Hollister restaurant inspired by organic family farm
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LARRY GERBRANDT
The cheerful little café in downtown Hollister wasn’t really supposed to be a thing, until it was.
Farmhouse Café opened in September on a block of San Benito Street that is already a haven for locally made food—The Heavenly Bakery is on the corner, Mars Hill coffeehouse is across the street and San Benito Bene, an artisanal local foods shop, is next door.
Not only that, there’s history here for owner Becky Herbert, whose farming family has been in San Benito County for five generations. “The building where Mars Hill is used to be my great-grandfather’s dry goods store,” says Herbert. “I’ve got agriculture and retail in my blood.”
Herbert opened the café as an outgrowth of her community sponsored agriculture (CSA) program, Farmhouse Foods – Eat with the Seasons, which offers customizable weekly boxes of locally grown organic fruits and vegetables and a plethora of sustainably made items ranging from meats to freshly baked breads to herbs and spices.
At Farmhouse Café, Herbert uses the same produce and artisanal ingredients to elevate the menu above ordinary diner fare. “Farmhouse Favorites” include cilantro pesto steak made with grass-fed beef and roasted salmon in locally pressed olive oil, and even the humble peanut butter and jam sandwich boasts handmade preserves. Custom- made sandwiches and creative salads round out the offerings.
Light, bright and airy, the café features white subway tile and celery-green accented walls, highlighted by a rustic logo created by Schipper Design of San Juan Bautista. Cases full of grab-and-go items make it easy to get quick and healthy takeout, or for people who want to linger a while, tables and a lunch counter are available.
The café also sells products from other local food artisans, such as Vertigo coffee, Coke Farm organic flour and Bella Vista Ranch olive oil, among others.
Initially, Herbert envisioned the café as a place for her to make the prepared salads, soups and dips that she offers to CSA customers each week—turning it into a breakfast and lunch establishment was an afterthought. But customers quickly discovered and loved the menu, and now the café bustles on weekdays.
Herbert notes that it’s been wonderful— but a little bit hectic. “I really wasn’t banking on the walk-in traffic,” she says, but the strong response has convinced her to work on expanding menu offerings and to consider adding weekend hours and a dinner menu.
Currently the café is open Monday through Friday from 8am–3pm; orders can also be placed via phone or through the website. Herbert has long been part of her family’s business. “When I was nine, I begged my father to let me help sort onions and peppers,” she says, adding that she decided on a career in publishing instead. She returned 14 years ago for what she thought would be a short stint to help market her parents’ CSA. That “temporary” job turned into Herbert taking the reins as her farmer father Pat Herbert has scaled back his involvement, although he continues to grow onions, bell peppers and corn on his 70-acre Herbert Family Organic Farm in rural Hollister.
Eventually, the farm partnered with others in the area to offer more choice of produce, and now its CSA delivers to 1,200 subscribers throughout the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas. Herbert added the prepared foods, inspired by the produce she was handling and customers’ requests for quick healthy meals: “It was really an evolution of what I’d been doing.”
Opening Farmhouse Café might seem like a natural outgrowth of the family business, but running a restaurant is something altogether new for Herbert. It’s been made easier though by her capable employees, especially restaurant manager Renee Rocha, and it’s hard to argue with success.
“The café has really taken off,” says Herbert.
Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas tree farm in north Monterey County, writes about sustainable living, health and horticulture for numerous publications and websites.
615 San Benito St., Ste. D, Hollister