adds, “There is an international interest in Sherlock Holmes that would surprise most people—he has been named as one of the most recognizable literary figures.”

Richard is a charter member of the Sherlock Holmes Scion Knights of the Gnomon, started in Palo Alto in 1976. As one of 250 Sherlock Holmes groups in the U.S., the Scions adhere to an annual schedule that begins with the first meeting on Sherlock Holmes’ birthday in January. “There are certain groups that forbid suggesting Sherlock Holmes is anything but human,” says Jim. “We always refer to him in the present tense.”

All in the Family   

It won’t be surprising to learn that Richard and Jim are masters at preserving their own family history, referring to themselves as “collectors of life.” As Jim describes the process, “It is more of a bigger story of documenting the journey from the alpha to
the omega.”

As father and son carefully archive the present and what has been passed down to them, their intent is to share and illustrate generational stories through photos, old movies and mementos of family milestones. “Our family has kept virtually every document and diploma with some dating back to the 1800s,” notes Jim. “How many people can show you pictures of their great-great-grandparents?”

By meticulously capturing their family history, they hope to provide a legacy that will live way beyond them. “Your time on earth is a series of brushstrokes,” muses Jim. “We want to capture the life experience that can be shared and passed on—there is no end to the story.”

How Filoli Garden Grows

Jim Salyards’ Magical Green Thumb 

Imagine waking up in a bucolic setting where something new blooms every day, vegetable patches and orchards yield plenty and the surrounding acres teem with wildlife against sweeping vistas of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

And you’re already at the office. 

For Jim Salyards, this is just one of the many perks he has earned after working at the landmark Filoli estate in Woodside for more than a quarter of a century. Living on the property for the past 18 years, the director of horticulture also enjoys the benefit of zero commuting. After growing up in the area, he appreciates what a plus it is to dodge all the traffic.

The one disadvantage to living and working in the same place may be maneuvering through the sellout crowds of people flocking to ooh and ahh over the thousands of picturesque blooming flowers, shrubs and trees in the 16-acre formal garden each spring and summer. Those are the peak seasons at the National Trust for Historic Preservation site, which includes the famous garden and the Willis Polk-designed Georgian Revival mansion completed in 1917 for William Bowers Bourn II and Agnes Moody Bourn, and then owned by William B. Roth and Lurline Matson Roth from 1937 to 1975. 

But after spending so much time at Filoli Historic House and Garden, Jim naturally feels, “For the most part, this is my garden.”

“I  love the scale of the garden; it’s broken up into spaces… designed so each room is revealed as you walk through, go through a gate, turn around a corner,” Jim says of the garden that has components of both English and Italian Renaissance design. “There’s a natural unforced intentionality in the way you move through the garden.”

The approximately 30 rooms—with names like the Sunken Garden, Walled Garden and Knot Garden—take a full-time staff of 15 to maintain, plus a group of interns. And hopefully, as restrictions lighten up this summer, Jim is looking forward to welcoming back hundreds of volunteers, some of whom he considers like aunts and second grandmothers now that his extended family lives in New England.  

Jim’s earliest memories from his boyhood in Sunnyvale include catching butterflies with his younger brother in the fields and orchards before Great America Parkway changed the landscape. Jim’s parents took the family on regular visits to a local dairy farm that kept pigs and ducks, and for a time, young Jim wanted to be a zookeeper. A move to Boulder Creek at age nine led to the exploration of more wooded areas and an interest in raising his own animals: hamsters, snakes, iguanas, a box turtle and bluegill fish. Jim’s thoughts turned to becoming a veterinarian, but when he attended UC Davis, stimulating biology and botany courses changed his mind again. He ended up getting a BA in plant science and a master’s degree in horticulture there. 

“Propagation was my first love in horticulture in school,” he recalls. “I loved it so much, I interned at the Arboretum in Davis and knew that I wanted to work in public gardens.”

Jim had a side business doing yard work for people in Davis when he applied in 1995 to be lead horticulturist at Filoli. Luckily for him, he landed his first real job in one of the grandest public gardens in the U.S. Over the years, he was promoted to greenhouse manager, co-leader of the horticulture department and then director of horticulture in 2014. 

One of Jim’s challenges is balancing Filoli’s rich historical lore with innovative new ways. Photos and oral traditions help recreate and preserve the garden’s past, but an open mind and skilled staff help keep him forward-thinking.

“We’re dealing with historic plants and wanting to preserve what was planted by the Bourn and Roth families,” he explains. “We’re also trying to do things that are more sustainable and to some degree, more feasible, with the team that I have.” Another goal is making the garden appeal to a broader audience by being more exciting and welcoming.

More exemplary, too. In drought years, Jim’s team had to pivot to cut back on watering lawns and woody plants. He sees this as a way Filoli can showcase best practices in conservation for the community. A new master plan is in the works, and there’s talk of building a new education center and a bigger parking lot in the future. He is proud that in the past year, Filoli’s board and staff have focused on diversity and equity, “creating a place that is inclusive and accessible in so many more ways than I feel it was historically.”

Starting with this summer’s theme of “Fruitful Garden,” there’s a new emphasis on pollinator plants with sages, poppies and sunflowers planted along the path to the Sundial to attract insects and birds. Medicinal plants such as white, orange, red and yellow echinacea are laid out like a stained-glass window in the Chartres Cathedral Garden. And the historic vegetable garden that once helped feed the Bourn and Roth families, and was taken over by staff as a cooperative, will soon be converted to a demonstration garden. The renovated garden will be open to the public for events and classes. Before long, Jim envisions the café serving fresh estate-grown vegetables with extras being donated to the food bank Village Harvest.

He also foresees producing new products for the Clock Tower Shop, adding to the apple, pear and peach butters, honey, hard cider and herb collections that carry the estate-grown label.

Jim reads a lot to keep up on the latest gardening trends and says he’s grateful to have a well-educated and fully state-licensed team. “We’re not over-fertilizing,” he adds, “and we’re not over-applying pesticide.” The staff composts and mixes in rice hulls, coconut fiber, redwood sawdust and sand to enrich the soil. “We’re leaning more towards being organic,” Jim says, noting that the estate is a public place, located in a watershed area that spills into the Crystal Springs Reservoir. 

In years past, Filoli relied on volunteers to put in the much-needed elbow hours of weeding by hand. Without the extra help, the staff started experimenting with using corn gluten meal as a natural weed pre-emergent on the lawns. Innovative as he is, Jim continues to be mindful of the historic legacy he stewards. “We still tell the stories of how it originally was,” he affirms. 

Jim describes the plants and flowers in the greenhouse complex as the hardest to grow. They are used to decorate the Main House and to turn the Tea Garden House into a conservatory. That continuity of greenery “makes Filoli come alive, the plants and arrangements are what we do to make it more like it was when the Roths and Bourns were here,” he says.

Also of note are the living vestiges of the two family eras. In the greenhouses, the cycad, the large palm-like plant that the Bourns acquired, continues to thrive, as do the anthurium propagated from the original one the Roths brought back from Hawaii. The estate’s Hinoki false cypress originally came from the Japanese Pavilion at the Pan Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco in 1915, before being gifted to the Bourns. Some of the majestic trees on the 654-acre estate date back even further. The enormous live oak on the north side of the mansion is believed to be more than 300 years old. The big valley oak next to the Garden House also stood its ground there before Filoli was built. 

Pictures from around 1920 show the distinctive allees of Irish Yews in the garden. Grown from cuttings brought over from an estate the Bourns owned, Muckross House in Killarney, Ireland, the trees now number 210 and frame various rooms in the garden and swimming pool area, which was added later. 

Jim’s own favorite tree stands out next to the Bowling Green. He’s drawn to the Camperdown weeping elm because “every season, in a different way, it’s a beautiful tree.” As he describes it, the chartreuse seed heads look showy in the spring until the shade canopy takes over in the summer, and after the fall colors dim, moss covers the wet branches during the winter. 

It makes sense for a man of all seasons to revere such a stately tree given that they have shared the same special place for the last 26 years. 

“It has gone quickly,” Jim acknowledges, before emphasizing the many reasons he stays rooted. “What keeps me engaged and loving the garden is the setting and the views you can’t beat.”

Best of all, after hours, when Filoli’s visitors file out the gates, that splendid scenery is all his to enjoy. 

The Aura of Nature

For over four decades, artist Robert Buelteman has led an enviable life as a working photographer, busily crafting images in his home studio tucked into a pocket of awe-inspiring beauty on the coast. There, he makes subjects of the area’s wondrous blooms, flora often plucked from his own backyard. And when inspiration strikes, he and his fellow artist wife Julie cruise the West in their VW van, ever-immersed in and inspired by its magical scenery.

“I feel that my job is to nurture a public appreciation of the natural world, no more, no less,” says Robert, “to provide artwork that makes people stop in their day-to-day busy-ness, to make the force of nature, the wonder of nature, present, like it is to me.”

His connection to nature began right here, starting with his idyllic childhood in a storybook Woodside before they built Highway 280. Raised by a World War II vet father who became a Pan Am pilot and an artistic mother, Robert reigned as the kindergarten King of the PTA May Day parade, bagged groceries at Roberts Market and wandered the still-gravel roads surrounded by sighing tree groves and unobstructed views of the Bay.

“I rest in the knowledge that the San Francisco Peninsula is my home,” declares Robert. “It’s where I belong.”

Photography Courtesy of Abraham Aranow

Robert’s love of nature followed him to college in the mountains of Boulder, Colorado, where he first picked up a camera in 1972. “The first truly spiritual experience of my life was seeing the world through that old camera,” he recalls. “The question was, how do I learn this craft? And how can I pay my rent with it?” 

He remembers that at the time, in the post flower-child era, the art classes were all full of kids who were bent on self-expression and determined to become Great Artists. The problem was, Robert couldn’t get into any of the classes. So, he studied all of the technology behind photography. He studied physics to learn how light works, he studied chemistry to learn the chemical role in the photographic process and added in poetry and humanities for depth. Still, with a growing itch to get started, he left school and returned to the Bay Area, where he initially planned to finish college but instead secured a full-time position in a San Francisco photography studio and never looked back. 

For years, Robert was successfully employed by Fortune 500 companies while he built his fine art landscape practice. He got married, started a family and worked hard until a turning point changed his life: his pleas to the San Francisco water department were finally answered, allowing him special access to the Crystal Springs Watershed. Ten years and 10,000 snaps later, his breathtaking photographic survey of its hidden wonders, The Unseen Peninsula, was published in 1994, enabling him to quit doing commercial work and focus on his fine art photography full-time.

Reeds and Water (1992): I surveyed this location for years waiting patiently for the right circumstances to make this image for my 1995 book about the Crystal Springs Watershed, The Unseen Peninsula.

For years after that, black and white landscape work was his subject of choice. Robert made photographs that he thought really captured the great elements of living: earth, air, water, life, death, the passage of time, only to have someone look at them and say, “Where did you take that picture?” It really frustrated him because he wanted to make art that forced people into a deeper reflection, a deeper understanding of what he was presenting. He endeavored to create a Rorschach photo, an abstraction, rather than ‘a picture of a something.’ So after three books and feeling thwarted in that regard, Robert circled back to an earlier idea: What if he gave up the tools of photography as they were being used and tried something different?

An analog man in an increasingly digital world, Robert viewed the advent of digital photography as a means to capture ever-increasing levels of faithfulness in the resulting photograph. Yet he believed those same tools had become a hindrance because the images they created were so real. Where was the deeper expression of nature emanating from the soul of the artist?

Helianthus Annuus (2000) This giant sunflower was grown specifically for imaging and was among the very first images I made using my camera-less technique.

“That’s what gave rise to my choosing to give up cameras, lenses, computers and also black and white film, to see how I might wrangle nature in a different way,” relates Robert. “I moved away from the landscape tradition to explore the idea of what is a photo, what is my role as a photographer.”

To answer that question, Robert circled back to a method first shared with him by his friend Sarah Adams, Ansel Adams’ granddaughter, who had introduced him to the work of the late Valentina and Semyon Kirlian. According to Robert, Kirlian and Valentina were devout Russian spiritualists who believed in crystal balls and were convinced that auras surrounded all living things. They’d observed a patient who was receiving medical treatment from a high-frequency electrical generator and noticed that when electrodes were brought near the patient’s skin, there was a glow similar to that of a neon discharge tube. 

The duo began conducting experiments and in 1939 developed Kirlian photography. They found that if photographic film was placed on top of a conducting plate, and a conductor was attached to a hand, a leaf or other plant material and the conductors were energized by a high-frequency, high-voltage power source, the resulting photographs would show a silhouette of the object surrounded by an aura of light. 

Field Flowers (2010) In 2010, disabled from Lyme disease and unable to tend my garden, I collected these field flowers from the area outside my home and studio in the forest on the eastern edge of Montara on the coast side of the Peninsula.

Robert was hooked. In 1999, he began building equipment and doing tests to use electrical charges on living plants illuminated by fiber optics, something he’d used to paint with light in his commercial work. 

“I created this wild, colorful fantasy of the beauty and power of nature,” effuses Robert. And as far as he knows, he is the only one still doing this kind of photography—which he refers to as energetic photograms—creating his photos by hand and making his own prints, with no digital enhancements and no retouching. “They quit making the film I use in 2008,” he laments. “I have a stash I’m working with but I stopped seeing it for sale about three to four years ago.”

With all the twists and turns his career has taken and all his evident energy, it’s a surprise to learn that Robert lives with Lyme disease and at one time was unable to tend his garden muse.

White Clematis II (2004) These delicate white clematis blossoms from my courtyard were hung by electrically conductive copper wire from the ceiling of my darkroom just barely over my imaging easel to make this image.

“Lyme is a structural part of my life. I spend 14-16 hours a day in bed,” he shares. “The reason I am public about it is because the culture diminishes people who are chronically ill and I want to change the stereotypes about disabled people.” Robert points out that one in ten ticks carry Lyme. “And yes, you can catch it here,” he says. “The truth is that everyone has a disability, everybody has something. And my goal is really to stand for my art and to do so as a person who has faced a terrible illness.”

The success of Robert’s art stands for itself. He has 63 pieces of art hanging between 280 and Alameda de Las Pulgas on Sand Hill Road. His current work is focused on cyanotypes and he just wrapped up an exhibition at Art Ventures Gallery in Menlo Park. Next up, Jackson Hole. After that, he says, “I’ll try to figure out what the world wants from me.” 

Livable Luxury

To this day, interior designer Julie Cavanaugh can draft the floorplans of her childhood homes in her head. She remembers how the spaces of her youth floated from one room to the next. “I have always had an innate ability to see things geometrically,” Julie shares. “I have a photographic memory and can 3D encapsulate in my mind how something should come together.”

Growing up, Julie experienced sweeping, nature-filled Midwest landscapes and busy East Coast urban environments before moving to California in 1983. “When I think back on my childhood and the places I’ve lived,” says Julie, “everything had to do with how I would see the spaces of where I lived in those communities.” Since the building styles varied from place to place, Julie’s interest lay in how she could play with proportions. “There isn’t one set style or one set theory of design I practice by,” she explains. “I love it all, and I love designing within every style.”

When deciding whether to study architecture or interior design in college, Julie remembers how her excitement for how buildings come together swayed her choice. “I was more interested in how interior spaces worked and how they work for the people who live in them than the building envelope,” she recalls. “I was looking at spaces and how to design them from the inside out, and not the outside in.” In 1998, Julie graduated with a degree in interior design and went on to obtain her licensure as a certified interior designer in 2002.

As the founder and principal interior designer at Design Matters, Julie specializes in “livable luxury.” Along with its flagship showroom in Los Gatos, the design firm also put down stakes in Redwood City, Morgan Hill and most recently, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “Having design work that matters in all different kinds of communities is what helped me to branch out and boutique our flagship location,” observes Julie. 

To the left of the entry is an open, inviting lounge (study) on one end and the dining room on the other. The guests immediately feel that they are being welcomed into someone’s home, which conveys the opportunity for enjoyment but also contemplative and quiet areas for business.

Recently, Julie and the Design Matters team completed a massive interior design project that brought luxury into every inch of a newly built 15,000-square-foot Los Altos Hills estate. Although constructed as a classic Mediterranean villa, by using a lighter exterior range of colors, Julie created the flexibility to transition into a very different interior experience. Ultimately, the design incorporates high-end finishes and high-tech amenities that capture the essence of the family that lives there. “It is a masterpiece inside on another level that has nothing Mediterranean in it whatsoever,” Julie points out. “We were able to give it tons of youthful style, color pops and vibe, while still respecting the architectural value that needed to be present.”

The homeowner, a Peninsula executive, tasked Julie with creating a family-friendly home that also lends itself to business gatherings. Given the emphasis on enjoying a balanced lifestyle and spending more time with family, Julie transformed spaces to include areas for entertainment options like a wine tasting room, movie theater and an expansive covered pool deck patio for intimate private events. “I had carte blanche to really look at each space and look at the composition of the house and its entirety, allowing me to create something that is one-of-a-kind, special and orchestrated for that client and family,” notes Julie.

My client allowed me to elevate the design by selecting materials that push the envelope including how we balance full tile walls in both the dining room and gathering room, giving a hierarchy to a space that could have simply been paint or wallcovering or wall treatment.

In her design for the villa, rooms organically connect and build upon each other as they are experienced. Julie thinks about her design process this way: “There may be a tiny thread of continuity as far as something that you see in the entry and you don’t know how it’s going to come forward into the rest of the house until you go through the kitchen, the great room spaces and to the outdoors. There are all kinds of things in the house that are tied together in very subtle ways to make that relationship happen.”

From the gathering room’s gold-threaded tile to the resort-style cabinetry and show-stopping chandeliers throughout the home, Julie counts the villa project as one of the most stunning houses she’s ever worked on. She used color, texture and proportion to tie the home’s design together. She also explored the volume of spaces. “I was able to put more punch into the smaller library space,” she cites as an example, “than I did in the gathering room that’s a bit more wide-open and a little quieter in materials.” 

One thing that Bay Area families are really looking for in articulating the interior design of a luxury home is accessibility. And that accessibility encompasses the owners, their parents, their children, their guests and those they want to welcome into their house.

From the homeowner’s perspective, Julie’s final design struck exactly the intended balance—providing all the necessary space for family life with the ability to easily accommodate business engagements. And, Julie’s selection of materials fully captured their desire for color, textures and bold choices. 

When asked, it’s difficult for Julie to choose her favorite room in the house. “Every space is spectacular in its own right,” she says, although she does hold a special affinity for the library. “It’s a combination of what that function is, a contemplative place to lounge and a less energetic area of the house, which we designed in a way that is full of vibe and interest.” Julie especially loves the oversized lounge chairs, dramatic lighting, built-in bookshelves and custom stain color she developed with her team.

As an interior designer, Julie weaves together interior living spaces for her clients and is also entrusted with creating the story of the home for her clients. “We take so much pride and so much happiness in working closely on our clients’ projects with them,” she reflects. “It’s really quite a creative force that happens and it’s why I get up every day to do my job.

The interior design and development of homes now allows for an elaboration of the options for families to have a more elevated formal area, suited for conducting meetings and business, while still being a traditional family home.

The Beat On Your Eats

Two pieces of bread cradling meats and veggies topped in a zesty sauce. If life’s a picnic, why not make it a sandwich? 


San Mateo

 This Sicilian, street-side and square-shaped pizzeria is obviously focused on the pies (after all, their tagline is “Celebrate life with a slice”); however, not to be overlooked is Slices’ primo Italian sub sandos. Each of their five options is served on housemade Roman bread with roasted red pepper, pepperoncini, caramelized onions and a garlic aioli spread. From there, it’s up to you to choose the classic Italian (salami, prosciutto cotto, mortadella and provolone) or the BarBQ, which comes with the choice of either pulled pork or smoked brisket. The San Francisco-born franchise is growing nationally and chose Bay Meadows in San Mateo for its Peninsula premiere. 3035 South Delaware Street, Suite C. Open Sunday through Thursday from 10AM to 9PM; Friday and Saturday from 10AM to 10PM.

Photography Courtesy of Bread Appel

Bread Apeel

Palo Alto

The hordes of eager eaters lining up for bánh mì sandwiches every Sunday at the California Avenue Farmers Market inspired the purveyors of these Vietmanese hoagies to branch out. The bánh mì stand is now offering curbside pickup of their popular sandwiches (along with a new line of salads) during the weekdays. Their classic sandwich includes country ham, pâté and garlic aioli held together inside a demi baguette while the pork belly salad comes topped in caramelized walnuts and a honey mustard vinaigrette. It’s pickup only and you’ll find the stand outside the La Jolie Nail Spa. 364 South California Avenue. Open Monday through Friday from 11AM to 6PM; closed weekends. 

Photography Courtesy of TJ Brodeth

Lou’s Cafe

San Carlos

For the past 10 years, Lou’s Cafe has opened up locations across San Francisco, winning over lunchtime fans with its extensive and creative sandwich menu. And now Lou is putting down stakes on the Peninsula. Unique offerings include the Pomaikai that pays tribute to tropical flavors with ham, pineapple, jalapeno rings and teriyaki sauce on a sourdough roll or the Space Balls, Lou’s take on a classic, which jams meatballs, a housemade marinara sauce and provolone cheese into a soft and sweet roll. Lou’s jockeys for attention in a crowded lunchtime field (the Sandwich Spot and Refuge are only a few blocks away) but the more the merrier when it comes to sandwiches. 902 Laurel Street. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 9AM to 5PM; closed on Sunday and Monday.

Savor the Flavor

Words by Silas Valentino

Lisa Spencer, born and raised in East Palo Alto with an infectious laugh and enterprising spirit, had a unique request for each one of her three children: You need to start your own business.

“I wanted them to experience independence,” she says, “to see what it feels like to make your own money. I told them that I didn’t care what it was and they could decide after three months to quit, but they were going to do it.”

Her youngest child Myles was barely a teenager when he launched Pies in a Jar, selling small fruit pies sealed in mason jars. The label described him as an“entrePIEneur.”

Lisa’s two adult children, Brittanee and Richard, furthered the family’s entrepreneurism in their own ways; her daughter is a pastry chef who sells a specialty pound cake while her son started a beard oil company called Hudson & Young Grooming Co.

“I took him to his first sales event on the Intuit campus in Mountain View and he busted $800 on his first pop-up—I only made $200 that day! I was mad and proud at the same time,” Lisa laughs at the memory.

Lisa herself owned and operated her own milliner business called Millinatrix by Lisa Spencer, where she designed and handcrafted hats from her home office, while working for a variety of big companies such as IDEO, Google and currently for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The entrepreneurial drive is an embedded trait in her family so it came as no surprise when her husband Dulani started using the kitchen to create homemade seasoning blends and rubs to sell around town. In fact, he hatched the idea after Lisa gifted him a copy of the cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, for Christmas in 2015. 

Over the years, the blends and seasoning matured into Savor Seasoning Blends, a handcrafted business they run together out of their home in East Palo Alto.

Dulani’s resume is rich in variety and experience from various local kitchens. He worked at Martha’s Pastries learning how to bake from scratch before moving on to Whole Foods, where he sharpened his skillset across the departments from the deli to the butcher. He continued working with meats when he became a butcher at The Market at Edgewood under the tutelage of a longtime butcher, coincidentally named Butch.

“I was getting a feeling for everything,” Dulani says. “After I got that book from my wife, I started learning about seasonings because I don’t like barbeque sauces. In my opinion, they take away from the true texture of the meat and flavor. Sauce hides it. I wanted to do something that enhances the flavor without masking it. Natural herbs and salt help bring the meat alive—so to speak.”

Through experimentation and community feedback (their UPS driver is a trusted tester), Dulani developed a full stock of zesty blends that live up to his purpose of enhancing meats. He blends using simple ingredients mixed at the right amount; such as the “Honey, It’s BBQ” that gives meat a crispy, caramel crust. Ingredients: a short list of salts, sugar, peppers and powders expertly tossed together.

Lisa is the dreamer and idea generator for the business who doesn’t mind taking on a large order even if it’s a stretch while Dulani keeps them grounded and focused on making sure the rubs keep customers smiling. Their model is effective, as folks travel from all over the Bay Area to stock up on their products.

No rub or seasoning is complete without a clever or amusing name, which Lisa helps devise to match the flavor; some favorites are the Brown Sugar Baby Rub, You Jerk! Rub, Black Tar Heroin Hickory Salt and the Remember the Rosemary Salt, a call-back to her days reading Shakespeare. One of their top sellers is Vampire Butter, earning its name from its liberal use of garlic along with sea salt, parsley and basil. Turns out it’s especially well-suited for potatoes, veggies, pasta and lathering on sourdough bread.

Although Lisa and Dulani both hail from East Palo Alto, they didn’t cross paths until they were adults. Lisa’s father and uncle ran the barber shop on Clark Street where she was introduced to running a business and telling a good story. The couple met in 1995 when Dulani was a youth basketball coach and Lisa was working the door at an East Menlo Park basketball tournament. Their second date was watching the Golden State Warriors play against Michael Jordan’s Bulls.

Last December, Dulani started focusing full-time on Savor Seasoning Blends and he’s currently developing a new line of rice bowls to sell that use his blends. Lisa, however, can’t help herself and is already noodling on the next family goal.

“There’s a vacant lot off University Avenue that’s been there since the 1980s and it’s going to finally be developed into a mixed-use building with retail and office space,” she says. Lisa’s dream? Opening a butcher shop and deli. “Dulani does both and there’s no butcher in East Palo Alto,” she points out. “When I was growing up, there were three! Dulani would be in his flippin’ element.” 

She’s already playing it out in her mind: “We can do it. We just have to get enough capital. I would come after I got off work…”

Amour at First Sight

Words by Silas Valentino

Five minutes into her first time dining at Amour Amour, Barbara Jiang turned to her husband David and gave him a knowing look. 

The couple was at a corner table in the tapas bar near downtown San Mateo soaking in the ambiance, wooded and brick décor, with glasses of red wine. They both had successful day jobs but their passions for hosting and cooking were underfed.

“I had this voice in my head saying, ‘This is it,’” Barbara remembers. “So I asked the waitress if the owner was there and she was in the kitchen. She came out and I said, ‘Hello, my name is Barbara—do you want to sell this restaurant to me?’ She took it nicely and liked the directness.”

At the time, the founder was merely three months in from launching the tapas bar and was determined to see it grow. Equally determined was Barbara. The two exchanged numbers and sprouted a friendship.

“We’d see each other and every time, I’d ask, ‘Are you ready to sell?’ That went on for three years. Then, in September 2017, we were having lunch at Pausa up the street when she said she was ready. She didn’t want to hand it over to just anybody and she knew I’d take good care of it.”

Barbara and her husband are now four years into running the restaurant and their passions are respectively nourished.

David owns the kitchen, hand-making each item from scratch and spending his mornings exploring markets for fresh ingredients. Barbara thrives up front. She’s a matriarchal maître d’, genially welcoming guests with a keen sense for remembering faces and replicating the same spirit that dazzled her during that first visit.

Barbara estimates that 80 percent of customers are returnees and regulars who yuk it up with her and the waitstaff over a menu of excellent bites and hand-picked wines. The restaurant is a popular choice for first dates; the casual atmosphere and flow of drinks calm the nerves, and Barbara has seen her fair share of engagements at the tables.

Amour Amour provides a social environment for settling in, sampling a variety of multicultural bites and uncorking a bottle (or two) as the hours slip by.

“I personally like Napa Cabs but I won’t select too many because it’s too commercial,” Barbara explains. “Customers are local and know the Napa wines. I’ll find wines from Chile and Mendoza because it pairs better with the menu. And I’ll make sure it goes with the season, like from May to October when a lot of people are into white and dessert wines. When it’s winter, I’ll have stronger reds.”

Not to be missed amid the wine is the house sangria, which combines white and red wines with apples and oranges, plus a toss of sake for an extra zing.

Born in China, David spent some time in Latin America where he learned Spanish and enhanced his cooking. He divides Amour Amour’s menu into four categories: meat, seafood, pasta and vegetables, with three or four items each. He mostly cooks using the oven as opposed to stir-fry, meaning less fat and the absence of smoke, which is essential since the kitchen opens to the dining area.  

Some favorites on the menu include the black truffle mushroom crostini and honey-ginger spiced Bali Hai ribs. Barbara notes that nearly everyone orders the roasted Brussels sprouts topped in bacon and truffle salt or the cavatelli: imported Italian pasta with a lobster sauce.

“David is absolutely hands-on and the most important thing to him is the quality and freshness,” notes Barbara. “He’s here every day. He goes out each morning and spends a half-day purchasing fresh ingredients before coming in at 3:30PM to prepare the sauces. He feels recharged every time someone tells him they love their meal.”

Barbara met David through mutual friends some 25 years ago at the Peppermill in Daly City. They’ve lived in San Francisco and Millbrae, where they raised their two daughters, Rachel and Sofia, who are now in their early twenties.

At the time they discovered Amour Amour in 2014, David was working for NASA, focusing on a project to construct and maintain an airborne observatory. He specialized in computer hardware and had previously spent over a decade at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Barbara still maintains her day job running a pharmaceutical company that serves assisted living facilities across the Bay Area.

“Your way of making a living is very different from having a passion,” she says. “To me, the thing that you have to do and need to do is stricter. You have to make money. But the things you want to do can be more flexible. It’s lucky if you’re able to get both.”

The interior of Amour Amour is flush with character and a Where’s Waldo of charming flair. A chalk sign might read, “Take home a little Amour,” while bunches of flowers, wheat and some garlic are suspended from the ceiling. Hung on the wall is a small slab of wood with the words “together is my favorite place to be” imprinted alongside a tandem bicycle.

“David is passionate about cooking and I’m passionate about drinking and entertaining,” Barbara summarizes with a smile. “It pumps you up when you walk into a place and everyone is happy in a comfortable way. It positively affects you.” 

If you’d like to receive invitations and announcements from PUNCH, please add your email: